Monthly Archives: December 2014

What England taught me: learn to listen and to shut up.

I am always dissing England but as I said before, I chose to move there and it was my home for years. A place I was eager to go back to because a place where I felt comfortable in my own skin, a place where I could reinvent myself far from the social shackles of France.

One of the thing England gave me is the ability to leave people be and to know when it’s not my place to intervene.

I always like to tease the English when they say they have the ability to just leave people alone. I always tell that they don’t, the only ability they have is to not give a shit about anybody but themselves. I am such a bitch!

But the truth is: I have changed a lot. I have also learnt silence: when to keep it, when to nurture it, when to attack with it. As an anxious person, I used to babble endlessly haunted by the silence of the other, feeling them creeping in my mind and reading who I was so I would just carry on talking. Now I have learnt to control the silence and my ability to wait for people to ask me about things rather than flood them with everything that flushes out my mind.

I spent virtually three days with my family celebrating Christmas from December 24th (yes, we are not Anglophones) to December 26th and I have discovered how much more restraint I was in conversations. I still tend to monopolise it if I initiate it but hey, I only initiate to show off and be the centre of attention so shush and listen!

What I observed was my family being French, very French: barging in conversations, not knowing what was said and what was agreed, just because they heard a sentence that triggered an opinion. And in France, there is this idea that when one has an opinion, one has to give it openly and the others must be grateful for such an act of dedication. Even if there is no consideration for others or question as to whether it is appropriate or even relevant.

I have hundreds of example: my brother taking my cousin apart to tell him that his girlfriend is a bitchy weirdo everyone hated. My cousin did not ask him anything but my brother felt like it was something worth saying.

My mother, grandmother and other cousin were talking about depression, support and medication in the kitchen, my uncle barging in and just starting to aggressively monopolise the conversation to expose his uneducated findings on the pluses and minuses of medication. He had no idea what the others were saying and nor did he care.

My other uncle questioning about my coming back to France until I realised he was not listening, just waiting to tell me that he disagreed with my choice. I see him twice a year and all he has to tell me is this? My mother told him about it in September so he has been saving it for months as well.

Sure, I had millions of opinions. Opinions I would have expressed loudly a couple of years ago. I would not have told my cousin what my brother said but ended up fighting with the latter about his being an absolute obnoxious dickhead. I would have joined the discussion about depression I was just watching from a chair next to the window because I do know a lot about depression but unlike my uncle I understood that it was just not for me to barge in. I was not involved. I would have gladly meddled in with my aunt and grandmother to tell the latter that her continuous smoking on the face of all her grandchildren for the past 30 years was way worse than us walking barefeet on the tiled floor. And definitely told my uncle to “Go find someone who cares!”.

And I did not. A couple of years ago, keeping what I thought to myself was an endless struggle. It was literally like trying to swallow down the vomit filling your mouth when you feel more is surging up your throat. Words and opinions were gushing out: I had to say it, people had to know the full extent of my agreement, disagreement or lack of care. And people had to submit to my desperate need to have the last word. Now I give it away gladly.

You will tell me that the family meddling in everyone’s business is everywhere but in France, it’s not just the family when that kind of things happen. I went to a training session and, after seven years of these in the UK, I have re-encountered something I completely forgot: the heckler, the attention-seeker, the only-child, the let’s-talk-about-me-myself-and-I.

In these trainings and meetings, there is only someone, sometime more, usually a man, who keeps interrupting the trainer to talk about how shameless is the amount of taxes we pay, how unfair and deceiving the State is, how things are better everywhere else – when he has actually never left his birth town or travelled abroad. There is always the one who abuses the question time to make it all about himself, to vent his anger, disappointment and try to rally us with me in an orgy of hatred against everything that takes his money away from his bank account – and blaming women.

In England, you meet these guys at the pub. In France, as well: the guy with a inflated red nose and heavy eyes who stinks of cheap English beer and who heckles you across the room to rant at the TV, politicians, immigrants, taxes, women and “poofters” who are ruining France. But in France, you also have these completely sober guys in meetings and trainings in a professional environment.

They are absolute strangers, you did not who they were in the morning and you forgot their name the second they said it but they are French and they have this sense of self-entitlement: they have their freedom of speech and they will use it, they will say what they want and you will put up with it whether you like it or not. Like a teenage bully.

This happens in England of course but as far as I am concerned, I must have seen it, what? Once or twice in seven years. No one ever stopped staff meetings, trainings and such to object out loud and initiate an utterly sterile debate because we know no one gives a shit and can’t wait to get back to actually do something productive. These people will ask questions at the end and if they are relevant and constructive, they will be mentioned in the next meeting.

Five months in France and they are fucking everywhere these people with an opinion that is always worth giving out loud, these people who are wasting everyone’s time with their problems and vendettas.

