Wednesday, 21 December 2011

God Giue Ye Merrie Christmastide

This was a rather beautiful gif, so why isn't it giffing?

Over at Logodaedalus, Deiniol welcomes the season of peace on Earth, joy and good will to all men with 'Christmas can suck my balls.' Yes, and mine. It's an unkind thought, I know, but if time travel were possible, I'd be tempted to go back to 1946 Walsall and smother Noddy Holder in his cradle. I would also seek out the person or persons responsible for choosing the Christmas decorations now slung across Stamford High Street, and have them humanely put down. Humanely-ish, anyway. Look, Christmas decorations needn't be naff. In Athens in the nineties, Syntagma Square and Vasilissis Sophia Avenue, which was my route home, would be made magical on December nights by thousands of little white lights in the trees, and nothing more. No coloured bulbs, no Santas and snowmen suspended from the lamp posts like gibbeted felons. Stamford High Street's Victorian buildings are already rendered banal enough by the predictable frontages of Boots, Marks and Sparks, Gregg's and all the rest of them. Why disfigure them further by tarting the place up with with rejects from Blackpool illuminations?

I've always had the feeling around this time of year that something, extraordinary is about to happen. Fuck knows why: it never has up to now. It's like the inevitability-feeling you get when you know you are about to sneeze or cum, but then it just sort of... wears off, peters out, sort of thing, you know... anyway, I court the feeling while I can. I'm lying here in candlelight listening to my new CD of the wonderful Soeur Marie Keyrouz (thanks, Bo for introducing me to her) performing Maronite Chants for Nativity as darkness gathers on the year's shortest day. The candlelight softens everything, makes the leaves of the plants darker and the tangerines on the table next to me glow as if lit from within. It's a far cry from bloody Slade and sodding Wizzard and all the nauseating cheap tat we get thrust upon us annually even before Hallowe'en's over. I have this odd feeling again of some mysterious and marvellous event being prepared on the Inner Planes, but am resigned to the usual last-minute cancellation. Also, I would like to assure the Saudi student who sent me this e-mail this morning:

Hello how are you like to dedicate to you this link [to a Muslim site] because I would love to know us more
You are a good man there is in you all the qualities of a Muslim man
Humility, respect, good
These are all your morals if you will read about Islam, you are close to it, I hope to be a Muslim until I see you in heaven
I hope if you read my message tell me
...that the putative event on the Inner Planes does NOT involve my conversion to Islam or either of the other Abrahamic faiths. Παπαπαπαπα. Αυτό έλειπε. The presumption of this e-mail reminds me of a Claire Bretécher cartoon in which a straight couple are chatting at the post-coital cigarette stage. After telling the woman how much at ease he feels with her, the man says: 'deep down, you're a bloke.'

This will be the last post before I sod off to my sister's in Suffolk for Christmas, so have a good one, καλές γιορτές, and hasta luego.

Christopher Hitchens on the Festive Season:

I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. "Come on," I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. "Come on," yourself. How wrong am I?

Link Link

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

We value your feedback III

Today was the final session of my MA module in Intercultural Communication, and I was curious and slightly apprehensive about the coming feedback. Would I finally be exposed as a fraud?


I have never taught 'intercultural communication' before, and for the past twelve weeks have been hoping that my newness to the field did not show. Today on their feedback forms, thirteen out of fourteen students declared themselves satisfied:

It was very interesting.
Teacher is very kind and with humour.

It was very my favourite course!
Teacher used personal experience to show cultural difference - very practical.
Everything was perfect.
He is very nice man.

Well, absolutely. I entirely concur. The purpose of feedback for me is largely to confirm yet again that the state of paranoia I work myself into about teaching (and so much else) is not a reaction to any external, observable fact, but wholly endogenous. Along with the encomia were some sensible suggestions for improvement, with reasonable acknowledgement that the course was short and timing tight. Of course, it isn't the thirteen satisfied punters that now occupy my thoughts, but the one malcontent.

What do you think were the strengths and weaknesses of the course?

1) Easy to understand. 2) No communication / no teamwork

Do you have any suggestions for improvement?

Put interesting stuff.

