Captain's Log. Star-date 9 May 2014. A curious phenomenon I believe I commented on in a previous blog: the virtual impossibility of a stranger to these lands to cross the hearth of a native. This phenomenon is corroborated by multiple testimonies. It often takes years for a visitor to the Cling-On region to be welcomed into a household, even for a passing visit. There are of course some rare exceptions. These tend to be (a) single people who live alone or do not have a family; (b) extraordinarily open Cling-Ons who are willing to admit into their homes somebody of foreign extraction who is not fully integrated into the fabric of their society already. If you want to cross the threshold of a home here, there are two ways: one, marry a Cling-On and then you will have "honorary Cling-On" status, and be considered "one of them" at least for practical social purposes; or (b) meet someone who is breaks the mold and opens the doors of their home to "blow-ins." The latter is rare but does happen. In a future blog, I will speculate about why the hearth, the home, is so sacrosanct here, and why it is specifically the family hearth, not the hearth in general, that is so closed off to non-natives.
Captain's Log, stardate May 7th, 2014. Returning from a long hiatus from my logs. Have been trying to "immerse myself" in the Klingon culture rather than make it a constant object of study. Nevertheless, I am willing to return to my logs and sacrifice some of this "full-immersion" experience for the benefit of future generations and for the benefit of the scientific community. I have gathered so much data since my last log that I hardly know where to begin... But let me begin with a phenomenon that I call "coping with an unstable environment."
Let me explain: the city of Cuadrilla is located in a curious sort of "micro-climate," a battle ground of multiple weather fronts that create chaotic and unpredictable weather patterns. The climate swings wildly from 3 degrees celsius in the morning up to 24 celsius in the afternoon, from dry sunny weather in the morning to overcast and rainy in the evening. Weather forecasts tell you "0mm of rain" but you go outside and realize that "0mm" is an infinite understatement. Add to these daily fluctuations the fact that the seasons are extremely unstable. A week of winter can arrive in the middle of spring; a week of summer in the winter; and summer can arrive whenever it feels like it.
Try to imagine what it is like to live in these conditions. Hypothesis: inhabitants of Cuadrilla must develop elaborate coping mechanisms for dealing with this extraordinary environmental instability. This hypothesis has been confirmed repeatedly by my experience interacting with natives of Cuadrilla. These coping mechanisms are partly material and partly psychological. Materially, the average Cuadrillean, especially the elders, carry an umbrella everywhere as if their life depended on it. Typically small, foldable umbrellas. Cuadrillean women wear knee-high boots as if their life depended on it. (arbitrary fashion conventions apparently prevent men from doing so).
Psychologically, Cuadrilleans are permanently braced, it would seem, for miserable, wet, weather, even when the sun is shining brightly and the sky is blue. This state of permanent "preparedness" for terrible weather, one might think, could generate heightened stress and anxiety, but in fact, since it is a PERMANENT preparedness, it actually has a calming effect on the Cuadrillean temperament. By permanently expecting the worst possible weather conditions, the Cuadrillean enjoys a stable and un-disturbable worldview. Anything can happen in his external environment, at least weatherwise, but armed with his pessimistic predictions, the Cuadrillean finds himself in a win-win situation: either rainstorms arrive, in which case his expectations are met and he enjoys the satisfaction of being right; or he gets decent or half-decent weather, in which case the outcome exceeds his expectations and he is a happy camper, though not exultant, since he anticipates this will only last a short time.
I do not wish to labour the point, but let me just recount one paradigmatic example of the resilient Cuadrillean pessimism regarding the weather. I was in a lift with my neighbour, an elderly lady, and to make light conversation I remarked to her that the weather was lovely. Her immediate, instinctive reaction, was to assume a slightly defensive yet also calm-and-collected posture (let's say, a habitual and thus stable defensiveness), and to say, "Sunny, yes, but cold! Cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon. Impossible to dress for this weather! Besides, tomorrow it's going to take a turn for the worst!" How had we managed to move from a beautiful crisp morning to the menace of horrible weather, so effortlessly and in the space of five short seconds? It could only be through an in-grained instinctual reaction, a coping mechanism developed over many generations to deal with an unstable environment. That, at least, is my professional opinion.