Now there is one issue with my France vs England: the social media. I say it doesn’t happen in England, however social medias, especially the ones which are heavily used by English speakers are riddled with cheap, easy, uneducated opinions, people lecturing strangers, telling them what to do and constantly venting their opinion. Take any videos on YouTube and read the comments. This is beyond anything you will ever encounter from the worst wino in the street.

In France, it doesn’t happen that much. It is true that we are not as tech-savvy or tech-addicted as English speakers (or me) can be – I am alien In France with my Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. People of my age with their Facebook as a self-advertising page just don’t get it.

To come back on the constant anger, outrage, venting and unsolicited opinions on the social media, I think it is because the English have learnt that they are expected to keep it for themselves in English society that they are happily using and abusing the anonymous status of social media to do what the French will do to your face.

It is not to say that the English are coward, just that they have social expectations and the social prejudice that stem from them pushing them to seek a different way to let it out. Someone who cannot control its mouth in England is automatically categorised as low-educated, working-class or drunk. It is the same in Scandinavian societies so I am wondering whether the place of religious as a private matter rather than a social matter has something to do with it. As a Catholic, you have to show off your faith whereas as a protestant, faith tends to be more private.

I say “tends” to be because it frankly doesn’t apply to the US…

So yes, I have come back to France more private and that’s also why I opened this blog. I used to just think people were there to listen to me soliloquise out loud on various aspect of life, I used to think it was always my duty to inform people of what my opinion was, I used to think I was allowed as a free human being to just barge into any kind of conversation.

Now I write here, for me and for who wants to read it. Now I spectate a lot, leaving people be until they ask me something. Sometimes I say something because I do feel it can bring something more, something they don’t know or constructive to the conversation. I don’t correct people on every single mistake they make like I used to because “I always know better so I must teach them” was my mantra – and I did my share of teaching.

Now if I feel I can’t keep my tongue for myself, I just “aloofly” leave the room.

England taught me to be more considerate of people and more civilised. More aloof too, yes, but I like that. I can watch and observe people more.

“Less social” the French likes to say.

“Do you the story of the meddlesome dog who always sticks his nose in places where it does not belong? It’s too busy listening to the neighbours and gets run over by a bus”. I like to reply.

Seasons greetings from sharks. Oh joy!

I am, at the moment, experiencing of the joy of British life, even though I left England six months ago: the debt collectors.

As a Frenchman who has always paid every single of his bills the second they arrived, I heard of it but I never knew what they were. Also, the companies who put themselves willingly in debt to blindly chase you later are strictly forbidden in France and many countries on the continent.

My issues? The usual with companies in England. Everyone has a story like this.

I called my mobile company in July to say I was moving back to France…forever! – They tried to put my account in sleep or offer me an international deal. Well I am leaving England forever, that’s for sure and I told them it had to be closed before I was closing my UK bank account on September 26th. The agent said okay, he had done it. I thought that was quick but frankly I was more used to deal with HSBC who have excellent customer service so I did not see anything into it. He told me I would get an email and a letter. I realised months later than I got none of it.

So one day, on late October, I get some news from my former landlord in England saying that they got a letter from Orange: I owed them more than £100 and something about debt collection which I knew nothing about. I called them, they say they have no record of the cancellation. Of course, they don’t. It went smoothly with BT, the gym, the RSPCA, the British Humanist Association, the GALA…I was stupid to believe everything would go fine, wasn’t I?

For this is quite a common practice with Internet and mobile companies, especially from the agents on the customer service who are disposable, even more so when they are cancelling contracts. I told them that they say they are recording phone calls so they find it back and they will have confirmation And Orange tells me they are not responsible for the mistake their agents are doing. And that I should have double-checked. Come again?! My job was teaching, not double-checking if Orange’s agents are working well. That’s the job of Orange’s management.

Then I am dropped out of nowhere into payment services where they ask for an account in England. I told them I don’t live there anymore , it’s like talking to a hole in the ground. At some point, she even asks me if I can just give a friend’s bank details and give them the money back. Are you fucking mad?!

I even go to an Orange boutique in France (Orange is what used to be France Télécomes) to ask for help and they tell me it might be the same name but it is not the same entity. I also discover that Orange actually disappeared when they merged with T-mobile into EE. Whatever…

So nothing. They ain’t gehin’ nofin’ from me!

Then in mid-December, a letter again in England from Buchanan Clark and Wells – or something, there are some loose Ns and Ss I don’t know where to put – and I discover the debt collectors. For those on the continent who don’t know, these people are the opposite of the debts collectors we have here who are buying the debts of people in difficulty to banks, merge them and come up with a relief payment plan. They help people. Not in England.

In the UK, these companies are willingly buying the debts from “struggling” companies to chase the everyday people. So that Buckman Church and Wollop thingy got a call from EE, they gave EE the money and now I actually don’t EE anything but I owe it to Butt Cleft and Waffles.

