Brainwaves

I haven’t had one of my Official Controversial Opinion pieces for a long time, and this rainy/sunny/sleety/windy/snowy/cloudy Wednesday seems like the perfect time to come up with something for the rest of the world to deal with. I have been really, really ill for two or three days now and I may or may not be slightly feverish while writing this. I hope I can look at this post in a couple of days and still agree with my distorted views at least to some extent.

A concept that has finally found itself on my radar recently is cultural appropriation. Seems like everybody’s talking about it these days and there’s always some celebrity doing something culturally insensitive for hoi polloi to criticise. Now, my main man Wikipedia is telling me that cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another, different culture. My gut reaction was to dismiss this issue as yet another example of people inventing things to whine about, but on second though, I see the point. I understand. I don’t belong to any minority group so I don’t have first-hand experience of what it’s like to be culturally appropriated, apart from the (often quite mean) stereotyping of Italians. So I suppose I speak from what these people nowadays would call a “privileged” position.

That’s to say, I don’t know. Maybe cultural appropriation really hurts. I can see it as being a form of ridicule at worst, and that’s never ok. If this is the experience of people who consider themselves culturally appropriated, I understand and respect that and  would not want to treat anyone in such a way or endorse that kind of treatment. Different cultures are valuable and beautiful, and if anyone is made to feel subhuman or undignified because they belong to a particular culture, that is completely unacceptable.

So this is not a piece in favour of cultural appropriation. Instead, it’s one of those petty “I just think it’s funny how…” pieces that I seem to be so fond of.

With all its obsession and hysteria on political correctness, and a phobia of intolerance, modern society has inadvertently made it ridiculously easy to get away with anything. It just hasn’t caught up with it, and it never will, because the implications of its own system would be disastrous. This insanity that is self-identification has made it possible to excuse (almost) any sort of behaviour and lifestyle. It started with gender and transsexualism (which, by the way, I would be interested to know why you never hear being termed gender appropriation). Biology doesn’t matter: whatever you subjectively consider yourself to be, that is what you are, and the best part is that because this only works subjectively, ain’t nobody got the authority to tell you otherwise. And now we have grown men leading the lives of seven-year-old girls, grown women channeling their inner cats, white people pretending to be black (looking at Rachel Dolezal here in particular)… In effect, people being who and what they, objectively speaking, are not. Heck, I don’t know how identity theft can still consistently be considered illegal.

Think that sounds insensitive? I haven’t finished yet. The outrage at cultural appropriation makes absolutely zero sense in this context. Not only because I am apparently free to self-identify as a Japanese man or a Zambian dog should I so wish. It’s much worse than that. What on earth is stopping me from self-identifying as a bigot? And more importantly, what are you gonna do about it? You might pull one of those “it’s wrong if it hurts other people” cards. I’ll pull it right back at you, because your comment is hurtful and insensitive. If I was feeling more helpful (or less helpful, you tell me), I might point out that that is a completely arbitrary line to draw. My actions shouldn’t be hurting other people? Sez who? Because the chemical activity going on in my brain sure as anything isn’t telling me that. I’m trying out this new thing where I listen to myself and identify accordingly.

A disclaimer which I unfortunately deem necessary: I do not self-identify as a bigot. I’m #JustSaying

Send Help

Q: How busy are you?

A: So busy that this blog post is a major procrastination break this afternoon.

Q: So the usual then?

A: Actually I’m really busy. This is literally all I have time for. I have so much to do I want to cry.

Q: This isn’t like your normal self. You usually allow yourself a couple hours a day in exam season to procrastinate. What’s happened?

A: I have procrastinated too much today and yesterday. It’s got out of hand.

Q: What happened today?

A: I applied seven layers of nail polish on all my fingernails and then took it off because it looked horrible.

Q: Oh dear. What happened yesterday?

A: One of those door-to-door charity fundraisers knocked on my door and we spoke.

Q: That doesn’t sound too bad.

A: An hour later we were watching Pingu dubbed in Irish English on YouTube.

Q: Did you know the fundraiser beforehand?

A: No.

Q: I’ll leave you to it.

The Lady of the Rings

What with exam revision stress, I don’t have all that much time to write. Something happened last Saturday, however, which I thought was kind of amusing and which will do for today’s post.

Some background: Back in high school, I was a deeply awkward person. I embarrassed myself all the time in different ways and in different situations and in front of different people. But because I spent most of my time at high school, it was the perfect backdrop for all my failings and embarrassments. I never took myself too seriously, otherwise I would probably would not have trusted myself enough to leave my room on any given day. My friends thought it was hilarious, and the opinion of those that didn’t know me very well I wasn’t bothered about. So my self-esteem was always good enough to see myself through my awkward years. My embarrassing ventures became a bit of a trademark.

