Monday, 11 October 2010

On Globalisation

That's a sausage on my plate, not a huge turd. Honest.

I return, after what seems like an age, to the blogosphere. I've been away and unable to post; I spent last week in Frankfurt, Germany at the annual book fair. While the lack of Internet access initially traumatised me, I've returned from the fair somewhat inspired, and, unfortunately, with a dose of man-flu. I'm writing from my bed, a cup of tea of my left, hot water bottle to my right and the plate that once held my peanut butter sandwich somewhere on the floor. While I intend to drag this out for maximum sympathy, any magical remedies would be highly appreciated.

Back to the book fair. My days there consisted of the following; waking up late and running down to breakfast. Jumping on the train to the fair. Walking MILES to our stand and setting up our books. At 9, the first customers would arrive, and half-hour long meetings continue until 6. Every half an hour I'd repeat the same things, about the same books, sitting in the same chair. The only thing that changed was the face sitting in front of me.

This sounds, of course, incredibly dull and it can get really difficult. But I was saved from complete mental shutdown by my love of talking to people. Though I have embraced the Internet of late, e-mails really are no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face. Furthermore, the people I talk to come from all over the world. Each brings with them something of the place they come from; not a present for me, unfortunately, but a quirk, a mannerism, a way of speaking or acting that sets them apart from the people who sat in that seat before them.

Some live up to national stereotypes; an Italian arriving late, shouting apologies while kissing both cheeks. The French, with that air of class and aloofness, dressed impeccably and making me feel inferior before I even begin to slaughter their language with my rusty grammar.

Cultural differences are evident even from the titles people like and those that they don't. The Greek Easter is incredibly different to how we celebrate it here, so Easter-themed books don't really lend themselves to translation. There's not much snow in Argentina at Christmas, either. An Estonian customer told me that dinosaurs are hugely popular in the Czech Republic, and that books with trains in don't sell well in Estonia (he believes they may evoke painful memories of WWII and Soviet occupation). He actually went on to explain, on a rather large and unrelated tangent, that a recent survey discovered that Estonians drink more, per person, than every other country in Europe with the exception of the Czech Republic. The government arranged a campaign highlighting this, urging people to think about how much they drink and try to cut down. It had the opposite effect; apparently the populace was rather annoyed about coming second so put more thought into what they weren't drinking.

My mental wandering while I was away reminded me of the two weeks I spent in the mountains in northern Italy in 2005. I walked along a mountain road, from village to village (read: from bar to bar) asking for information about the local area, as part of a project I had to complete. What I heard surprised me; there were differences in dialect between villages, even though they were only a kilometre or two apart from each other. I remember thinking of them as countries on a miniature continent; linked by things they have in common, but never the same.

I hope I haven't caused any offence; I know that not all Italians are unable to arrive on time, and that national stereotypes are too often false, bigoted and used for evil means. I know also that the Estonian's comments are his own, and have no idea about how true they may be. But the experience as a whole left me feeling hopeful. We talk about globalisation, fear the erosion of culture and the spread of the English language across the world. We envisage a time when the world is depressingly uniform, grey and unexciting. But everyone I met had something different about them. Each nationality differed from the others, in one way or another. And then each person is so much more than a citizen of the country in which they live; they have their own quirks and personalities that set them apart. I feel reassured, if anything, that the world is far from being dominated by one single culture, and maintains the differences that make it such an interesting and colourful place to live. And even if the borders disappeared and all the countries of the world were absorbed into a huge and happy federation, the differences between us as people would be enough to ensure that we'd never get bored.

I promise to write something more coherent shortly, when my man-flu *cough cough* is cured. In the meantime, if you're looking for a good read on a Monday or Friday, I recommend the Transatlantic Support Group, which is a collaborative effort with two great bloggers, Allison (who will post on Mondays) and Lauren (who will post on Fridays). I will post on Wednesdays, but given my current inability to think, let alone write, sensibly I recommend you check their posts out first so as not to be put off! Plus I'm a bit scared to be sandwiched between two such interesting and entertaining people. There's a better explanation on the blog, so skip over and have a gander, if you feel so inclined.


  1. Really good post, I totally agree that culture's aren't being lost. A lot of people try and make that an issue sometimes and it's simply not true...

  2. So true! Cultures have excisted since the stone age, and there were no borders then:)

  3. It must of been superb seeing so many different sorts of people. I really like noticing people's idiosyncrasies.

    PS: that sausage really does look like a turd. Shame on you, eating a turd sausage.

