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Six Social Dos and Don’ts – by Justyna

8 Jul

Recently I had a ‘talk’ with Michal about the things each one of us does regarding Kazek. Michal pointed out that I am injecting into Kazek the idea that my word does not mean much at all. For example when Kazek comes to our room in the morning to wake us up, I usually respond by saying “alright alright, I’m getting up”. And then I don’t. I lie there for as long as possible and the little dude is forced to come in and out a few times trying to peel his mother out of bed. This has made me think of late about the things that I say I’ll do but then don’t. Like keeping my word to the other Flingers of Far Flung Four to post every week. Clearly I haven’t being doing this of late. I need major sock up-pulling. This was a topic of conversation last night with Titka, who also made a valid point that once you start breaking your word to others, it’s a slippery slope with regards to your own self. And this is so bloody true too! How many times have I said to myself that tonight I’d screen print that diesel engine for the wall? About 234 times. Have I done it? No. Anyway…

Ok so here in the spirit of saying I’ll post every week and not actually doing it, I will, once again try to save face by posting another double banger. Six social behaviours that are either utterly unacceptable in Poland or are the norm. Either way, some still amuse me, others continue to really trouble me. I haven’t had the writing steam to come up with much lately. So this will be just left in point form.

Splitting the Bill to the Last Zloty: Not on. It is considered extremely tight and anti-social to sit there with a bill and calculate who owes who what and who had the steak and who had the steamed broccoli. Things come full circle mentality and all that. I find this form of bill sharing easy and comfortable. There are never awkward moments or grimaces when the evening comes to a close.

Shoes Off: Considered rude to assume you can keep your shoes on when visiting someone’s home. This is hardly news-breaking but what is socially acceptable is for the host to bang on at you to put on some guest slippers should you decide to walk around bare footed. I still find this hilarious. Recently we were visiting Michal’s uncle who informed me, after I refused the slippers, that if I walk around bare footed on the kitchen tiles I will stuff up my joints. It was 37 degrees outside. Michal’s mother still cannot stomach my, and now Kazek’s, bare feet. I have had to sit through many lectures re lack of slippers. I guess Poles must really hate their feet.

The Birthday Flip: When it’s your birthday in Poland you do all the shouting. You’re shouting the drinks in the pub, you’re shouting the dinner for the friends you choose to invite, you pay for the accommodation for your guests should you decide to celebrate by having a birthday away. It’s the whole “Poles are Awesome Hosts” thing they’ve got going on here. Again the full circle concept comes into play. You invite and then you get invited. And so it goes.

No Questions Asked: This is a social norm I really cannot handle. People here don’t ask one another questions. Friends do not ask their friends questions. As bizarre as it may sound, it really is a social norm. It’s as if people are generally disinterested in one another. Six years I’ve been here and there is seriously about a handful of people combined whom I can claim as solid initiators of questions about my life, work, opinions, family etc. It is totally acceptable to offer information about your own life, experiences, share anecdotes, but direct questions or general show of interest in your friend are rare gems indeed. It is amazingly refreshing to meet new people who ask things about you or meet with friends who are genuinely interested in how your week has panned out. I find that I usually have a bag of knowledge about the people I have come to know here, but when it comes to me, my friends here know very little about me. Sad really. We had some friends come for dinner the other weekend. Incredibly intelligent, witty, hilarious anecdotes, live in Warsaw and have interesting jobs in governmental ministries. Throughout the entire evening both Michal and I were asked two questions. Combined! We hadn’t seen them in over a year. Often Michal and I after such evenings feel frustrated and baffled. Curiosity is meant to be a natural state for the human mind, yes? And how can true friendships be formed? With difficulty.

Cake Away: When you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner and you bring the wine or the beer, and the alcohol is not fully drunk, the host will never tell you to take the untouched bottle home. Ever. The host would be looked upon as a freak. I know because I have been that freak. When suggesting once to some friends that they take the unopened wine bottle back with them after we had had dinner at our place, I was met with a burst of troubled laughter like I was suggesting I would come back to their place and clean their bathroom. I remember Michal yelling out “Krzywa, what the hell are you doing?? No need for your mong tendencies here!!”. What is weird though that offering your guests some of the cake to take home that they brought with them is completely fine. Go figure. No alcohol back but cake defo. So who is the mong?