That’s a fantastic move from EE – completely supported by the government – because if they dealt with it directly, I would have a valid claim. The Internet is filled with lazy, dishonest people yes, but also people like me who have never missed a payment, never been overdraft in their entire life, who are doing everything right, in time, following proper procedures but suddenly find themselves forced to pay some money they don’t owe and don’t have because it turns the companies are useless at best.

With Buttocks, Cocks and Willies, EE would have to deal with the claim themselves and face the reality of their rogue practice. A common practice again. It happened to me with Virgin as well when I moved from London to Birmingham and they refused to change the name on the account. I called them two months in advance, twice then the landlady called them five times and everytime: “It’s okay, we’ve done it”. They never did and it took three extra months to finally get it done so I paid the phone and Internet for a place I was not living in anymore. I paid that time because I was afraid, just moved to England but swore to never deal with Virgin again and convinced countless friends to do the same.

This is time, no.

As far as EE is concerned, they literally gave the hot shit to someone else who was rogue enough to buy a debt. I called Bleak, Cancer and Wither to tell them that I was not living in England and explain why I did not owe that money but they cannot understand anything else that “What are you bank details?” and they don’t care, to be honest. All they see is that I owe them money. I don’t know who they are, I don’t know exactly what they did to get that negative balance, I do know that they couldn’t give a fuck about what happened. They just want the money and that’s an end of it.

EE did what all companies are doing in England, they flee their responsibility and liability by putting the fruits of their mistakes in the hands of others. When it comes to EE, they got the money they wanted, they got rid of the problem so they don’t have to be sharks and bastards, and they can keep their hands clean. Some company will do the job for them.

I would like to meet the people who found those debt collecting companies, to ask them lengthy questions about every aspect of their life, childhood and education. It must be a fantastic insight into the dark places of neo-capitalism.

In France, it is a forbidden. A company will have to be the bastard and go the justice system themselves. There is no being a coward and letting the bullies do your dirty work. They will have to get the bailiffs in themselves and they will have to sit and listen to their potential failings in risk of tarnishing their reputation.

Now I am waiting. I am anxious by nature so I am a bit worried sometimes. I think about it once/day but that’s what I do with money anyway. My family and friends do not seem fazed at all. They all told me to just let it go and ignore it. I didn’t and called various helplines and specialists in England and France but the maze of the justice system between countries, especially with the UK, has rendered them irrelevant. They don’t know what could happen. They know my landlords are protected because I don’t live there and it’s my name that is soiled, not theirs.

I left the UK months ago ensuring that when my bank account was closed, it was the end of everything, I could finally bring closure and it turns out UK’s rogue capitalism is like cancer, it comes back when you don’t expect it. Especially around Christmas.

PS: This is not a “Awww, please, commiserate!” post. I am  not that kind!

Mr and Miss Longevity

This morning, on the radio, there was a show discussing obesity and the guy opened with a speech quoting various studies and the first one was “Obese people lose on average 8 years of life expectancy”. The rest of the show was actually very interesting because there was a doctor specialising in dealing with obese people who ridiculed such amalgamous studies, if not their findings, at least their dubious effects.

But that’s not my pet peeves. It’s this obsession with life expectancy. The age we could reach has become the age we should reach and the idea that if we don’t, we have failed.

Everywhere, the first argument against anything considered harmful is that you will not live as long as you should. Everywhere the first argument for anything considered good is that it wold help you live longer but where does this obsession with living longer comes from? What happened to humanity for it to be obsessed with reaching 200 years old? Especially when you are considered irrelevant you after you reach 60…

Is that some kind of world-wide contest we are signed in straight from birth to find out who will be the winner of Mr and Miss Longevity? Who has decided that living as long as possible was to key to a successful, happy life?

The more I hear about it, the more I see people stress about it, the more it sound like a final school exam we have to pass after a lifetime of revisions: will you reach your age goal before you die? If you work hard, you will. If you don’t, you won’t.

But what’s the price? Will I go somewhere special if I live longer than the age I could reach? How do I know that age? Is it fixed or a variable? Is it carved on me somewhere I can’t see? Is my body coming with an expiration date I have to overcome? What happened if I don’t? Then I die “sooner”…and what happened if I do? Will my life really be a failure?

I understand that life expectancy is an important landmark when you see that the average one in some African countries is 35 years old. This is the manifestation of endless plagues. Life expectancy is an index for health and anything affecting the lifestyle of a country. When Russia’s plummeted after the break-up of the USSR, it was a sign of turmoil. But in our everyday, it has turned into a contest and a supposed key to fulfilment.

