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Thursday, 15 October 2009

In Which A Cultural Observer Reports he Effects of the Culture He is Reporting On The Cultural Observer

It is a process that has taken a couple of years, but inevitably and inexorably, I can feel Englishness returning. In some respects, this is no bad thing -I am becoming increasingly good at improvising solutions, especially to craft related situations, whereas in Canada there would almost always be a technology to solve my problem - a piece of machinery I could buy. Hanging doors is a perfect example - in England, the approach is to skillfully chisel out, by hand, a perfectly square sliver of wood on frame and door exactly the same size as the hunge one wants to use. You then insert the hinge into the required space, screw it securely in place and hey presto, the door is hung! Takes about ten minutes per door, and the only equipment needed is a chisel and a hammer. Your finger nail and the hinge can suffice to mark your cuts. North American culture differs - the professional will have a "hinge jig" - a contraption that looks like the type of thing used when people need their heads stabilizing after car accidents - an electric router and a specially adapted router bit. Our North American carpenter wil, after parkin his behemouth outside your proerty, unload his truck of all his equipment (hinge jigs, stud locators, the "Drill Doctor", tinted safety glasses, mechanised measuring tape) then unearth the hinge jig and its companions. The same measuring procedure will be required as his English counterpart, but to cut the hinge he will have to take the door outside, secure it safely in his "safe-o-matic" door holder, assemble his jig, insert his router bit, apply his era defenders and safety goggles, and finally clear the area of all cats and young children. Then the router gets switched on. Cue massive noise and huge mess, which he then clears up with his industrial Shop Vac. The door frame gets a similar treatment, apart from the necessary laying down of dust sheets everywhere. Three hours later, your door, if all measurements have been correct, is hung.

I will refrain from describing the technological procedure involved in replacing a washer in Canada, for fear of giving some readers nightmares, but despite that it is often simpler to rebuild your house than decide to fit new doors, people in Canada are generally quite happy.

This observation, is of course relative, and only assertable at a remove. It was at such a remove that this reflection occured to me. Clarifying, I should say that it was as yet another car drove directly at me, it's purple faced controller screaming and gesticulating enthusiastically, that this reflection, ex post facto, occurred to me. I had dutifully stopped the Crosstowner at a "Zebra crossing" (translation for Canadians: "Zebra crossing " = crosswalk) to allow, in full accordance with the law, an elderly lady, Zimmer frame supported, to cross a minor-ish road in our locale. Observing a Range Rover ( the original SUV) approaching at a rate of knots on the other side of the road, and anticipating that the driver might not stop, I raised my hand and waved, then pointed at the windscreen. Having experienced driver rage frequently over the last 30 months I performed this action in as friendly a manner as possible. The driver obvioulsy saw me, because he wound his window down as he approached. I waved cheerily, thumbs up. The driver responded with a wave. To my surprise, though , it was not a cheery wave, more of a gesture of dismissal and he slowed at the crossing only long enough to imply that I fornicated regularly. My surprise continued when he did a 360 degree turn further down the road, accelerated back in my direction, and, to cut a long story short, tried to drive me off the road.

All of this would be the stuff of incident, if it were not a regular occurence here. And, my reflection revealed, I am re-immersing myself in the culture by becoming primed, expecting incidents of this type. No longer do I take to the roads thinking "careless idiot" if someone cuts me up, I now take to the roads expecting to be deliberately driven at. I'm getting Englisher in other ways as well, often trading no fewer than fifteen "thank you"s in the process of buying a simple newspaper, or starting every sentence with "I'm sorry, but...". As any anthropologist will tell you, this acculturation is of course natural, especially if it represents the original state of the observer, so I am not particularly worried about becoming English, there are plenty of benefits, but I do feel regret as the Canadian bits are gradually shed and this is particularly so in relation to the seasons. In Canada, we would have had Thanksgiving by now, and in both places we lived, there would have been a marked change in temperature - in Ontario, this was particularly so, from temperatures that could kill you by heat to temperatures that could freeze you. Tires on the car and the bike would have been thought about. Pumpkins would have been bought, and I would have resolved that this was the year I was going to learn to skate.

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