Tag Archives: tradition

Awkward Conversations with Foreign People

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Hello, reader!  How’s the world treating you today?

One of the best things about living in England is the mutliculturalism.  (What makes it even better is that every time someone says that, Nigel Farage gets a stabbing pain behind his eye.  I have absolutely no evidence to back that up, but you never know…)  This is particularly relevant in London: did you see the re-imagined tube map showing the languages spoken in different parts of London?  Here it is.  How cool is that?!

I don’t understand why UKIP, racists and other generic twats get their knickers in such a twist about British identity.  Firstly, other nationalities have all sorts of beautiful, fascinating and useful things to teach us, as evidenced by all the purloined objects in the British Museum.  If we didn’t think that foreign stuff was cool, we wouldn’t have nicked it in the first place.  Secondly, we’ve kept all the Britishness we’ll ever need.  Seriously, we have.  There are certain British values which to this day remain undiluted, unwavering and inexplicable to people from elsewhere.  Our identity as a nation and our global reputation rest upon these unshakeable pillars of completely peculiar principles.  Here are some examples of things which we Brits are totally fine with, but which we find difficult to explain to people from other countries:

Bonfire Night
“About four hundred years ago, a bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, so now we burn effigies of him.”
“And this is a happy time?”
“Oh, yes.  Fireworks, fairground rides, family outings.  All good fun.”
“You celebrate a four-hundred year-old terrorist attack.”
“…Well, yes.  But it’s a failed terrorist attack, if that helps.”

Queueing
“You just stand in the line?”
“You just stand in the line.”
“What if you’re in a hurry?”
“You have to wait.”
“What if you need the toilet?”
“You wait.”
“What if your feet get pins and needles?!”
“You just wait.”
“What if somebody jumps the queue?”
“Ah, well that’s different!  In that case, you TUT.”
“Yeah?”
Very loudly.  And then you carry on waiting.”

Why Tea is So Important
“It just is.”
“But why?”
“It’s traditional.  It’s English.”
“It’s Chinese, actually.”
“Yes, alright, but we like it over here, too!  It’s comforting!”
“How so?”
“Because it’s…hot?”
“So is coffee.”
“Yes, but…”
“And hot chocolate.  Hence the name, ‘hot’ chocolate.”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t find the queen serving hot chocolate to her guests at Windsor, would you?  She’d serve tea.”
“She’d serve coffee to the Americans, I think.”
“Perhaps.”
“And actually, I don’t think she’d be serving it.  I think she has staff to do that.”
“I’m not having this conversation.  Go and put the kettle on.”

Talking About the Weather
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, comment upon the weather.”
“Why?”
“Because weather is the ONLY thing that you can talk about with absolutely anyone at all, without needing any prior knowledge of them as a person.  Unlike religion, politics, current affairs, art and literature, talking about the weather doesn’t involve having an opinion or risk offending someone else.  It’s an excellent way to start or maintain a conversation with someone by purely stating empirical, uncontroversial facts. No one can argue with ‘nice day today, isn’t it?'”
“If you don’t want to talk to someone about their opinions or discuss interesting topics, why on earth are you talking to them?”
“…I have no idea.”

Sarcasm
“So you’re saying one thing, but you mean the opposite.”
“Yeah.  It’s a type of humour.”
“But why do you need it?  Why can’t you just say what you mean, like America does?”
“Oh yeah, because British people would love to be more like America.”
“Really?”
“NO.  THAT WAS SARCASM.”

So there you have it: the British identity in a nutshell.  Obviously those are all a bit silly, but you know what I mean: we’re a pretty odd bunch, and our identity as a nation isn’t going anywhere.  We are the affable, slightly strange grandfather at the global dinner table, and we’re ok with that.  We also need to be ok with other cultural identities, even if they seem strange to us.  Bearing that in mind, could somebody take Farage’s toys away and send him to his room?  No dessert for intolerant eejits, I’m afraid.

Have an amazing Tuesday!

Happy Egg and Controversial Rabbit Day!

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Hello and a very Happy Easter to you!

When I was a child my parents were extremely strict about observing the Catholic faith.  Nowadays my siblings and I don’t so much observe it as comment absent-mindedly when we catch a glimpse of it, but it hasn’t always been that way.

I am grateful for the thorough religious education my parents gave me, although I must confess that I absolutely hated it at the time, and that a lot of it made no sense to me.  With the exception of a few small things, I think I’ve grown out of my aversion to and confusion over Christianity.