I was born in 1984 and I am being told I should live to 80. First: no! The baby boys born today could be living to 80 but what about me? I don’t know and frankly no one knows what their life expectancy is, what number was attached to them when they were born so why are we still trying to convince people to eat less, stop smoking and drinking by telling them that they will fail a goal they have never set themselves?

The way I see these studies is that they are trying to play on our increasing hypochondria. They are basically telling me that if I were a bit more responsible with my eating, I could die at 80 instead of 72. Well, I am sorry but I’d rather die at 72 knowing that I ate what I wanted and enjoyed it rather than realising on my death bed at 80 that I spent my whole bloody life depriving myself of my favourite just so I could live a bit longer without it. And what’s in these eight extra years that makes them so special anyway?

And I am irresponsible, reallly? I am putting my life in danger? It’s not like my pleasure is to speed on the motorway hands of the wheel shouting “YOLO!” because THAT is irresponsible as it puts the life of others at risk. If the person wants to kill themselves, be it but endangering the life of others is what is unacceptable and irresponsible. Here, it’s just me eating cakes. Overweight and obese people are not endangering anyone so why are people obsessed with how many years we are supposedly going to miss because of that?

I know where the real issue is because the bogus argument about the fear of dying youngER than one should is fairly new. When it comes to eating, the argument used to be “Don’t you want to be attractive. I mean, look at you, all fat and lonely. People will not like you if you’re fat”. However, this argument is more revealing of the accuser’s shallowness than the accused’s behaviour. It is a terrible image of a society that is ready to exclude people based of what they look like. So, although this argument is stronger than ever in people’s attitude, we speak of another argument that is made to sound more caring: “You’ll die younger, you know. I am just worried about you…” Aw, the pleasure of “healthy” people who are all extremely caring and very pushy too in their desire to interfere in your life to dispense unsolicited wisdom. Is that what healthy does to people?

The second reason is the usual focus on numbers: on quantity instead of quality. It’s the same in every aspect of our lives: age, weight, money, penis size, breasts size, materialism. Some numbers have to be as high as possible, others as balanced as possible, sometimes as little as possible. It’s all about numbers here to quantify our happiness.

Now let’s look at the reality of growing old. My grand-father is 82, he has “beaten” his life-expectancy and when I talk about his age to people they are all so happy for him that he “managed it”, as if he had spent all his life getting ready for it. It’s like he won a race he never intended to run. “He must be so happy!”

No, he’s not! He’s a man who worked non-stop from 16 to 67 and when he retired, the shock was such that he lost every single hair on his body. He took two years to grow back. For the past 15 years, he has been bored. It was fine when he still had the strength to do DIY and make wooden furniture but about ten years ago, he lost his strength, his reflexes, his legs couldn’t allow him to stand for too long and since then he has basically been waiting for death. I see a man who says he sincerely wishes he had died 10 years ago when he could still do something with his hands and think straight.

The society is looking at my grand-father like a winner, a man who vanquished nature by living longer than “he should” for a man born in 1932. I am not saying that all old people are miserable but what I see in him and many older people is that dragging life to an undignified, endless end is not a fulfilment in itself and should not be used to convince people to be healthier. Dying maybe a bit younger but with a feeling that you enjoyed your life all the way, on the other hand, is.

Bottom line is: these studies about life-shortening are mostly irrelevant and bark at the wrong tree. It will be relevant to point out the dangers of death when the risk is extremely high, as it is with highly potent drugs, sexual transmitted diseases or dangerous behaviours. AIDS will not shorten your life by a couple of years but will cut it in half, an overdose or a car accident will kill you on the spot. I am not talking about that because there are no studies about it, they are a fact of life.

But telling me to eat less cakes or telling a 20-year-old to quit smoking otherwise we live less than we should is daft at best. Use the present, make it a fact of life, not yet another study filled with shoulda’s, coulda’s, woulda’s. Make it relevant to us: talk about incidence on sex and our everyday health, our performance in jobs, mention the diseases that are not just going to shorten our life but rather make it very hard to live. I know I am scared stiff of diabetes for instance and that tempers my binge eating sometimes. Tell people who smoke that they are endangering the lives of their loved ones if they smoke in public, for instance. No one likes to be a selfish bastard. Expect John Terry, of course.

The options are endless and these are truly working, not the may-be-missing annual calendars in the bin.

They see Nazis everywhere.

There is a quite interesting study showing that when an argument breaks up between two people who don’t know each other (well), there is about 70% chance one party will bring up Hitler to justify the validity of their argument against the other. Something on the lines of “Hitler thought the same as you so that proves you are wrong”. Usually, it tends to close the argument. For all the wrong reasons, obviously.

Interesting but I went to check on that years ago. I wish I had kept all the links of my research but that was not something I was doing at the time, unlike today. So I went to check this research and it turned out, when the researchers tried to broaden their findings into population whose first language was not English, the percentage of probability that Hitler pops up decreased dramatically. There is something there.

