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!