You could say my wife, whom I met while working in Germany and abducted to Dutch Friesland, and I have been surrounded by cultural differences for so long they have become second nature. In our relationship we rarely think about the fact that she grew up in one country and I did in another. We think – maybe others don’t – that we do not fit the stereotypes.
After Harlekin Beate’s article on “International Relations” was published she asked those other Harlekins who are married to “foreigners” to write on their personal international relations. But then, I thought, I’ve never been married to someone from my original home, so how can I compare? I’ve spent much more of my life outside my “home” than in it, living in 4 countries other than Britain, so much that I wonder how British I really am now. The “home” I left is not the same now nearly 50 years later.
You probably missed the short article last week that related how the UK was funding a programme to explore the feasibility of dogs recognizing Covid-19 from its scent. Labradores, Spaniels and other smart-nosed breeds are already deployed to sniff out contraband, drugs, even apples if you dare to smuggle one into the States in your lunch box. They can also spot cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, though you wonder why bother with the last what with the striking visual clues of the disease.
It would be easy to fill our blog with just a list of events and topics that depress you. Here’s just a sample: Climate change, populism, the refugee problem and our response, political “leaders”, fake news, hate speech, consumer waste, knife crime, endangered species, insect decimation, locusts in Africa, child abuse, hunger, sex discrimination, obesity, Brexit, plastic in whales’ stomachs, Trump’s inability to put a sentence together without the words “wonderful” or “beautiful”, floods, fires and now a deadly virus. It’s enough to make you want to emigrate – but where to???
If you want a breath of fresh air and the chance to say to yourself, “Pull yourself together!”, then this is the book you need. Hans Rosling (1948-2017), Swedish head of the Division of International Health at Karolinska Institutet and advisor to the WHO and UNESCO, co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières, combines his experience and knowledge of world health with statistics. Sounds dry and boring, doesn’t it!
The two-part article “Too much bloody choice!” (published on 21st and 28th February 2020) ignited an impassioned discussion in the Harlequin team. We wondered whether it was an issue that affects all sections of the population or just the 50+ generation. Therefore, we were curious to hear the younger generation’s view. We are very happy to post a guest contribution by Ricarda Fillhardt, who looks at the “agony of choice” from a different perspective. Ricarda is a student and currently lives in Edinburgh.
I certainly doubt an excess of choice makes us happy. Just last week I spent so much time trying to decide what to watch on Netflix that it was too late once I had (semi-content) settled on a film and went to bed instead. I also recently decided to treat myself to a wellness day on my birthday and must have spent hours on tripadvisor trying to find the best option in the vast amount of saunas and wellness centres my home town had to offer. However, this rarely occurs to me as a problem. I grew up with choice.
After spending months digitising my CD’s I decided to go for streaming as Tidal offered lossless sound quality and almost infinite choice of rock, jazz, blues and classical music. They even have stuff I recorded off Radio Luxembourg on AM with the signal fading regularly on a tape recorder! At first it was paradise – listen to virtually anything you want, when you want without the risk of buying a CD (or an LP) for a fair bit of money and discovering you don’t really like it. But after a while I got the “Ben and Jerry’s” again: instead of examining my limited number of discs and deciding on the strength of the cover or the memory of the disc’s contents as I’d played it so often, I was again stumped by the infiniteness of it all.
When I was a kid if you had any choice at all it was “Take it or leave it”. As time progressed, we actually got BBC Home Service (for topical events, Women’s Hour, the original soap “The Archers” and half-hour comedies), the Third Programme (heavy culture) and the Light Programme (for music Dads and Grandads appreciated) on what we called the wireless.
I can first remember being utterly flummoxed by the range of choice when visiting Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont years ago. After an entertaining tour including us having answer questions with “moo” instead of “yes” we queued up to get ice cream. From a distance we could make out the numerous varieties, most of which were new to us then, so we pondered which to choose.
Recently I was asked for a holiday recommendation, to which I unhesitatingly responded: Asia. ”Ooh, nah, it’s hot and dirty there” was the reaction.
Our recent experiences in Japan proved the exact opposite. The first thing that strikes you as you speed into Tokyo on the high-speed train is how clean the place is. Crowded, yes, what do you expect if you cram 38 million into a city? But the houses are spotless and well-tended, no graffiti is to be seen, and the streets free of litter, chewing gum and dog souvenirs. They say they had to remove all the litter-bins after the sarin attack on the underground, but that alone cannot explain such cleanliness.
When I was in Canada one guide gave us an important piece of advice about bears: “Black bite, brown down”. In other words, black bears can be intimidated (unless they’re with their young or cornered), so make lots of noise to repulse them. All you can do with brown – or grizzly – bears is make yourself as small as possible on the ground and pray they may lose interest. Good advice for the workplace? Not all of us are bear whisperers.
…or how I learned to stop worrying and love Big Data.
For the last couple
of years I have been dabbling with genealogy. My family in England has always
been convinced we were related to Jack Cornwell, a 16-year-old Naval recruit
who died a heroic death at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. My
mother was German so I was curious about that side of me too. Most of my
relatives are dead, so I had just a few recollections of family anecdotes and a
handful of old photographs to start with.
Internet to the
rescue! Mormons in Salt Lake City, whose mission in life is to find salvation
for their forefathers by genealogical research and ordinances performed by
proxy for them, run several online sites to help you “discover your family’s story.” The story goes that before and after the
Second World War dozens of Mormon researchers photographed and transcribed huge
numbers of church and public records in Europe long before anyone had thoughts
about data security. There are now millions of records on their databases.