The form is unsigned but I would lay odds it is the work of the only male on the course, Kong. (Not his real name. I chose it because it means 'empty'.) He spent most of the time looking pissed off or passing what I took to be snide remarks to his girlfriend. Anyway, no point second-guessing an unsigned feedback form. Forget it. One moaner, everyone else happy. Doesn't matter.

End of.

...yet give me leave to wonder, Kong (?), how a course centred on discussion, problem-solving and roleplay lacked 'communication' or 'teamwork', and why, if it was not interesting, you didn't make suggestions for spicing it up, or get the fuck out and do something else. Why, if it is communication and teamwork you value so much, did you remain dourly silent for twelve weeks? Fuck's sake, the 'no communication or teamwork' bit bugs me: it's almost as if you attended somebody else's course and got the feedback mixed up, although having distributed the forms and waited while they were completed, I know that it's my efforts you are disparaging. I mean, if you said you didn't like discussion and problem-solving, fair enough, but..., fuck it. There's always one.

After the feedback forms had been collected, I said I would be available for tutorials on the assignment, but there were no takers, and everyone except Kong and his moll left in high spirits. I sat and looked at the outline for the next module, 'Intercultural Business Communication', God bless and save us. I suspect that the coming thin years will see me delivering modules by the seat of my pants in a wide range of disciplines - Renal Dialysis Unit Management, 17th Century Dutch Thimbles, Intermediate Akkadian, Papuan Necromancy. The paranoia is unlikely to abate.

Actually, come to think of it, Papuan Necromancy would be a hell of a lot more interesting than intercultural sodding business communication. I might suggest it.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A Day in the Life III

The left lens – the one that serves the more efficient of my partnership of eyes – popped out of my specs on Thursday evening, the screw that held it in place having disintegrated, dematerialised, or whatever - I was not prepared to spend ages trying with my fingertips to locate an item no bigger than a Times New Roman size twelve bold lower-case ‘i’. My heart sinks when something happens to put my reading-glasses out of commission, so utterly do I depend on them. I am long-sighted, and if unspectacled, peer into an aqueous blur that extends some eight feet in front of me. Reading from a page or screen is impossible. On the train Friday morning I squinted miserably at a book through a magnifying glass, the font size appearing at eight in the periphery of my vision, veering up to eighteen in the centre, dwindling back to eight at the opposite end. It was very uncomfortable and I hated everybody around me for talking, chewing and having silly faces - even more than I usual do.

The girl at Boots Opticians in asked ‘did you get them from ourselves here?’ and when I said no, I got them elseways from otherselves, told me she could not repair them and I would have to go to Stamford where I bought them, because they had a lab and would be able to fix them. By the time I got to work I was thoroughly pissed off – couldn’t read anything, operate the photocopier, use a computer or be sure which tea-bags were mine. A colleague printed and photocopied stuff for me as if I were disabled. It’s extraordinary how frustrating it is and how ratty it can make one to have the eyesight one takes for granted temporarily suspended. I wasn’t in the best of moods for teaching.
We had the penultimate session of a twelve-week module on intercultural communication, in which we’ve been looking at what features of human communication are valued or de-emphasised by different cultures, and how, when representatives of different cultures meet on shop-floors and in boardrooms, they can seriously misconstrue each others’ intentions. Here’s an example of the kind of thing we’ve been analysing. Jennifer of Chicago-based Rapacity Technologies is calling Sanjay in India. Sanjay is the manager of one of Rapacity’s vendors for customer service outsourcing.
We really need to get all of the customer service representatives trained on the new process in the next two weeks. Can you get this done?
That timeline is pretty aggressive. Do you think it’s possible?
Well, I think it’ll need some creativity and hard work, but I reckon we can get it done with two or three days to spare
OK, great, let’s get going on that, then. How is everything with you guys?
All’s well, but the monsoons this year are causing a lot of delays. It’s hard getting around the city.
When Jennifer calls back ten days later, she is pissed off to learn that the retraining is less than half complete, while Sanjay is surprised that she is not pleased to hear how many reps have been trained. The problem is that Jennifer is convinced that he agreed to complete the training in the time specified, and Sanjay is just as convinced that he made it quite clear that this was impossible. Jennifer is from a ‘low context’ communication culture where you say what you mean and mean what you say: everything is in the words. When Sanjay said ‘OK’, she assumed she had a done deal, and only then moved on to the chit-chat bit. Sanjay is from a ‘high context’ communication culture. A direct ‘no’ is impolite in India, and so refusal must be communicated via hints dropped throughout an exchange. The hedging about the aggressive timeline and the mention of transport problems because of the monsoon are the hints, and they bypass Jennifer completely. The result is probably that she thinks he’s a lazy bastard and not to be trusted, and he thinks she has the subtlety of a gloved pugilist picking daisies.