Back in 2008, when living in Blackpool, I was browsing Youtube for a good rendition of “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” of the Queen of the Night and came accross the Tölzer Knachenbor. It’s a Bavarian choir of boys who sing famous opera pieces. This year, for instance, they performed for FC Bayern München at their Christmas dinner. One of their most famous boys is Robin Schlotz who was singing that Mozart aria. He was also singing Stimme des Waldvögels, a short aria in one of Wagner’s operas. I love that little interlude so I copied the lyrics and posted them on Facebook. Sigfried is mentioned in the lyrics so almost all my English friends told me I was “having a little Nazi nostalgia.”

I played dumb and I asked why they were saying such a thing. They replied that “it’s because Hitler was a friend of Wagner” – he wasn’t. Wagner’s operas are the essence of German romantism that came with the birth of Germany as a nation and the need they felt to find common roots after centuries of fratricidal wars and struggles. They, and Wagner too, went to find them in Germano-Scandivanian mythology along with Odin, Thor, the Valkyries and Sigfried as the half-god hero, a tracing paper-made Germanic Hercules.

The issue is that Hitler followed the same movement and the Nazism rely heavily on this symbolism of German romantism, therefore the mythology. The swatiska cross is the symbol of Thor, after all, whose nickname was Barbarossa (ginger beard), which was also the code name of the invasion of the USSR. So today, in England, any mention of these symbols or Wagner or any author, composer, writer, musician that inspired Hitler will make you more or less a Nazi. There is something there. Certainly no common sense.

Still looking for classical pieces on Youtube, I came across, in Mars this year, a rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria sang by Maria Callas. The comments were littered with accusations and insults directed towards her: she was a Nazi, a Nazi-sympathiser, she was glorifying the Nazism…The name attached to these comments were all English-based. Mostly English names the likes of Sean, Billy, Bob, Britany, John…Once again, the fact that she was singing in German meant that she “was a Nazi”, she “was advertising Nazism” by speaking the language regardless of the fact that it’s a religious, catholic hymn to the Holy Virgin. They could not see behind the German language and, for them, everyone living in Germany before 1945 is a Nazi. Schubert, Göthe, Schiller, Beethoven, all of them. There is something there.

Last August, I found a picture of the European monarchs together at Queen Victoria’s funerals and I posted the pictures on Tumblr. I really liked the picture, some of them, like the King of Belgium, were bloody handsome. Yum! And as a tag I made the mistake of saying what I thought: “Loving the boots!” For the rest of the week, it was a torrent of abuse from various anons accusing me of being a Nazi. For some, you see the bad English but mainly the endless diatribes accusing of wanting Jews to be killed were in very good English. Same kind of reaction from some friends when I asked them if one could find such horsemen boots nowadays and all, expect one, of my English friends told me: “Yes, in a Nazi shop.”  There are boots worn by European kings of all nationalities at the beginning of the 20th century because they rode horses! What the fuck does it have to do with the Nazis? “They wore the same kind of boots”. Yeah, they also were all wearing military outfits, does that mean that all soldiers are Nazis?

And why is Word forcing me to put a bloody capital letter to that dreadful n-word?!

The only way I can explain this obsession with finding, seeing Nazis everywhere is, what I mentioned earlier, the fact that they still cannot get over their victory over them 69 years ago.

In the UK, and especially England, “the War” is mentioned constantly to such an extent that even the German ambassador got fed up with it. Only to be called a “sore loser” and a “kill-joy”. That’s English international diplomacy for you.

Every year, “the War” is the first thing the boys in the school I used to teach use to taunt the German students when we went to German and when they came to England. Boys who were as young 11, 12 years old were stopping what they were doing, purposely going to see German students in the playground to ask them “How does it feels to lose the War?”. In present tense. Not in the past. It’s still happening right now.

You have to go more than three generations in their family for anyone to have actually experienced WWII but still the kids in the playgrounds of England find nothing better to do that asking young Germans about their country’s defeat in 1945. The same kids who asked me what USSR was.

The second question is: How many people are Nazis in your family? (present tense again!)

The third: How many Jews did you kill?

And parents never understood why we never managed to convince German parents to do an exchange with our grammar school. The school had to satisfy with a visit. It’s a common problem with boys all over England.

In the media, if you mention Germany to say they are in some way “worst” than the UK, everything will be fine because in their minds, this is how it should be. The winner takes it all and the loser has to forever suffer. Where it cracks is that the reality is different and it annoys the English. When Germany reinvented itself, made amends, has been fighting its demons for 70 years which allowed the Germans to move on, to find the confidence to be strong again, to use their qualities for the good, the English have not. There are still stuck in 1946. Stuck in a world where they set the tone.