Telly On: In most Polish homes I have been to the television has always been on in the background. It is not necessarily being watched by the tenants of that home, but it is nonetheless on. Like a radio. Everyone goes on about their business to the muffled sounds of the television. I have been to official family gatherings like the name day of an aunt or Easter Sunday breakfast, with a massive spread of food and a stretched out table, everyone sitting around it, chatting, eating, and the television will be there not-so-silently on, watching us all. Maybe someone one day will explain to me why this is socially acceptable.


Six – by Karen

28 Jun

Let’s walk down memory lane – I’m going to find as many “sixths” as I can, starting with my sixth Facebook post.

On 31st August, 2008 I was tagged in photos from Beth’s hen’s day! How lovely:

Beth stitches

I stitch with Carmen and someone else

is this Tabitha?

She may have evaded the camera but her hand is evident in this amazing spread!

My sixth post on one of my old livejournal accounts, from February 28th, also in 2008:

    Yesterday I noticed that Finn seemed to be able to kick a tennis ball with his foot while sitting down. So I stood him up and rolled the ball around to see if he can kick now while standing. A few seconds elapsed while we chased the ball around the room, booting it and saying KICK! in a high pitched voice, until I realised – he was saying kick too!

I think he may have said no the other day when being fed, but Finn’s first definitely decipherable word is kick

Alas, Finn’s first word didn’t turn out to be the omen of prodigious soccer prowess we suspected at the time. Last time I took him to soccer, he stood, staring into the middle distance during the game, not actually noticing when the ball BOUNCED OFF HIM. Oh well, apples don’t fall far from trees. We have other qualities.

The sixth item in the “nostalgia” file in my filing cabinet (yes, this is a real thing I actually have in a physical filing cabinet) is a sleeve of baby photos my mum passed on to me recently. As a third child, these are probably the only surviving photos from my childhood.

Check out my mum’s glasses!

My sixth job, if I am remembering correctly, after junk mail delivery, KFC, Pizza Hut call centre, Data Entry and working for a suburban architecture magazine in a garage was… actually my first real, full-time job. I was a journalist for an industry newsletter all about telecommunications! Exciting! Actually, it was kind of exciting. It was in Balmain, in a pleasant, proper office, I could FINALLY move out of home, into a tiny Balmain flat and start making foolish spending decisions, like cab fares and clothes from that shop that was like an upmarket Tree of Life – what was it, Mary Jane or something?

My sixth home was three rooms of a small house in Leichhardt where I lived by myself for the first time. It turned out that living alone led to even more slovenly housekeeping than I had practiced with my (unfortunate) male housemate in Balmain!  Once I was burgled and the police officer asked, “was it like this before they got here?” I still burn with shame at the memory. This was also the home where my cat abandoned me for the attentions of up to four other households. That’s cats for you. I liked living in Leichhardt, eating bread and olive oil with Richard in the park, and making more foolish spending decisions, now on movies and books on Norton Street.

This is my sixth year away from Sydney. In my time in Asia I really do think I’ve grown up. I’ve made two children, stopped making foolish spending decisions (although I think I got the hang of that shortly after the Leichhardt era), and learned to value and get along with different people in a way I never could manage before. I’ve cleaned vomit from a car. I’ve battled through hundreds of tiresome culture-clashes. I’m excited to start a new life in Sydney again, but not with that itchy, “knock it all down and start again” attitude. I do want to put down roots and build something. And I want to check out all those new cafes Lee Tran Lam keeps blogging about.

Six ideas – by Beth

26 Jun

I was thinking: what are the ideas that I’ve heard or read that have stayed with me? Ideas that lit a fire in my mind that hasn’t yet burnt out. Six is a good number for that sort of thing so here they are.

