Friday, 26 March 2010

Bog Standard Britain


Apologies for the long silence. I was chaperoning some students to England for intensive English study. It was such an interesting experience to see my country through their eyes. I`ll write more once this terrible West-to-East jetlag has worn off. (East-to-West is no problem but West-to-East is like being drunk, drugged and then beaten with a kendo stick.) For the moment I will just post the one photo that I think sums up the England experience for them and for me: the traditional British toilet. For me, this toilet at Canterbury West station represents all that is wrong and shameful about England. It`s old, cold, dirty, poorly managed and broken. The bolts in the cistern to stop people placing drugs in there are just the final insult as far as I am concerned. However it is toilets just like this one that my students` rave about when they come back from the UK. It`s old! It`s whimsical! It`s like something out of a museum! They have the same ones in Harry Potter! You have to pull the chain many times to make it work! As far as they are concerned England is like some Victorian era theme park.

Later we visited a public restroom that was bathed in an ice-blue light. The students oohed and aahed at how the glow relaxed them and took away their stress. "It is just like the blue lights on the subway in Tokyo" they said. "The ones that are supposed to calm people down and stop them jumping in front of trains. English restrooms are very relaxing". I`m not sure if they really understood when I pointed out that the blue light was to stop druggies finding a vein.

Many things which made me very angry (high school students drinking beer on Canterbury city wall, people swearing, vandalism of public services, rudeness in shops, litter) the students didn`t seem to notice at all. They were too busy marvelling at green grass and women in burkhas and taps you work by hand, and holding 50 pound notes up to the light in public.

We see only what we want to see and interpret it according to our own culture.

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