It looks impossible for them to move on because this victory is everything. It finally lead England, its lesser partners in the UK, its former colonies, its colonies and dominions to be the ones who were going to rule the world. Before London and Washington were just another player along with Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tokyo but with France and the Netherlands humiliated and irrelevant, Germany and Japan in smoking ruins, and Canberra raising from the ashes of Indonesia, they took the reins on what would become the Western World. The world order we are living in today is the one of Yalta where “the winners of the war” decided on what would become of the future. And the winners were solely London, Washington and Moscow. With Moscow “defeated” in 1991, today’s crackling world is what English-speaking London and Washington created between 1945 and 1960 politically, economically, sociologically. Moving on from 1945 would mean moving on from this order, moving on from their dominance towards a fairer leadership.

In England, Churchill is still everywhere.  Politicians of all beliefs are using and abusing his spirits. He doesn’t matter how much he drank, how many cigars he smoked, how horrendously sexist and cheap as a man he was, he’s the victor. He’s the man every mean should aspire to, every woman should want to serve and marry. When Scotland was about to vote on independence, one of Westminster’s main arguments was “We defeated the Germans together, we can’t let our little differences tear us apart”. The victory still serves as a gathering call for the English and the like-spoken world.

When it comes to the Germans, the English have this schizophrenic attitude towards them. They admire them, they envy them, their work ethic, the stability of their political system. They envy their comfort, their way of life, and German high-skilled manufactured products are a sign of wealth in a country that advertised de-industrialisation as a way forward. For the upper middle-class whose imperative is to show its status, buying a German car is the door to acceptance: they are expensive, they are stylish, they are luxury cars the poor cannot afford but they don’t have this old-fashioned, old farty geezer or cheap footballer feeling about them like Jaguar or Aston Martin. And they remain affordable for them, unlike Rolls Royce, which is owned by BMW anyway.

The English also try to relate to them by all means now that they are the powerful. Every week, you will hear that their monarchy is German because they are descending from the House of Hannover. They are as German as the Tudors were French but they share something. When it turned out Angela Merkel was nothing like the “silly minger” the English tabloids were depicting her as, the English jumped to remind the world that they too had a “strong woman Prime Minister who changed their country and the world for the better”. Oh dear…

Now, try talking about how well Germany is doing right now and you will see the discussion end quite quickly with an annoyed: “Yeah, we kicked their arse and we will do it again if we have to!” or “Hey, they lost and we won so…”

So what?

“Well, we got Hitler at the end.”

There we are…

The bottom line is that next year, it will be 70 years since WWII – or the War. People who can talk about the realities of “the War” will have to have been born in the early 1920’s so that about…no one. And still, mentioning German culture makes you a Nazi in the UK.

“Without freedom from the past, things can only get worse.”

Wikipedia: For the best

The problem with Wikipedia is not Wikipedia, it’s how people use it.

The tool itself is absolutely brilliant. I like to see it as a modern Great Library of Alexandria, a true wonder that exists only to serve knowledge: to share it, to compare it, to discuss it, to enrich it. It’s rare in today’s society where everything has a price and everything is deeply carved by private economic interests.

However, when you mention Wikipedia, people shrug and ridicule it. It is changing but the info you get from it is usually dismissed as nonsense and there are two main reasons for it.

The first one: the celebrities. Wikipedia is mostly mentioned in mainstream media along with celebrities and their biography. You will hear Liam Hemsworth surprised at the fact that he worked in a library before making it as an actor. You will enjoy Jennifer Saunders laughing at her supposed previous relationships with rock stars who wrote songs about her. The list is endless and the reason is that there is a huge demand in biographical details of celebrities. When checking Dan Radcliffe on Wikipedia, no one really gives a crap about which film he did first, people are looking for a possible homosexual experience or a confirmation that he’s a raging alcoholic.

Wikipedia, in its form, offers the perfect support for it: it’s free and everyone can contribute but come to think of it, our own parents don’t know about our full private life so how can a complete stranger do? So it’s a free for all, one can write anything they want or read in the tabloids which are becoming the reference in itself.

People who have the time and the will to go on the Internet and write about Frank Lampard’s private life are his devoted fans or haters. Not football fans, but his fans or his haters. The ones who fangirl over pictures of him in a suit with his girlfriend or the ones who are getting back at him because he plays for rival team.  When it comes to the rich and famous, Wikipedia becomes as erratic, naïve and deceiving as the people who write and read about them.

Nevertheless, reducing Wikipedia to rubbish because of that is sophism. David Letterman, a couple of months ago, dismissed some details about the sea bathing Melbourne for they were found on Wikipedia. His argument was that his biography was wrong on the website therefore the information about Melbourne was wrong too. No, it’s a different scale. Geographical facts are gathered scientifically and can be easily checked and amended if wrong whereas genuine biographical facts of celebrities are few and far between so people will grant themselves literary licence to fill the blanks.