For an idea to take hold and live in your mind, you need to discover it at the right time, so I’ve listed them in chronological order of when the fire was lit.

1. Jane Austen’s “little bit of ivory”; and the power of the everyday

Jane wrote in a letter to her brother in 1816:

“The little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.”

Jane Austen’s work is, amongst many things, an embodiment of “the personal is political“. Her books were read to me as a small child, and they must have soaked into my veins like lemon and sugar topping on a warm cake. Right before the end of high school, I discovered the photographic work of Nan Goldin. What an odd pairing: Goldin – a bisexual, living in New York/Germany. Austen – an English spinster living in the 18th-19th century. On the surface Goldin’s photos document her heroin addiction, domestic violence, AIDS, and drag queens. But at the core of her work are the most intimate portrayals of love and friendship in the context of the everyday. Austen and Goldin pass the Bechdel test with flying colours. Vanessa Berry‘s writing totally captures that sensibility too. Bless her heart. If I could express even a flicker of these women’s brilliance for shining a light on the everyday I would bow my head in wonder.

2. Mr Campbell/Pastor Niemöller‘s “First they came…” history lesson

In year 12, our history teacher Mr Campbell taught us a lesson I will never forget. I talk about it here in my tribute to John Campbell, who died this year. This is a perfect example of a teacher bringing something from the past into the present for their students. A reminder to speak out which I carry with me always.

3. Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, 1975, and the idea that both humans and sentient nonhuman animals deserve freedom from suffering.

If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering – insofar as rough comparisons can be made – of any other being. So the limit of sentience is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some other characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary manner. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color

This book still has lots of challenging ideas, even almost 40 years later. It turned me vegetarian. I eat fish now, so I know I’m in a glass house, but it has stayed with me. At this moment I have a humane rat trap on the ground next to the couch I’m sitting on. I couldn’t bare to use poison (at least not until we’ve tried this for a while as an eviction method for our ratty housemate). The basic idea that humans are animals too is still so relevant – as a species we seem to want to forget that little detail.

4. Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizomatic theory, A Thousand Plateaus, 1988

Studied this in Cultural Studies in uni. I picked the book up tonight, hoping to get a choice line from it that showed what I loved about it. But my aged brain just switched off, and I opened Google and found this description instead:

As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the originary source of “things” and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those “things.” “A rhizome, on the other hand, “ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (D&G, A Thousand Plateaus, p.7). Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a “rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (D&G p.25). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.

In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way. The surface can be interrupted and moved, but these disturbances leave no trace, as the water is charged with pressure and potential to always seek its equilibrium, and thereby establish smooth space.

[Taken from here]

Yes it’s a total wank. Maybe I’ve just never forgotten that partially deciphering the French academic-speak made me feel like an intellectual for 5 seconds, but I’d like to think it was something more than that. The book is fucking dense (I never actually finished it), but every 100 words or so something of it seeped through into my brain, and spoke to me. Interconnectedness of EVERYTHING – check. Multiplicities of being – check. It was also written in 1988 but totally explains why the Internet is so powerful.

5. Ira Glass: “Action, action, action; thought.”

Ira Glass, host of the cult American National Public Radio radio program/podcast, This American Life, visited Australia in January. As I was getting ready to go I was saying things in my head like ‘I’m going to touch the hem of Ira’s garment’ and ‘off to worship in the church of Ira’. And then in his talk he spoke about the similarities between their radio show’s story structure and that of a Rabbi’s sermon (Glass is Jewish, so the sugary lemon sermons were poured on his warm cake at a young age and have left a mark on how he tells stories). All that religious imagery he conjured up for me was no coincidence. Ira says the affect of a good sermon, or a good story, boils down to the presence of the compelling: Action, action, action; thought. Action, action, action; thought. Meaning, tell a story as if it’s unfolding in the present moment, and then talk about the bigger themes and implications at work. Simple but totally inspiring for an aspiring storyteller.