Captain's Log. Stardate 26th April 2013. People smoking marijuana is a familiar site and I suppose a widely accepted "fact of life" in Cuadrilla. The level of taboo surrounding the practice in the Land of Freedom is much higher than in this land of Frankness. For example, if you decided to light up some marijuana in a bar in the Land of Freedom, well, you are certainly taking your chances, to say the least. And if you are unlucky enough to have a police officer nearby, you will probably not be able to enjoy your weed for long. Whereas here, there is at least one dedicated marijuana bar, and people smoke it openly in the streets, pretty much like tobacco (this is only a slight exaggeration). What convinced me to write an entry on it was the sight of a man enjoying some weed within a stone's throw of the main entrance of a local hospital. I don't know if he was coming from the hospital or not, but the contrast between this symbol of hygiene and health, and this symbol of Western decadence and physical degeneration, can hardly fail to impress a stranger to this land. Don't get me wrong: I do not wish to take sides in the pro- and anti- hash debate. This is neither the time nor the place for that. I am simply registering a sociological fact: marijuana is much more socially villified and legally repressed in the Land of Freedom than it is in Cuadrilla, a land that is in other respects far more conservative and culturally homogeneous. Paradoxical but tru
Captain's Log. Stardate 13th April 2013. One of the curious customs of the Cuadrilleans, and, for all I know, of the Kling-Ons in general (but my data sample is limited to Cuadrilleans on this particular subject), is that of greeting people with a "goodbye" instead of "hello." I found this very disorienting at first. Picture yourself walking along the street. You meet someone you are well acquainted with. You turn to them and say in their language, "hello," or "hi." Their response: "goodbye." And on they walk.
Well, a sensitive soul might think that this is a rather untactful way of getting rid of someone one is in no humor to exchange pleasantries with. After all, what does one answer to "goodbye"? Certainly not some small talk about the weather. There is, in fact, very little EXCEPT goodbye that is an appropriate response to goodbye. So when someone greets you with "goodbye," this not only dispenses with any pretense whatsoever to enter into small talk with you; it also protects the greeter, preemptively, from any verbal advances you might make toward them. What if you were overcome, for instance, with a gush of sympathy or curiosity about how said person was faring? Confronted with "goodbye," it would take an impressive amount of determination to proceed with a conversation.
Now, the advantage of this greeting convention is that once you get used to it, there is absolutely no awkwardness in walking by colleagues and acquaintances with a matter-of-fact "goodbye" and getting on with your business. Plus, you don't waste valuable time talking about the weather. Not to mention the fact that once you get to know the Cuadrillean character, you realize that this apparently cold and impersonal greeting is compatible, in his case, with an abundance of goodwill.
Captain's Log. Stardate April 13th, 2013. My ethnographic observations and work at my Head Quarters have been rather absorbing of late, hence the long silence in this log. I'd like to return briefly to the woman question. A few weeks ago, I was passing a playground, and I saw a little boy sitting down with a rather submissive air, and a little girl, possibly a year older than him, standing over him wagging her finger at him, and telling him what's what. I wondered if this could be a foreshadowing of the dominance of the woman in the Kling-On household?
I will try to sketch the main features of the "classic" Kling-On Woman, with the important caveat that there are numerous exceptions to this pattern. It captures a common tendency among Kling-On women, NOT a universal rule.
(1) The Kling-On woman is not easy to win over. She will wait until you have proved yourself an honorable and fitting suitor, have spent plenty of time around her friends, and proved to her liking, before she will even consider "officially" going out with you, something that in the Kling-On region is only a short step away from marriage.
(2) Kling-On women do not generally play games with men they do not know well. For example, I heard of one unfortunate soul who, during a visit to the Kling-On region, sidled up to a Kling-On woman in a bar, and attempted to make some light banter with her about the weather or some such topic. Without further ado, she turned to him and said something like, "No thanks, not today." Perhaps the still-birth of a beautiful friendship? Or perhaps a legitimate form of self-defense?