The two are not comparable and the issue is not with Wikipedia but rather with people who read celebrity entries like they read the tabloids: it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The second reasons are the fucking idiots from that American university. Yes, I swore but they are a waste of brain!

A couple of years ago, a professor and its students were obviously bored out of their mind and did not know what to do with the millions a private company had bankrolled them so they ‘made’ an experience. They went on Wikipedia, wrote absolute bollocks about something in physics (I think) to see if people believed it. People did so they have been discrediting Wikipedia ever since.  According to them, it proves Wikipedia is 100% nonsense!

Question: How is it different from them publishing these wrong facts in an article or in a book? People would have believed it as much they did on Wikipedia and it would have been rectified as much as it has been on Wikipedia.

We believed them, not because it is Wikipedia, rather because these people have academic credentials to write about this. We, Wikipedia and the rest of us, trusted them to write honestly about what they know. That’s the whole point of Wikipedia: it calls on people who know about something to genuinely share it with clear references. The same way the press is expecting scientists to be honest about what they write, whether it is accurate or not.

This is not Wikipedia’s fault if we don’t question what a university professor, who we trust to tell us the truth, is writing on it. These people could easily have written something true to inform us, to help us, to bring something more, instead of wasting their and our time by deceiving everybody. They are one of the main reasons why Wikipedia is full of errors, because they are too busy trying to prank  and deceive people to begin with.

Their conclusion is sophism in its genuine essence. When some scientists publish something that turns out to be wrong in a newspaper, we don’t discredit the whole press as such. We don’t question every single fact from every newspaper. We discredit the scientist. When a scientist comes on TV or the radio or write a book to assert something that, after investigation, is discovered to be rubbish, we don’t call for people not to trust the media, we point the fingers at the scientist.

So why do we point finger at Wikipedia instead of that professor and those students? I don’t see how using their academic credentials to fool people is proof that Wikipedia is shit. If the medium creates the lie, like tabloids do, I agree they should be discredited because they instigate the problem. However, this is not the case here. Wikipedia and its staff have not deceived anyone, the professor and its students have.

Regarding the content in itself, it is also a matter of educating people on how to handle it and this is not Wikipedia’s mission either. What are they supposed to do? Force people to read a 20-page disclaimer? This is the job of teachers like me to tell students that Wikipedia is very good but to teach them to double check the facts here and there. One can argue that it’s what the professor and its students were aiming for but this is not what they either said or achieved. Their conclusion was plain: Wikipedia should not be trusted, therefore used.

When I read about my country or things I know on Wikipedia, it turns to be 90% accurate and that’s enough for me. If I see something I know to be wrong, Wikipedia is expecting me to be clever enough to amend it with trustworthy references instead of slamming my laptop in disbelief and preaching the hanging of its founder.

When after hearing of Chernobyl again in the press, I go there finally looking for an answer as to how radioactivity is affecting living organisms, I am just looking for some overall understanding not a full-on exposé on how to handle radioactivity in my house or because I have decided to clean Fukushima myself. But already I hear the nuclear scientific community saying that Wikipedia is fooling people into believing something that is not true. Get down from your ivory tower, stop the finger-pointing and make it true then! Why is it so difficult for people who know to do that?

After that, it’s all a matter of scale. As long as it doesn’t encourage people to go to Fukushima for a uranium-cleanse spa treatment, I am fine with what I read because I am not a nuclear scientist, I am MFL teacher with a passion for baking. It’s a good start for me to look further. Then again, if you have students in final year of nuclear physics reading Wikipedia like the Bible, the university has serious issues with its teaching. Don’t blame Wikipedia.

The website’s mission is to make knowledge easily accessible to everyone, by everyone, through everyone. It calls on us to selflessly share what we know, to build a new beacon of knowledge and we do. In this day and age of general dumbing down in mainstream media, it is hard for the media to believe but people do go and look for information and knowledge on a daily basis and they are changing their attitude towards it.

Not everything in the books of The Great Library was true, far from it, but what was written inspired people, helped them move forward and triggered discussions. It was starting point. That’s what Wikipedia is for. And the fact that people are ready to share so much in exchange of nothing, the fact that all my students know about go to look for some information is an achievement no one can dismiss.

Cultural shock: Dubai – The land-only British cruise.

The English are obsessed with Dubai and I never understood why. I know why but I don’t understand. Well…I do but that doesn’t mean I approve.

None of my friends coming from the continent actually understand why either. Most of our students are going there every year with their families, colleagues go there, friends go there, everyone in England seems to be going there or is talking about going there, planning to go there or dreaming of going there.