6. Brene Brown’s Vulnerability and Shame talks

I blogged about these a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if her ideas are really going to stick with me, but I think about a couple of things from them a lot. Firstly, that simple but illusive thing of believing you’re fundamentally worthy of love just the way you are. And secondly, the idea that exposing yourself, making yourself vulnerable, can be so rewarding. I recently heard echoes of this second argument in Jeff Jarvis’s talk in defence of the public where he talks about the benefits of going public about his prostate cancer.

Six – by Tabitha

26 Jun

When I was six, my best friend, for a time, was Nathan James (not to be confused with Nathan James Thomas). Our sole common interest was the Police Academy franchise. This unidimensional model of acquaintanceship was to reappear often in my life, over several workplaces, as I bonded with coworkers over nothing more than our shared interest in the Monte Carlo biscuits in the kitchen, or having the same ringtone. When I was six, Police Academy sustained my friendship with Nathan James for a surprising amount of time, until, I think, we both realised that girls and boys aren’t supposed to be best friends. He focused on the handball crowd after that, and me, the fairies and pressed flowers set.

When I was six, my grandfather died. My father’s father, the Greek Cypriot one, the only relative to bring a bit of ethnic colour to my family. I have one memory of him, and that’s of him sitting in his chair, a leather Lazy Boy, in his Penrith home, doling out one- and two-dollar notes to his grandchildren, the very picture of a New Australian patriarch. The morning after he died, when I was six, my mother came in to tell me and Toby in our bunk-beds. I felt very strongly that I was supposed to be sad and cry, and tried to muster up a tear. At school, I told my friend (a more appropriately female replacement for Nathan James) that my grandfather had died, and she was shocked I had been sent to school that day. This hadn’t struck me as a problem, but she seemed to know all about what was the done thing in these circumstances. This was the first of many times that I felt my family didn’t seem to do things properly.

When I was six, I had two teachers. The first, Mrs Bruce, left after only one term. Once, during a thunderstorm, she shouted at all the children to get away from the windows, saying her friend had been struck by lightning that way, and was now in a wheelchair. I reported this back to my mother, who seemed very sceptical. “I don’t think that can happen”, she said, a confusing contradiction of one voice of authority by another. I don’t think it can, either, but every time there was an afternoon storm in Hanoi, I’d take a step back from our metal window frames.

When I was six, my second teacher was the mother of a girl in my year, and who would remain in my year until we finished high school together. We were never close friends, although I remember a brief, particular interest in her after she returned from a year in the Cook Islands with her family, which was exotic. Her mother was a lovely teacher though, especially after Mrs Bruce, and I continue to hold a fondness for her. My own mother recently told me some awful news about her, and her daughter, which is why I don’t want to mention their names. My teacher, from when I was six, was babysitting her toddler granddaughter, the child of my classmate, at her home in the Mountains, when the little girl swallowed, or choked on, some kind of insect, and died. It is the most biblically grim thing to happen to a family. In my mother’s email on the subject she noted, “You see, there’s no such thing as a groundless fear, anything can happen”.

When I was six, my mother was more involved in my school life than she was for the rest of my entire educational history combined. I suppose this was because at that time she was adapting to not having to care fulltime for at least one child for the first time in sixteen years. She came into my classroom once a week for “remedial reading” with the kids who hadn’t been taught to read at home, and who lived in the housing commission on Cascade Street. Many, many years later, when she was working at her friend Adelaide’s antique shop in Wentworth Falls (Adelaide’s Antiques), a couple of these very same remedial reading boys, now remedial reading teenagers, came into the shop, greeted her as “Mrs Carvan”, then nicked her purse from the back room.

When I was six, my mother also accompanied the class on an excursion to Featherdale Wildlife Farm. The highlight of the excursion was meeting Fatso the wombat from A Country Practice, the apparent excitement of which I couldn’t share with my classmates since I was still yet to watch a single minute of commercial television, our TV being permanently tuned to the ABC. Yet again, our family didn’t seem to be doing things properly. But when I was six, I still patted that celebrity wombat just like everyone else, as it was held aloft by a handler in his pen, and was shocked by that bristly, prickly hair.