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Social misnomer – by Karen

13 Jul

Justyna may apologise for her double-themer posts, but I take my hat off to her. I mean, social misnomer? What the hell am I going to write?

This is the first time I’ve used a computer in the new house. I’ve got it tethered to my mobile as it seems it will take upwards of two weeks to get ADSL connected. We’re not in Singapore any more!

It’s been excellent not having a computer around though, and we’re thoroughly enjoying all our errands. We have bank accounts and medicare cards, and I even have my first Australian driver’s license. We’ve bought a chicken coop, met the neighbours, and told the neighbours about the chicken coop (all clear!). We seem to have ourselves some bonza neighbours. The kids seem to like their new life, even though they don’t have any tables, television or a fridge. Luckily grandma and grandpa up the road have all that stuff.

Richard and I have been thoroughly amusing ourselves by adopting the personas of what we must consider to be a prototypical Australian couple. All conversations have taken place in pure ocker for around two weeks leading up to our departure from Singapore (we watched the Castle for inspiration). We’ve been having jocular conversations with all customer service staff, and anyone else we run into on the street. Yet as over the top as the jocularity has felt, observing the interaction between two middle-aged ladies in the next Target queue brought me crashing back down to earth. We’re not even half way there yet.

So anyhow, social misnomer? What’s that when it’s at home!? Better luck next week, mate.

ETA: I’ll tell you what’s a social misnomer! Far Flung Four! Now that I’m back in Australia, the jig is officially up. We’ll be proceeding as normal I guess, and keep the name cos we’re sentimental like that. Any further suggestions from our legion readers are welcome. 

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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.

Social – by Tabitha

6 Jul

I  don’t think my current circumstances could be any less social. Apart from passing chatter with shopkeepers and waitresses, and a lovely Skype call with Beth, I haven’t spoken with anyone other than Nathan since we left Hanoi over two weeks ago. We have a daily routine of cooking and swimming and cross-stitching while listening to podcasts, and it’s lovely.

We’re also sticking to a routine, started in Hanoi, of evening walks. Here on Koh Samui, we’ve been walking along the beach, starting out from the big, long hill near our apartment building, which is littered with dogs.

There are dogs everywhere on Koh Samui, despite the efforts of a local desexing local program. Yesterday we took a short-cut through the temple and there were dogs comically strewn all over the concrete furniture and various temple displays. They’re in various stages of disrepair, but generally, look healthier and happier than dogs in Vietnam. Dogs in Vietnam have had their spirits completely broken, and seem to be less dogs and more meat products. They show no interest in humans at all – you can coo and cluck at them and they’ll look away – and little interest in other dogs. They know that it’s best not to make eye contact with anyone or anything.

Here, the dogs pursue crabs on the beach, and frolic together on the sand, and trot at your heels imploringly when you’re eating a snack. It’s  been really nice to see dogs being so dog-like, even when the other day we saw one eat an ancient, leathery squashed frog it had peeled off the road.

But like the Vietnamese dogs, the Thai dogs aren’t particularly interested in humans either, just very interested in each other. When one dog trespasses onto another dog’s patch of road, it’s all-out dog war. We’ve seen dogs transform from idly sunbathing puppies to dog-shaped torpedoes the second they spy an unwanted canine visitor. We’ve seen retreating dogs with their tail so far between their legs, they look like the letter C.

It’s been getting me thinking about a really great article that Adam Gopnik wrote for the New Yorker. In it, he talks about the social contract made between man and wolf 30,000 years ago, to which all dog-owners are “living witnesses”: I’ll be your friend, and protect you, if you look after me. He cites an author who debunks the Dog Whisperer’s thesis that dogs are just frustrated pack animals, looking for a leader, noting that dogs are so far domesticated, they’ve long outgrown the need for such a model in their relationship with humans.

When you look at these Thai neighbourhood dogs, you can see exactly what he’s saying. Sure, these dogs are getting to express their dogginess, their wild, unrestrained animal instincts, roaming the neighbourhood in a pack, but I’m certain they’d give it up in an instant for the life of an Australian poodle. They would say, “Leash me, fence me, train me, tell me not to bark, I don’t care, just keep on feeding me and cuddling me and letting me sleep in your bed”. There’s no need to feel sorry for the cosseted Western pooch. They’re on to a good thing.

Gopnik’s article was really helpful to me in nutting out why it’s not okay to eat dogs, even if it is okay to eat other animals. It all comes down to that social contract, which Gopnik characterises as “love given for promises kept”, made by the first wolf who approached the caveman’s campfire. A contract like that should be honoured. It’s as simple as that.

Social – By Beth

2 Jul

On Saturday night Jeff and I started something that I hope will continue for a while. Together with nine of our friends, we had a “Party For Your Thoughts”.

The party needs a bit of backstory: I love the serendipity of finding interesting content online through my social network. I watch, listen and read many things a week, crammed into small moments of my day. Jeff and I recommend things to each other and then talk about them, but I wanted to talk more in-depth to more people about some of the things I was thinking about.

So the idea for the party was born. Part book club, part dinner party, part philosophy tutorial, part rip-off of the endorsements segment on Slate Culture Gabfest… We ordered takeaway because I wanted to be able to concentrate on the ideas, not the food. But I created a loophole where the host is expected to provide a spectacular dessert. This month’s was a Bombe Alaska.

One guest, Vanessa, blogged about the party and shared the pieces up for discussion, if you’d like to see the pieces. Vanessa lives in Bega and plans to set her own franchise of the idea so she doesn’t have to make that 12 hour round-trip every time it’s on.

Several people there commented that the pieces were already having a conversation with one another – showing similar interests and questions about life. To which I said, ‘well yeah, you curated the pieces, and we curated who those curators were going to be!’ But it wasn’t just people agreeing with one another politely. There was lively debate about some things, but everyone listened to one another, and everyone had stuff to say.

It was such a wonderful night. No-one except for us knew everyone, so people were meeting each other for the first time. They felt like they knew each other a bit by reading/listening/watching each person’s piece, so the first question didn’t have to be “where do you live?” or “what do you do?” We just got straight into talking about stuff we really care about and have views on. So refreshing!

No photos exist of the night (a testament to how much fun I was having!) It was the first evening gathering we’ve had at our house in ages. Totally my kind of party.

We will do it again in two months.