What are these few small things?  Oh, nothing, just, you know…Easter.  I’m sorry, I know lots of people love it, and I don’t hate it or anything; I just don’t understand it.  We have a rabbit delivering eggs – not even real eggs, but eggs made of some fancy Aztec concoction called “chocolate” – to small children.  Let me try to disentangle this ridiculous chain of tradition:

  • Sometime between 33 and 39 AD: Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Jewish festival Passover when Jesus decides to turn the whole shindig into the Last Supper.  He is crucified, resurrected three days later and has fun for a while reappearing and scaring the crap out of his mournful disciples.  At the same sort of time Pliny, Plutarch and that whole ancient intellectuals gang are going around thinking that hares are hermaphrodites, and can therefore have babies without losing their virginity.
  • Sometime between 100 and 200 AD: Earliest Christians are recorded as celebrating Easter the same way as Jewish holidays are celebrated, i.e. based on a lunisolar calendar.  This makes sense, since a lot of early Christians were converts from Judaism.  Oh, also, Mesopotamians start staining chicken eggs red to symbolise the blood shed by Jesus at the Crucifixion.
  • 325 AD: First Council of Nicaea (i.e. a party of head honcho-type bishops) decide that Easter will always fall on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox.  Good for them.
  • Sometime between 500 and 1500 AD: Plutarch and his gang’s belief that hares could reproduce without loss of virginity has led to hares being associated with the Virgin Mary, and so images of hares sometimes show up in illuminated manuscripts.  There is also an argument that hares and rabbits are a symbol of fertility pre-dating Christian times, which is why they get a look in on this festival, but I prefer the idea of Plutarch and that lot having their crazy theories accidentally adopted into lore.
  • 1610 AD: Pope Paul V officially adopts the Mesopotamians’ egg-staining thing, making eggs a Christian symbol of the resurrection.  Didn’t he have better (or less weird) things to do in his papal capacity?!
  • Sometime during the 18th century: German immigrants in Dutch Pennsylvania tell their American hosts about the “Osterhase”, a hare which brings those traditional (by now) coloured eggs to good children at Easter.  Some regions of Germany also had an Easter Fox (“Osterfuchs”) for the same job.  The Americans pick it up and run with it.
  • Modern day: Despite the traditional coloured eggs being perfectly edible, we live in a world where things made of chocolate are infinitely superior to all others.  Hence: Easter stuff is made of chocolate.

I hope that you enjoyed your crash course in Easter history, and that you have a brilliant time eating your Osterhase (or Osterfuchs) goodies.

We Are the Foolish

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Good morning, reader!  Isn’t it gorgeous out there today?  I love it when it’s sunny.  It also helps that Ash and I had one of our best friends stay over last night.  When we got up this morning I said the “Another beautiful day in God’s country” line from Hot Fuzz, which got me a slightly worried look from my friend and a reminder that our teeny tiny flat is not an actual country.  Unfortunately this turns out to be true.

So today is April Fools’ Day, a bizarre tradition which apparently originated in Roman times and has something to do with New Year’s Eve being celebrated in March by our friends across the Channel.  I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about today, probably because at our age my friends and I don’t have the time or inclination to think up witty pranks.  I’m definitely not complaining about that; life is confusing enough as it is without my friends thinking of ingenious ways to baffle me further.  I’m not even supposed to cross roads unsupervised, for heaven’s sake.

Besides, feeling foolish is not something that’s restricted to this day of the year.  Nobody likes to feel that they’ve been duped, but it’s all part of the human experience.  Sometimes we feel that we have been deceived into taking a job that turns out to be nothing like we expected, or misled by someone else’s feelings for us.  Deceit is a horrible word for something that happens all the time, whether it’s a friend telling you that an horrendous outfit is flattering, or a woman pretending to be knocked up in order to get a man to marry her.  (I’ll let you decide for yourselves which is worse.)  Making the discovery that you’ve had the proverbial wool pulled over your eyes is demeaning and downright irritating, because we’re intelligent people who want to be able to see the truth first time.

Like regret, fear and the inability to cope with emotional upheaval, we are reassuringly united by our dislike of being deceived.  I find it weirdly comforting that some of the hardest parts of being a person are universal, and that feeling isolated by your fear/regret/etc. is unnecessary.  If I had a pound for every time I’ve felt like an idiot I would be living in a mansion right now, but unfortunately embarrassment is not a financial commodity.  What I do have, which is much more valuable, is a fantastic group of friends who will sympathise, empathise and make me coffee when I feel humiliated.

You’d be surprised by how many of the smartest, best-looking, confident and talented people you know have wanted to curl up and die at some point.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone who seems sorted doesn’t understand how it feels to be foolish, and don’t be embarrassed to admit when you’ve been had.  You’re still a fantastic human being, and no one else’s trickery is going to change that.

Have something delicious for pudding today.  You deserve it.

P.S. the title of this blog is a reference to a song by General Fiasco, a band whom I heartily recommend you give a listen to.  Here’s the YouTube video of the song.  Enjoy!