Wednesday, January 19

Old Country Again

So I'm back in Europe. It's been a few years, and after having traveled around Canada for the last while, it's strange to be a tourist in a place where I obviously stand out as such. Still, I've been in England since I left Canada, and I'll be sticking around for the next week or so, so the culture shock is relatively mild.

In a way, I didn't feel like leaving Montreal. My friends had shown me such great hospitality since I came back, and at the very least, I should mention it here. I've already talked about my friends Eugene and Xin, but after leaving there, my friend Andrew put me up for a week, followed by staying with my friend David for damn near a month. All of this, with no complaints, and the offer to stay longer if I needed to. Still, I wouldn't have felt right crowding them for any longer, and I was starting to get stir crazy anyway.

Luckily, I was able to get my French work visa sorted out before I left. After having tried repeatedly to get it for the last two months, and consistently getting caught up in bureaucratic red tape, I was beginning to feel like throwing in the towel. But in order to make one last stand, I spent about four hours going though all relevant parts of their web site, and printing off anything that might be useful. It's amazing how the bureaucrats that work at the consulate are so out of touch with their own rules and regulations. In the end, I was able to finally side step attempts to use obscure rules to pan me off onto someone else, mostly by showing them copies of what the web page itself said. To put it mildly, a huge headache, but in the end, I'm finally authorized to work for a year in France. All of this beats washing dishes in some under-the-table job in Paris.

A few comments on Britain, as I'd forgotten what it felt like being here. Seeing how small all of the cars are is very refreshing. With the new macho trend in North America of owning hummers just to drive around down town, I was starting to wonder when I'd finally see a full blown privately owned tank rolling down the center of the city. Apparently SUVs just don't guzzle enough gas, despite costs for petro going straight through the roof. Maybe they're trying to compensate for something else...

On the flip side, an oddism about Britain is how polite everyone sounds. Hit the word sounds. On the one hand, everyone sounds just oh so sweet, but on the other, they're shoving you out of the way at the same time. It seems that manners are only skin deep, particularly in London.

Something else that's strange about England is how early the bars close. I was out with an American girl that I met in a hostel in London, Renée, and after looking around for two hours for pool tables, all in vain, we finally decided to just go for a pint or two at a tavern. It was only 10:45, so we figured we had a good couple of hours until we should head back to the hostel. But there was a bit of a surprise. I hadn't taken more than a few sips of my drink before I get a tap on the shoulder from the Bartender. Seems that closing time was in five minutes. That's right. 11pm. A bit of a piss off taking into account the price of beer, and that chugging isn't exactly the best way to enjoy a drink.

As of now, I'm in Norwich. It's about 200km north east of London. I came up here to see my friend Nick, who I first met several years ago in Jasper, back in Canada. He's the manager of a subsidized housing project here, and the town itself is very pretty. Lots of old, classy buildings [by North American standards, anyway]. Basically, a typical English town. It's a relief being out of London, as the pace of life there could easily eat someone alive. I felt my blood pressure finally start to drop after the train starting crossing open fields on the way here.

I'll round this off with a few things that I want to vent on:

First off, the outpouring of support for the Tsunami victims is wonderful in principle, but it seems like everyone [at least the media] is missing the point by a pretty hefty margin. For instance, as of yesterday, only 30 cents of every dollar given actually reaches victims. The rest is lost in that endless void of bureaucracy. Second, a full two weeks after the disaster actually went down, only 1 person in 4 had received any aid whatsoever. Yet these facts were hardly reported. We were too busy patting ourselves on the backs for the record amount of pledges that had been gathered. Note the word pledge. In other words, not nearly so much hard cash had been collected. Just promises of donations. And to put this into perspective, after the devastating earthquake in Iran last year, there were over one billion dollars in pledges collected. Yet a full year later, only 17 million dollars had actually been given. That's less than 2%. After the media got tired of the story, everyone conveniently 'forgot' to make good on their word. And one last thing on this subject. In the time since the tsunami happened, more people have died of AIDS (again, just in these last three weeks) than all of the people that perished in the tsunami and it's aftermath combined. But nothing is heard about them at all. If only media coverage for these sort of things was consistent, and thereby charities were able to raise desired amounts for every disaster that happens, more lives could be saved then most aid workers could hope for. But the public's attention span is sporadic and short, so malnutrition, and the Darfur region of the Sudan, among MANY others, become forgotten, but are anything but resolved.

Second, I've heard that for the first time in six years, the sales of CDs has increased as compared to the year before. The record company of course was very quick to blame internet piracy for the decline in the first place, while attempting to make themselves come off as the poor victims. This reminded me of an excellent article that I read years back written by none other than [*gasp*] Courtney Love. Will wonders never cease? Yet, it really was excellent, and rather than try to sum it up here, I'll repost it for you to have a look at in a few days.

One final word on how often I'll be posting on here. A few of you have complained that I've been getting lazy when it comes to how often I do a new blog. It's true that I am lazy when it comes to this, but it's in a different sort of way. I don't like to sit down at a computer too often, which would be what I'd have to do if I post short entries every couple of days. So what I usually do is wait till I feel like I have enough to say, and do one long entry every two weeks or so. If I happen to get enough stories to tell in a shorter time, I'll post more often. But thanks for reading :)


Blogger Sasha said...

I guess everything is relative. You said that British people smile and shove you off at the same time, manners are skin deep. I remember Russian immigrants saying exactly the same thing about Northamericans...

Why do you stand out as a tourist, just because of your pronunciation?

8:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, i should have been more clear that i was talking about londoners (is that a word?) more so than english in general. it's more of a big city thing. or in this case huge city thing. and it definitely is true in most big north american cities as well. i didn't mean to say that only the english are guilty of this. just that they sound more polite than others while they're doing it.


1:07 p.m.  

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