(3) Kling-On women are queens in the domestic hearth. Their rule there is virtually absolute. They take great pride in the way they run their households. It is considered a great honor and sign of friendship to be invited into a Kling-On home.
(4) Kling-On women do not mince their words. They tend to share their opinions freely, and tact is probably not their primary virtue. On the other hand, they tend to be more honest and direct than women from other parts of the world. These qualities of untactful candor and brute honesty are shared by their male counterparts, perhaps in even greater quantities.
(5) Kling-On women are "women of their word." If they say yes, it means yes. If they say no, it means no. I would trust the word of an average Kling-On woman much more than an average non-Kling-On woman, knowing nothing else about her.
Captain's Log. Star-date February 9, 2013. Today I have decided to take a break from my ethnographic and purely scientific observations, because I believe my own experiences of adjusting to this strange new world may be of some value to future explorers.
The weather forecast had promised me dry weather today, so I enthusiastically pulled out my bike, only to find that I was biking through heavy, cold rain. According to the 10 day forecast, the first nine days promise more rain. The last day in the sequence is purportedly cloudy, dry, and sunny. But I for one am a bit skeptical. David Hume said that just because the sun has come up every day for the past 10,000 years, that is no proof that it will come up tomorrow. But as far as I am concerned, if it has rained every day for the past month, with two or three days of respite, that is evidence enough to expect more of it tomorrow.
Besides the relentless precipitation, on a scale I have not even imagined was possible in any part of the universe, here are some of the things that have surprised me about Cuadrilla, in no particular order:
(1) The concept of the "sandwich," on anything but white bread, is practically non-existent here, at least of the cold-cut variety. Since this was my standard lunch in my previous life, I am still in search of a suitable replacement (no luck so far).
(2) The dietary habits of Cuadrilleans are radically different to those of Freedom Lovers and indeed to those of my homeland: Cuadrilleans typically have little or no breakfast; they compensate for this by having a snack at 11:30; and then they have a big meaty dinner, sometimes several courses, at 2pm. They have a generous lunch, from 2 to 4, finish work around 7, and then have a light dinner at 9pm. Try adapting to that schedule for a while if you're used to a big breakfast, a light lunch, and an early dinner, and you will have some sense of the dietary challenges I have been facing in the past four months.
(3) Cuadrilleans are absolutely convinced that their diet is wonderfully healthy, and if "healthy" means lots of fatty food, preferably fried, sausages and red meat galore, and tons of white bread and pasta, then I cannot disagree. But these foods do not fall under my definition of "healthy." I have known people who quickly and dramatically put on weight after they moved here, which presumably had something to do with the fatty diet, combined with the late dinners. I have been holding the line, so to speak, trying to have dinner at the incredibly early time of 8pm, and generally including fruits and vegetables and more white meat and fish in my diet, less red meat.
(4) During the daytime drivers are absolutely conscientious about pedestrian crossings. They practically jam on the brakes if you as much as appear beside the pedestrian crossing and they are approaching. This makes me feel very important as a pedestrian. On the other hand, it also lulls you into a false sense of complacency - I have seen that many Cuadrilleans do not even look before they cross the road, as if the pedestrian crossing created a fail-safe invisible barrier that would protect them from reckless drivers. I nearly fell into the same complacency, but then I started to notice that many drivers completely ignore pedestrian crossings at night, whizzing through them with an impressive air of nonchalance.
(5) The custom of tipping is virtually unheard of in this land. A Freedom Lover could not live with his conscience if he omitted a tip, and he would probably even be ashamed to show his face in the same restaurant again; but in Cuadrilla, tips are blissfully unshackled from any connotation of duty or obligation. They are equivalent to buying someone a beer: you can do it, out of the goodness of your heart, and it will certainly be welcomed, but noone will resent you for failing to do so. This means that the real price of meals is the price on the menu; whereas in the Land of Freedom and Opportunity, the real price is significantly higher than the advertised price.
