News & Articles
Browse all content by date.
A person expects some communication difficulty when stepping out the US. Despite our economic and political influence American style English is far from the most heavily used language on the planet. I don’t know which is, perhaps a version of Chinese, but not the English of the US. There are even language differences between the US and nearby Canada where English gets delivered with base ten Metric influences. Ah, and let’s not forget the French angle; though that may be a separatist issue. Over the ocean where a bard worked on an ox bow before there was Avon to hawk door-to-door shook spears of poetic and dramatic force there can be language problem enough to make you wonder if the mother tongue hasn’t disowned us. George is long dead but his national kin carry on with “Yank not spoken here!” I think this is, however, mostly due to Brits driving on the wrong side of the road along with quaintly clinging to rondos where a plain intersection would do the job. These practices leave them confused as if Anglo-Saxon and Norman wasn’t a full plate of turmoil already. You never know when an English English-speaker will say haricot and not be embarrassed to use the term instead of the simpler green bean. Thank God for the Irish who make all English expression charmingly grand.
I’d like to say as much about linguistic charms after crossing the narrow stormy divide known as The Channel. French sounds rather nice when used among French, but if turned on you the result might have you think a raft in the The Channel would hold less tempest. On the other hand if you want to experience the adventure of being overcharged for a raw room with sticky floors and an indescribable toilet down an ill lit hall let me point you to Calais. You’ll find it there in a hotel with a pretty name to mislead you into thinking it might be OK. But weary at one AM you take your chance and live with it.
Other challenges come beside those of language. A plain cup of morning coffee is rarely found and won’t include a refill. But take heart. It costs more this way, as does a glass of ordinary water, and in some cases the washroom will have a fee to go along with peculiar plumbing. As you wave toss on beaches of the unfamiliar you’ll unexpectedly see a flash of the recognizable say Coke or other stock logo. It is, in fact, embarrassing to feel a flush of happy recognition on seeing EXXON, the golden arches, or the colonel’s face next to KFC. These are primarily roadside attractions, but I’d bet my vacation money Papa Kraut knows the value of a happy meal to purchase peace and quiet from kids in the auto. Want to wager that Ronald Mc hasn’t made this work in Tibet as well? Have I any takers?
Recognizable without knowing content is the intent of political posters. It is the season. I’m supposing Europe has its Viktor Trump, Hillary Merkel, and Kim-Bernie versions to match ours and with as much ease of understanding as Holder touting the political kick. As a northern Minnesotan who burned wood every winter I hit a dead halt at the EU protecting the environment by banning wood fuel. Nuclear, oil, solar, and wind are the approved energy sources, and while the EU often operates on a clearly socialist model this seems to me to place dependence on big business. I’d suspect supplying energy from wind generators more wasteful and less efficient than heating a room with a wood stove. But perhaps there is a plan to use solar energy to grind un-burned wood into mountains of unused mulch over which drones circle the winter skies to search for moonshining wood burners cheating the system to get drunk on the pleasures of illicit heat.
One form of communication seems nearly universal. Graffiti is its name, and it is quite remarkably the same in any language. Spray paint determines much of the style that gives similarity to grain car decoration added outside St. Paul to those images done under a bridge approaching Munich. The intended meaning of a foreign phrase or depiction of character I can only guess at with one notable exception. Writ large in black spray across a wall with much other graffiti was this in plain English. SEX ISN’T LOVE. I hadn’t expected to see such a message in graffiti; had you?
It made me think. Among stray details there are some possibly important distinctions. I note cars aplenty outside graveyards. Are these people morbid or from cultures having respect for their dead and their past? Some nations are reverent toward the deceased and the past. They clearly outdo most of America in funerary observance and detail. What is it, after all, that gives a nation a particular culture or tradition if not awareness of its past and origins? Personal loyalty might be found in a ball team or beer brand, but a sense of nation and allegiance needs, I think, something larger to hold it together and give shape.
Knowing me, perhaps you’ve seen it coming, but I honestly didn’t expect what I came across in a translated quote by a dead foreign leader. “Faith and reason (fides et ratio) are like two wings on which the human spirit rises.” As I read and wrestle with that statement it feels deeper than and more than an expression of simple politics. It draws attention to something more than votes, power, and economics, etc. I can’t say exactly what it is, and anyway it’s best for you to come to grips with this on your own terms. But it would be a rare American politician who’d speak to voters in such terms. Maybe that explains not only why we hear “we kick them” as political activism but why listeners cheered with enthusiasm. If the moral and ethical account is allowed to run bankrupt the result is meanness of spirit and direction. I felt huge sadness that a former Attorney General had so little respect for that which he had sworn to respect and sorrow for those who found this worthy of applause.