Upon graduating from high school and moving out of my parents’ home and starting university, my embarrassing moments have radically decreased. I have not, to my knowledge, walked around town with an enormous inkstain that covered half of my nose, or publicly mistaken a slightly fancier-than-usual font for Devanagari script (only to be exposed by a friend studying sciences), or just casually stood in the middle of a fairly full bus with my phone ringing loudly in my pocket, but – and here’s the catch – only having realised it was in fact my phone after five minutes of it ringing.

So it’s been good. I’ve been leading a fairly normal life and not made a complete fool out of myself. I’ve dodged a few bullets, but it’s been fine. Until last Saturday, when something happened, something that reminded me of my embarrassing past, as if not to let me forget my roots.

I work in a shop that specialises in second-hand sheet music. I’ve played the piano for donkey’s years, and I can name a good number of composers, but I never really learnt that  much about classical music. I’ll maybe recognise a tune, but I can’t tell you who it was by. Simply put, I don’t know that much about classical music, but that’s ok, because I’m there to organise the stock and be friendly to customers. And of course I’ve learnt a great deal along the way. Sometimes a customer will come in asking for something I’ve never even heard of, but it’ll be fine, I know roughly where everything is so with a bit of co-operation with the customer I’ll find what they’re looking for. No big deal.

Another thing I should say is that every now and again there’ll be a person who walks in asking if we sell records. There’s a record shop in the next close down the street, so they might be confusing the location, or then they’re just lured in my the word “music”. Perfectly understandable, but we don’t sell any music – just scores.

So anyway. On Saturday this guy came in. In my usual way I asked if I could help him find anything. And he said something like, “Yeah, do you have the music for The Ring?” Now. This is terrible. I knew that there was an opera by that name. But… how should I put this? He didn’t look like he wanted the opera score for The Ring. So in my chirpy manner I asked, “Oh, like the score for the film?”

Cue awkward silence.

“No, the opera.”

Oh.

Maybe I should restate at this point that the shop where I work specialises in classical sheet music.

And I asked whether he wanted the film score for The Ring.

I attempted to rise above the situation by saying that we do, in fact also sell film scores (true, but we definitely don’t have the score for The Ring). My levels of professionalism were tumbling down as I made my way to the opera section and realised that I had conveniently forgotten the name of the composer. I asked him to remind me. Wagner. Of course.

“Yeah, I’m not a musician actually. I just work here.” Flash of a desperate smile.

“Oh alright!” A that-explains-everything laugh.

Maybe it was at this point that my faffing around caused the telephone to come crashing down the counter, which nicely drew attention away from me for a millisecond. Just then I had realised that all the Wagner scores were in German. To my credit I was pretty sure that the one he was looking for was Der Ring des Nibelungen, but at this point I had absolutely no confidence in anything my brain was telling me so I just gave up and told him to come and find the thing for himself. Miraculously he found what he was looking for and then some, and just as I was seeing an end to the disastrous encounter, he noted that the scores didn’t have any prices. Perfect. I’d have to improvise.

My boss was eventually very pleased with the price I had agreed on so there was no harm done. I just hope for his peace of mind that he never finds out I thought The Ring was in reference to a horror film. In a shop of classical sheet music.

Suspend Your Disbelief

I’m not a native speaker of English. I can mostly pass myself for one. If I make mistakes they’re usually unsystematic and I’ll notice and correct them immediately. A small number of mistakes or confusions have to do with meaning, when I use a word or an idiom and, while it’s in the correct semantic field, it isn’t exactly spot-on what I mean to say, that is, the connotations aren’t exactly what I wanted to convey. A somewhat larger category of mistakes that I do make, and which my longsuffering flatmate is kind enough to correct on the spot at my request, are mostly pronunciation errors. And I think I have a legit excuse for the majority them (apart from being a non-native speaker): although I know the words and can use them grammatically, I have never heard them pronounced. Others I can’t claim that I haven’t heard pronounced, but my preconception was so strong that I was hearing what I wanted to hear and then saying what I thought I was hearing.

Living in the UK has really helped me weed out a great deal of my previous pronunciation errors. One of the mistakes I did because I just didn’t know better was to stress canary on the first instead of the second syllable, or pronounce sachet as [satʃet] instead of [saʃeɪ] because I didn’t realise it was a French loanword. The thing is, I knew both these words, but had never heard them pronounced.

Now to the more inexcusable category of words I undoubtedly had heard pronounced, but did not realise that they were pronounced differently to what I imagined. The English writing system is unforgiving. I’m mentally prepared for counterintuitive and seemingly idiosyncratic pronunciation, but sometimes you see a word written down and you decide you know what it will sound like. Sometimes the pronunciations you do hear are too close to the one you mistakenly make, the difference is so subtle it goes under your radar and you don’t know you should correct your pronunciation. In my personal case, it did not help that I grew up in a non-English speaking country, where almost everyone who spoke English to me was making one mistake or another. I could mostly spot these, but others, as I said, were so slight I did not pick up on them and, not knowing any better, copied.