So, we looked at yet another cultural train-wreck in which a US company in a joint venture with a Mexican firm
succeeded in antagonising the people of a whole region of Mexico without having a clue how they did it. After a reasonable time for cerebration, I asked the students what they thought had gone wrong.
‘Different cultures’, one of them said. I waited for elaboration, but that was the sum of her contribution and she obviously thought she’d nailed it.
Listen, love, I once had to use a text about yawning with a bunch of teenagers in Kalamata. I asked if they knew why we yawn.
‘Be-caws we are tye-red!’ they said.
OK, I admit I asked for that. They were kids, used to being asked dumb display questions by teachers and were not to know that I was asking if they knew why tiredness should provoke yawning rather than erection, blushing, sneezing or breaking wind. But for fuck’s sake, woman, this is a module for an MA, you’re a graduate student, how can you possibly suppose that that is anywhere near an adequate response to the bloody question? The entire bloody course has been about different bloody cultures, so what a-bloody-bout them?

I know many a Chinese student is unwilling to put herself forward for fear of being thought a show-off, but after so long amongst us, you would think… I dunno. Maybe I’m doing my share of misconstrual here. We were joined for the session by an older lady who introduced herself to me as a visiting academic from the University of Beijing and colleague of Professor Jiaying Feng, the woman who is in charge of the MA. She would like to attend my lecture, she said, as she had heard they were ‘very excellent’. Like most teachers of adult classes, I’m used to assuming that everyone is happy if they are not whinging. Positive feedback is relatively rare, so I was flattered. Then I wondered if the new Chinese lady was merely offering polite, high-context style formulas. Perhaps she was Jiaying’s spy. No, too paranoid. Still, I hadn’t expected the management to be such slime-bags, had I?
I arranged cover and got the 12.18 back to Stamford, hoping my specs would be repaired in situ and not, as I feared from the Boots girl’s reaction, have to be sent away, leaving me blind as a mole for a week. In fact, the repair took approximately three minutes, and this was a huge relief until I realised that by skipping the afternoon’s teaching I had effectively paid fifty-six quid for a screw the size of a Times New Roman size twelve bold lower-case ‘i’.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Yesterday will be snowy

A colleague reported to me a conversation she had had with Talal, one of the Algerian airmen, whose progress in English has been rather like mine was in maths: negligible.

‘How’s the weather in your town in Algeria?’ she asked him.

‘Same, Algeria. Algeria, same. Tomorrow snow.’

Well, it was a comprehensible reply in the context, as he was able to nod towards the window and the bitter cold day outside. Not what you might hope for after a five month stay with us, though: no subject pronouns, no auxiliary verbs, none of the grammatical nuts and bolts that allow language to range beyond the immediate. Oh, and by ‘tomorrow’, he meant ‘yesterday’.

‘Is he a winch-man?’ I asked, because my only all-winch class two years ago had been up-hill work and I suppose I'm prejudiced.

‘No – a radar operator. You know, absolutely pivotal between the pilot and the winch.’

Shit. If on a Search and Rescue mission Talal transposes, say, 125 degrees and 152 degrees, the result could be messy indeed. I suggested the best we can do at this late stage is teach him to say ‘Oops, sorry…’ He may only need it the once.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

I know I'm being churlish...

... but this pisses me off. I found it on Tumblr a minute or two ago. It pissed me off first of all because understanding the 'joke' depends on your knowledge of spelling and (missing) punctuation, not of grammar, and secondly because some knuckle-dragger had added the comment:

'THIS hahahahahaha is where being a nerd comes in handy! :b'

There's someone out there who is confident that others will have to skim that seventeen-word text more than once to interpret the message, and at least one other who who thinks that the ability to distinguish 'then' from than' makes you a nerd. 286 people 'liked' the damn thing. Oy, Gott.


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