(6) In general, the idea that "Customer is King" is about as alien to the Cuadrillean mindset as the idea of closing shopping malls would be in the Land of Freedom. Customers enter shops and businesses at the good pleasure of their owners. If the owners pay them attention and make life easy for them, that is a privilege they should be grateful for. Complaining about bad service is not generally a good use of one's time in this land. You've got to pick your battles, and any battles involving commercial establishments and services are so difficult to wage successfully that most of them are probably not worth engaging in. A few pieces of anecdotal evidence:
(a) Ikea sends its trucks out to Cuadrilla (a 2 hours drive!), but you cannot order furniture from them unless you go in person to their store - so what's the point in having it delivered if I have to make the 2 hour drive to the store myself?
(b) A large group of bridesmaids arrived at a clothes store and wanted to order dresses. The manager was about to leave for lunch, and told them he had no time to deal with them - thus losing a lucrative opportunity.
(c) I called a large department store and asked the price of a product. The employee who answered the phone told me she was "not authorized" to share such information with me.
(d) Almost nobody uses checks here. This is a cash economy. I almost had to coerce my banker to give me a checkbook.
(e) I was sent the wrong type of SIM card by my phone company. When I went to their store, they told me this was "not their problem," that I would have to call customer service (who had, of course, directed me to their store). The card would have been replaced without any question in a Freedom Loving store.
(f) A girl entered a store and wanted to buy a skirt. The sales rep calmly told her that the skirt she had on suited her just fine, so why did she need another one? Besides, this one didn't suit her. The girl insisted that she wanted to buy the skirt, but was eventually convinced by the rep that this was not in her best interests. This is not folklore. This is an event I have verified through a reliable source.
(g) I have to end this blog with a positive anecdote. Efficiency and profit are not what really matter around here. This can lead to poor service, but it can also lead to surprising instances of commercial altruism. For example, I was about to purchase a phone here, after waiting quite a lot time, and was told by the sales rep that I was better off buying it from another company, since they would sell it to me unblocked at the same price, whereas he was offering it with a contract. What in the world moved him to chase me away from his business? Brute honesty combined with indifference to profit? This sort of information would be conveniently withheld in any store I have had dealings with in the Land of Freedom and Opportunity.
Cuadrilla has been nothing if not surprising. As a well-travelled explorer, I have in the past been tempted to think that I had "seen it all"; that adaptation would be "a cinch," and so on. I already had a decent grasp of the local language of Cuadrilla before I set foot here. But language was the least of my worries, as I soon discovered.
No, not language, but culture. That is the great stumbling block, the great hurdle, for any new visitor to Cuadrilla, particularly one who comes from far afield. But what is culture? A way of life? A set of habits? A worldview? A set of basic presuppositions that permeate everyday life, and are often invisible to those immersed in a particular way of life? Probably all of the above.
Adaptation in the Land of Freedom and Opportunity is very different to adaptation in Cuadrilla. Freedom Lovers tend to believe that everyone should choose his own habits and lifestyle, within reason, just so long as he respects the right of others to do the same. Furthermore, with a free market of ideas and practices, one has plenty of opportunity to cultivate one's own "cultural and religious space," so to speak, at least if one has access to a decent education. Of course, the downside of this is that religion can be reduced to a consumer "option," while the shopping mall can become another religion. The upside is that those with initiative can cultivate a social space and a group of like-minded friends that may be quite at odds with the surrounding culture. Thus, there are ways of mitigating the influence of the dominant culture.
Cuadrilla is quite different in this respect. The expectation of the average Cuadrillean is that you will EITHER adapt to the local culture, OR you will remain an outsider, to all intents and purposes. Whereas a Freedom Lover will consider everyone as eligible candidates for "integration," just so long as they sign on to the same legal framework so to speak, the Cuadrillean will only admit someone as a candidate for "integration" and full acceptance on a par with other Cuadrilleans, when he and his family have lived here for at least two generations, and have more or less assimilated to the Cuadrillean way of life. The mere fact of residence here, be it for a decade or a lifetime, is not sufficient for one to be considered "of Cuadrilla."
Thus, whereas in the Land of Freedom I felt that somehow everyone was a foreigner in his own land - in the sense that there was no "thick culture" that united everyone - in this weather-beaten land, I feel that the contrast between foreigner and native is much more acute. At the same time, that makes foreigners even a bit more "exotic" because they stand out a lot more here than they do in most major Freedom Loving cities.