One of them was producing the voiceless dental fricative [θ] for <th> in names such as Thames, Thomas and Anthony. My flatmate was having none of it and corrected me before I finished my sentence. Another weird one was producing [ɔ] instead of [ʌ] as the stressed vowels of oven, London and onion. Once my flatmate corrected me on these I mended my ways immediately, but there is one particular mistake I keep making and I’m desperately trying to get rid of.

It’s that pesky little l in folk and yolk. Like any rational human being, I was pronouncing the ls analogously with silk, milk, sulk, elk (although not walk, I pronounce that properly). So it started out as not knowing the ls were silent – now I’m trying to implement that information into my system as a whole, and this one’s tricky for me. There’s no logical reason why it should be tricky. I understand the principle, it makes sense (not), I can do it for walk. But it seems this is very deeply ingrained into my system.

My dad’s not a native speaker either (obviously) and he has heaps of hilarious mispronunciation stories. I know he pronounces folk and yolk like I do, so the first thing I did when I was corrected was to phone and correct him too. This is the rough transcript of our discussion:

Me: So dad, did you know that we’ve been pronouncing folk wrong all these years?

Dad: Yes.

Me: What? You know how it’s pronounced?

Dad: I remember it being said to me at some point, it’s like foh-oohk or something, isn’t it?

Me: Yes! But if you knew that, why have you been pronouncing it wrong all these years?

Dad: I didn’t believe it.

This is a man who ridiculed Dylan’s – a native English speaker’s – pronunciation of Mobile in Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and proceeded to sing, against literally all evidence, [moubɑil]. This is a man who also mispronounces Dylan’s name [di:lan], the influence of which took me years to shed. This is a man who pronounces Liam [lɑiam].

In spite of all his faults, he was onto something with his closing remark. English pronunciation can seem notoriously counterintuitive to a non-native speaker. You learn your basic pronunciation, and you learn your exceptions, but there are some words that seem so simple and straightforward that you just can’t believe they’re not pronounced in the way the written form would suggest. I remember a friend of mine, a native speaker, once telling me that she had heard rumours that Edinburgh wasn’t pronounced [edɪnbɜ:ɡ] but [edɪnbɹɐ] (we were both quite young). I remember nodding and smiling politely, a reaction for disbelief I’ve been perfecting for a good number of years now, but I could not take her seriously. Had she not seen how the name of the city is written? How could it possibly be pronounced like that?

So, I’m still learning, still on the road to perfecting my English. The end goal is to be indistinguishable from a native speaker. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, which in part is the curse of the trilingual. I sometimes struggle to find words in English, but what some people don’t realise is that I struggle even more with my two mother tongues. My brain is constantly juggling three languages and while English is getting more and more natural by the hour, sometimes my brain does not make the distinction between the three languages and will unhelpfully offer kätevä when I need handyluggage when I need bagagliosabato when I need lauantai. The mash-ups are often hilarous, sometimes unnoticed by my family members, never convenient outside the family circle. But bear with me.

The Northener & The South-West Easter

Those of you who’re tuned in to my adventures on the ‘gram will know that last weekend I embarked for England. And this wasn’t just any old trip south of the border, this was my actual first ever trip to England in all my life. So I was pretty excited. My longsuffering flatmate and her family invited me over for Easter and after trying to sync an extended weekend away into my study schedule, I got tickets to Bristol. And what a wonderful weekend it was travelling round and getting to spend time with lovely people.

I’m terribly busy right now so I thought a post with photography from that trip would be a legit way out of spending too much time typing. I flatter myself by calling it photography – there was literally no composition and/or thought put into them at the time of taking, and I’ve tried to do what I can to salvage them with Instagram. Apparently not the ‘hip’ thing to do (or whatever it is the kids say these days) but there, I tried.

You might recognise some of the pics from my Instagram, but rest assured, there is some new and totally unseen footage here too.

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This is from Bath, which was nice and rainy when we were there.
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The previous picture was from the circus, and the above pic is from the crescent, built in similar style. Standard creeping outside respectable people’s houses, but it’s not my fault they were so grand.
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From underneath Bath railway station.
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Bath Abbey. Very impressive but also closed.
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Some random street in Bath. The wet stones are actually very pretty.
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The headstone of Hannah Twynnoy – forever immortalised in Horrible Histories – on the grounds of Malmesbury Abbey.
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Seems to be a bit out of focus, but that’s the ceiling of Malmesbury Abbey. Incredibly beautiful and calm.
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And one of Malmesbury Abbey from the outside.
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One of the many idyllic scenes in Malmesbury.
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Here’s another one. Heavily edited on Instagram to make it look a little more colourful but only to make up for the beauty which the scene actually did have but I was unable to capture on camera.
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Literally someone’s garden.
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The pub in Oxford frequented by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien themselves. Obviously we had to go have a look! It was incredibly atmospheric inside. Would not have been surprised to find myself being served by hobbits.
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Quite frankly where I see myself in two years’ time.