It suddenly came back to me this insane craving they have for Dubai as yet another pair of British Youtubers went there and posted their holiday vlogs for everyone to enjoy. I actually love watching these. First, because I watch British Youtubers if they are fit and handsome (Hello the Chapman twins!) but also I take a lot of pleasure looking down at them for they never do anything different in Dubai. The vlogs from there are all the same: they all go to the same hotel, the same beach, do the same activities, take the same pictures, eat the same food, watch the same shows and actually say the same things along with their “passion” for One Direction.

Living on the continent, especially in France, where we do have sunny beaches, Dubai is nothing. We never hear about it, expect to mention another one of the “my penis is much bigger than yours” buildings architects are allowed to build in the desert. For us, it’s just madness.

A huge city in the middle of the desert built on speculation and, literally, sand. A fallacy with no sanitation which forces garbage trucks to queue for up to 15 hours in the sand dunes, just a couple of miles away from the city centre. The working conditions of these drivers are such hell that they usually can’t stand waiting and end up dumping their load somewhere in the sand for it to rot under blistering sun. A city that does not treat its used water, rather dumps it in the sea “far enough”, they used to think, from the tourists. However, the city has grown and diseases are multiplying as people are now swimming in a decade of waste. An emirate that is not a democracy but a despotic monarchy where sharia law is more or less implemented.

That’s Dubai for us, on the continent. We are aware of its qualities but we are also very aware of its flaws. You will have people going there of course but nothing like the scale of the Brit invasion the emirate is happy to deal with.

In England, Dubai is everywhere. Footballers were the first to the rush, generously paid by the builders and architects to promote the city. Steven Gerrard has a tower named after him there. They all “bought” villas and mansions on the Palm Tree Island and have been the biggest advertising dummies for years. Politicians even go on holidays there now that England’s former Cuba, Egypt, has decided to take the matter of its politics in its own hand. No more free holiday from our dictatory friends. Sharm El Sheikh has lost its appeal. So we go to Dubai, the Emir is such a lovely man.

There is indeed a tradition coming from the English aristocracy to go on holidays closed rich ghettos away from the “exotic” poverty, like in India, and later to go sunbathing in the colonised remains of the Ottoman Empire. A custom envied by the middle class and that Dubai knew how to turn into profits with mastery. They present themselves as THE destination for the British because they offer what most of the Brits want on holiday: sun, heat and a place where they can stay without having to put up with the locals. A cruise without the boat.

It’s difficult when you go to France, Spain, Italy, Portugal or Greece nowadays because you have to go to a place where people live already. It’s difficult to find what you want and entertain yourself without having to deal with another language, with another culture, with people who might act, think and be differently on a daily basis. It’s fine for a cruise where you make an effort for an hour or two hours but for a whole week?! Are you mad?

And you cannot do whatever you want, it’s like these people are holding you back. What a drag!

In Dubai, it’s fantastic. You go to a huge hotel build in the middle of nowhere so there were no locals to begin with, but everything was carefully planned and is right there. The beach is private so no chance of having to put up with unfathomable foreign behaviour, even the sea belongs to the hotel so no chance of weird things happening because they guaranteed it is filtered on the edges. Restaurants, shopping centres, aquariums, karaoke, ball room, casino, a marina and a special taxi service with chauffeurs hired by the hotel that will drive you straight to Burj Khalifa and back. A real tourists-only town. No need for awkward meddling. Even most of the staff is from English-speaking countries.

If only Spain were built like that – customised around the wishes of British tourists.

Dubai is the British dream. Until it is not because sometimes, you have people who want to wander about and see a bit more than the same thing as their friends. So they will go in the actual town, in the local shopping centres, restaurants, beaches and the local sea. Where they would maybe hold hands, have a drink of alcohol or share a kiss just to be arrested for public indecency and breaking of the religious rules because you do not drink alcohol just like that in sharia-abiding countries.

And the prisons in Dubai are not the prisons we have here. You are not presumed innocent and you will not be offered a drink or a lawyer. And in Albion, no one understands suddenly. “Aw but…why? It’s just alcohol! We do it all the time! How dare they?!”

There are tears and pleas from the family, outrage from the tabloids, a quick intervention from the Prime Minister, because that’s obviously all he has to do (isn’t it, Daily Mail?!) and the matter is closed. A week passes and another ad with Wayne Rooney advertising the city will pop in the press. And they are going back to the ideal sight of Dubai – and now Doha – that will always offer the Brits the perfect holidays: Britain in the sun.

Maybe it’s because we don’t live on an island and actually we learnt to deal with each other but it’s definitely not something that attracts us like it appeals to them. Especially the French! I mean it took us for 400 years of endless wars against our neighbours to ensure that we would not have to go abroad for any kind of holiday: we pushed our countries boundaries to include snowy mountains, rainy plains, dry hills, cold beaches and the French Riviera. No risk of having to adapt to something else…