Saturday, February 14, 2009

This is England

The title of this post does not have to do with the quietly brutal film titled This is England. It is simply a statement of fact. This is England.

I haven't been as mobile this year as I was last year, for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is, of course, school and work, with the expected secondary reason of trying to save money. Although we have not been hit too noticeably hard by the global recession, it is still good to be prudent. The upshot of this is that I have a bit less to report on this here blog; so, I thought I would simply share. Some good things, some bad things, but all with the same theme: This is England.

So here's something, and some of you may have already heard some bits of this rant: I the treatment of feminism in the UK. Wait, strike that. I am confused by the treatment of women in general in the UK. I know that the fact that I carry the baggage of northern California on my back can skew my perception of women's issues (always to the liberal side), but I have commiserated with other North American women on this topic. I could tell stories of witnessing poor relations between romantically entangled men and women in public; or I could regale you with stories of how bankers, clerks and waitstaff prefer to address Brad, even when they're answering a question I've asked; or I could wonder aloud at the sheer ridiculousness of 3-year-old girls wearing high heels in public, but I know all of these things could be seen as purely subjective. So, instead, I'll share some pieces of the media with you. I'll share the "science" of how careers have ruined women's figures. I'll show you how "being a free woman isn't all it's cracked up to be" (and, by the way, many of these articles come from a section of the "news"paper The Daily Mail called "Femail Today"). I'll impart to you the business savvy of the head honchos of the Bank of England, who have shown their fashion sense to be more than a little outdated. Or, finally, I could explain that feminism and reckless promiscuity are practically the same thing. I can do all these things with the support of the popular media.

Don't get me wrong - it is not all bad. Why, the English boast some very incredible women. Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet...and they are proud and supportive of these women - or are they?

Amidst the scarily young fathers and the mushy peas and the recent bizarre and terrible failure on the part of the child protective services, there are certainly a lot of eyebrow-raisers going on. But I digress.

There are also some wonderful things about living here. For instance, I love my program, and I am enjoying very much being one of the editors of our translation studies journal. I spend quite a bit of time on campus even when I don't have class, either rummaging through the library or attending any number of fascinating research seminars, and though I haven't really explored the Sainsbury Centre, I fully intend to, not too long from now. They are having an exhibition called "China China China!!!", and I wonder how the exhibition would be received differently were it called "China China China?" or "China China China..."

For a town (or I suppose I should say small city) its size, Norwich has a very wonderful gallery/show space, called the Norwich Arts Centre. The last time I was in there they played Tom Waits and Johnny Cash on the stereo, so I left happy. They have many many shows every month, and next month I will try to fill my Americana gap by seeing (an Australian band play) some bluegrass there, on St. Patrick's Day. I am quite excited.

I got to have a taste of some good ol' fashioned grassroots activity this last week, when some students from my school occupied one of the buildings on campus to show support to the people of Gaza, and though I thought that their tactics would make the Berkeley activists shake their heads, I appreciated the effort, at least. They eventually gave up their fight because the school refused to protect them from forcible eviction, which makes me wonder: what did they expect? It isn't a public building, after all, and the nature of protests is that, peaceful or not, there are bound to be some unpleasant altercations. Oh well. It's the thought that counts.

There are some generally entertaining things going on here, too. For instance, a person from North America chuckles sometimes at the language differences; even the road signs* bring with them a sort of hilarity (for a variety of reasons). In short, it is easy to stay reasonably happy, despite some of the cultural differences.

On the subject of cultural differences (and pardon this meandering train of thought - it is the verbal equivalent of listening to a hair band noodle for a while), I wonder if Americans would judge the UK so harshly, or vice versa, if we spoke different languages. In other words, would I marvel at the societal differences as much if I had to look across a foreign language, or would I simply write off the differences as coming with the territory? I believe the shared language is a hindrance, sometimes, as if I am using more false friends than I am aware of. Perhaps they have, in the words of Steve Martin, "a different word for everything".

Well, that's it for me tonight, folks. Except for this! I am very excited about this! It is one of my top choices and I feel ready for it, and Brad and I are very extremely excited at the prospect of returning to the U.S., finding a place where we can buy things bigger than a suitcase, and maybe getting a small pet of some sort. After spending the better part of 3 years abroad, I think I am ready for a break. The time to return is not here yet, though, so in the meantime, I'll work on some translations, eat some fish 'n' chips, and take a little trip here and there.

*Thanks to Bay for this.