Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Don't kiss me - cross cultural fumblings!

This weekend I've kissed a number of people on the lips, the eyebrow, the ear and even the forehead. This embarrassing intimacy is all the result of difficult European greeting customs which us Brits should never be subjected to!

In spite of travelling regularly and schooling myself in language and cross cultural understanding, the actual moment of greeting still baffles me. I know it's coming, as they approach and dip their head, I seize up, unsure whether to swerve left or right. Consequently I either meet them full on the mouth, or some awful near miss which more resembles a yuppie 'mwah' than a genuine Italian 'Ciao'.

Returning home on Monday with the scars of fumbled greetings still fresh in my mind, I recalled this old but still brilliant Pam Ayres reflection on the matter. It's still best in her own words:

But Don't Kiss Me..

I want to ask a favour of the friends that I might meet,
To all of my acquaintances who pass me in the street,
Give me a cheery wave: 'Hello ! How are you? Bye! So long!
'But don't kiss me. Please don't kiss me, for I always get it wrong.

I do not want to do it, I would rather pass you by,
I miss, you get a smacker on the ear or in the eye,
I'm standing on the pavement thinking 'Blast! Damnation! Heck !
He went the other way and I have kissed him on the neck.

I find it so embarrassing it makes my knuckles clench,
It's a very dodgy habit we've imported from the French,
What's wrong with 'Oh good morning!' or a handshake if you must,
A lovely smile of welcome or, all right, a smile of lust.
But I do not want to kiss you! I am sure you're very nice,
But I find it so confusing, is it once or is it twice?

I'm filled with apprehension, and a feeling close to fright,
Who leans forward first? Is it the left cheek first or right?
And I feel a strange awareness as we stand around and speak,
That there's a disconcerting trace of your saliva on my cheek,
So don't kiss me, no, don't kiss me, say 'Enchante! Ciao! Good health!
But I'm telling you, don't kiss me, keep your choppers to yourself !

Oh don't kiss me, I implore you, for I cannot stand the strain,
I seldom kiss my husband and you don't hear him complain,
So au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen! Just tell me that you'll miss me
But please if we should meet again, don't pucker up! DON'T KISS ME!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Somalian Pirate Parallels

Sometimes the news reports shock us with striking gospel parallels out of nowhere. Yesterday's news carried such an impact, detailing how Judith Tebbutt is preparing to come home after a six month kidnap ordeal from a remote Kenyan beach resort. Taken by Somalian pirates and held with her husband, Mrs Tebbutt is now facing up to a return to normal life - if this will ever be possible for her.

During the kidnap process, her husband David was shot dead by the Pirates. Along with the immense grief and sense of loss, she is also reported to have paid an £800,000 ransom, plus a further £20,000 'accomodation costs' to the Pirates. When the ransom money was dropped by plane earlier this week, her release was confirmed.

It is hard to imagine how someone can adjust to freedom and normality after such an ordeal, especially when it has been at such great cost, emotionally, physically, financially.

Deep in this awful story we find the seeds of hope from a greater story-One that we have all been written into. The great narrative of the bible teaches us that we have all been held in captivity, kept far from the home we were made for by a powerful enemy. Our enemy is no modern day Pirate, rather the hostile slave master that we call sin. An internal enemy, set upon us by one who has complete mastery over us all.Here there is no way of escape, no future hope, no amount of ransom money that would be sufficient.

The tragic true story of the Tebbutts is a microcosm of this greater story. Their loss was great, her ability to continue living in freedom without slavery to bitterness will be remarkable on a human level. In our greater narrative though, we find an even greater loss, a greater cost, a higher ransom paid for our freedom.

Into our captivity a greater 'David Tebbutt' emerges, who is willing to lay down his life for all of us. In this parallel story, a ransom for many is paid. We are bought with a price, we are rescued, set free into a new life, free from fear or bitterness, running home to the Father's house we were made for. Who is this rescue hero? Who is this stranger who resonates even in an awful modern news story? Who is our ransom from the life we are trapped in?

Matthew's gospel points him out from the crowd - Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the one to whom all the courageous David Tebbutts of this world lead us. 'He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'

Friday, 16 March 2012

Britannica Sadness v Bite Sized Thinking

After 244 years of publishing facts about the world, Encyclopedia Britannica is finally stopping print versions.  Imagine the events they have chronicled? From the Enlightenment to the Crimean war, the Britannica boys were there at the cutting edge.

Encyclopedia Britannica  defined my childhood. It was how we found stuff out in the olden days. We had big dusty versions at school with intriguing arbitary pairings on the spines to show what was covered therein - kiss to Mountbatten? Britannica was considered so vital to a child's development that we nearly got a set at home. In the end, I think Dad was put off by the salesman refusing to tell him the price until he had completed his little talk, especially when we all knew that the full deluxe leather bound set would cost more than a new car! So thanks to the pushy salesman, I got through my schooling and exams in the library with the tomes out around me on the desk!

In this wiki instant age it is a surprise it's taken them this long to transition to a stand alone online service. I wonder if it will pay, when so much is already available for free, and students have already established  research routes with other providers?

This Britannica change is a microcosm of the big transition we are all in. I feel a hint of sadness for a disappearing era which connected me to scholars of the enlightenment age, who studied in the same way as we did......slowly! Now that tenuous connection breaks for ever. But I wonder if out instant research lacks depth, is shallower, fails to penetrate our minds in the same way as facts which are mined slowly from heavy books. It may be quicker to find stuff, but do we get to go through the thinking process like we used to? Do we wrestle whilst we search, are we going to breed a superficial generation who give up if a google search requires more than one page of reading?

I'm sad too that I will no longer be able to just flip open an encyclopedia and see where it falls. Oh the discoveries I've made in this way, the joy of reading about things I would never intentionally look up! Even the distractions are a wonderful diversion. I delved in to look up Lent and spent an hour reading about Lenin instead! I am to blame - we all are. We are all eager consumers of bite sized chucks of wiki. Now we will have to live forever on this meagre diet.