  4. I didn't seem to know that you sell books. Interesting. I like the concept of each little village being it's own world, coutry. I wish all french men were prim. Forcing my babe into a tee shirt which fits him is nothing less than strength of will.
    I'm sorry you have the man flu. Sounds dreadful. Nice turd, btw. Hope it was tasty.
    Since you bring up the French thing I will say
    I spent a little less than 4 months in Europe mostly in France and for some reason bunches of the English and French people I talked with loved to tell me how arrogant the other type was. Truly impressive. Yes, I wanted to know what they thought of other sorts of Europeans, but they either though I would only be interested in the other, or felt the strongest about that. There is a bit of a rivalry, I think. Now that we have little to envy. I too dig me some face on face time. Maybe we can meet up when I go back!
    I super want to see the next Harry Potter film in obviously...I ought to do so in England...
    I mean, right?
    You better like Harry Potter. That is Voldemort's hand scratching up your header or i'm Neville Longbottom.

  5. Aw dude... you have a man flu?? Feel better!!

    I agree that each nationality is different from the others. These differences make us interesting individuals. But I don't agree when you said that this post is incoherent. This post is AWESOME and meaningful!

    Again, feel better! I demand that you feel better. Right now!!!

  6. Love the post...actually fits well with The we are each from different places but have things in common, but also our differences (mainly how words are spelled).

    First Lauren gets sick, now you...I hope I'm not next.

  7. That photo terrifies me. I don't know why. That sausage is creepy.

  8. How is man flu different to regular flu? Either way: sleep, fluids (i.e. water and soup), liberal amounts of cough syrup and lemsip.

    What kind of wurst was it? I really like the kasekrainer mit senf. Mouth watering. <3

    I'm glad you enjoyed the book fair and getting to talk to people- globalisation can't take away these national quirks that we all have..somewhere. Even if they're buried deep.

    Must I send you photos of things from accessorise just to cheer you up?!

  9. @ Emily - thanks Emily! I know, if I listened to the harbingers of doom I'd be most upset. Maybe they know something I don't, but I left feeling quite upbeat about it all.

    @ Alexandra - that's something I hadn't thought of, good point. It's a nice thought, I think.

    @ Rachel - I won't be ashamed. I gobbled that turd right up and didn't think twice about it. Mmmm YUM. And now I'll stop talking like I'm six and return to adulthood - seeing all the different people was great. It was the best bit of the whole week, really. Even better than the sausage.

    @ Erin - can I use your real name? Well, I don't sell books themselves, I sell the translation rights. Kind of. It's long and boring and if we do meet up when you head over to France then I shall bore you with it then! I work just near St Pancras station, so if you're taking le train then let's get face-to-face. Also, you have a French man who is not prim? A rare breed well-worth protecting, in my stereotyped viewpoint. All of the French people I met were lovely; it's part of the rivalry you mention, I think, that English people find them so intimidating. I mean, they're too cool for school and we're...well...we're British. Talking of le train, I always thought that having the train from Paris come into Waterloo was the equivalent of diplomatic name-calling, I was pleased when it changed. And Harry Potter; who doesn't like it? What language do you normally watch films in? Where the devil are you?

    @ Gnetch - you'll be pleased to hear that I obeyed your every command and I now feel better *cough*...oh no. Sorry...don't hit me.

    @ Allison - I actually blame Lauren for my illness. I believe it was attached to her emails or something. And yes, this does fit with TASG now you mention it. Perhaps we should start celebrating the spelling differences as expressions of our cultures.

    @ London Girl - you should have seen the other three sausages that made up the sausage platter - this one was the most photogenic of the four.

    @ Risha - Oh dear, I wasn't implying that 'man flu' is any worse than regular flu. Don't shout at me! in every office I've ever worked in, whenever a man gets a cold he's accused of having man flu by the women that work there. I believe this implies he's not actually ill at all, or is ill but is making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

    I've no idea at all what kind it was, to be honest. There was a really horrible stumpy little white one, that tasted lemony and the skin tore really easily. It almost crumbled in your mouth. *gag* Do you know the name of it from my description, so that I can avoid it in future? I saw an Accessorize in Heathrow on my way out, I was going to tweet you a pic but my boss hurried me along. Spoilsport.

  10. Aww chuckles, I wasn't yelling at you. I was curious! :( My reputation precedes me, I see.

    Also, as you may be able to tell from my two videos, I don't yell unless someone says something preposterous.. in which case I get sarcastic, but very rarely do I yell.

    Hmm. Was it weisswurst? This:

  11. Oh my God! That's it! Have you ever had it? If not, avoid it. Avoid it like the plague.

  12. Yes, it's awful! *bleh*