Captain's Log. Star-date February 6th, 2013. It has been well over two months since my last log. My explorations of Cuadrilla have been so absorbing that I have barely had time to record my findings.
So this log is long over-due. I feel I have entered another time-space dimension, a dimension where every day is overcast and wet. Over the past four weeks, I have recorded about three dry days. When I first came here, I used to wonder in the morning whether it would be raining when I left my house: now I have learnt to count on it. On the rare occasions when the skies clear, an inhabitant of this moist land would be ill-advised to leave his home without an umbrella or suitable attire, for the weather can and generally does take a turn for the worse when you are least expecting it. They have a saying here, that if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes. But that suggests changeability, whereas THIS is relentless, merciless precipitation.
As I walked up the hill through the cold rain the other evening, I wondered what it would be like to live in this climate all one's life. What sorts of character traits would one have to develop in order to survive in Cuadrilla? I speculated that one would need to be very resigned with one's lot in life, very stoical if you will; that one would need a will like steel to constantly face the miserable weather, day in day out, without rebelling against the cosmos or staying in bed; that one would perhaps become a little curt or insensitive toward others as one developed a "thick skin" to deal with the unforgiving climate; and that one would probably have little time for beating around the bush and mincing one's words. All of which character traits are in ample supply in Cuadrilla. So maybe there is something to this theory after all!
Captain’s Log, star-date 25th of November, 2012: Have not logged in for quite some time. Too busy assimilating to the culture. Today I’d like to enlarge my observations concerning the social system that prevails in Cuadrilla and in the surrounding region. The Cuadrilleans and indeed many other Kling-Ons as well, typically inhabit an Inner Circle of friends. These Inner Circles constitute the bedrock of the Cuadrillean social system.
Each Cuadrillean is integrated into an Inner Circle from a very early age – sometimes as early as three or four. He is “grafted,” so to speak, into a small circle of friends, usually between five and ten children who attend the same school. Based on my conversations with Cuadrilleans, my sense is that there is no formal ritual of incorporation – the process may be a matter of mutual acceptance combined with happenstance. I will report again if I find out more about how the selection process works.
I visited a small village about an hour’s drive from Cuadrilla and I saw an Inner Circle in the making: five little boys playing football in the small alleys of the village. These little boys will most likely be together for the rest of their lives, unless some of them have the audacity to leave Cuadrilla as an adult, or worse still, defect completely from the Inner Circle.
What does it mean to belong to an Inner Circle? It means that you spend much of your social time throughout your life with your Circle Friends, that you help them out whenever they are in need, and that you consider each other Friends for Life. Inner Circles are rarely broken deliberately and defections are rare. However, even Cuadrilla is not untouched by the process of globalization, and so there are cases of Cuadrilleans emigrating to another part of the Kling-On region, or, in extremis, going to an exotic place like the Land of Freedom. In that case, the Circle has been diminished in practice, but the bond of loyalty, in principle, remains forever, “as thick as blood.”
The Inner Circle system serves to reinforce and protect the intensely ethnic and geographic identity of the Cuadrillean. “Blow-ins” from other parts of the Kling-On Region or beyond will remain “blow-ins” for the rest of their life. I know people who have lived over thirty years in Cuadrilla but would hesitate to describe themselves as Cuadrilleans. The only sure way to guarantee acceptance as a bona fide Cuadrillean is to be born in Cuadrilla of two parents born in Cuadrilla.
Given these facts, it is virtually unthinkable that a Blow-In or Stranger could be incorporated into an Inner Circle. At most, a visitor might win the goodwill and confidence of a Cuadrillean at the level of an outer circle. That, at least, is my working hypothesis based on the available evidence.
Captain Thunder logging out…
Captain's Log. Startdate 25th October 2012: They say that a "picture paints a thousand words." Well, I have decided to include some rare candid footage of a conversation between a Freedom Lover and two Klingons. The more conciliatory of the two, the ship's captain, is from a neighboring Klingon region. The more suspicious of the two Klingons was born and bred in Cuadrilla.