30 July, 2007

An Unpleasant Discovery

I regret to say that i have, over the past eighteen months, discovered something in myself that does not please me particularly. I have always been relatively proud ~ happy, at least, if pride isn't to be thought a good thing ~ that my parents brought me up, consciously or not, in a relatively prejudice-free manner. I never really noticed this, it was so ordinary, until i moved to the USA, and discovered a truly prejudiced society. For all the progress it has made as a country ~ and i can't imagine how awful it must have been before the 'Fifties ~ it is permeated with prejudice, racial/ethnic, financial, geographical, and cultural. I felt both appalled living there, and pleased with my own upbringing. Until i returned to the UK.

At that point i realised that i really have nothing to be proud of, as i discovered a prejudice within myself that i had never before suspected. I discovered that without realising ~ or planning ~ it, i judge people before i know anything about them, by the way that they speak. I have in me, apparently, an inclination towards Received Pronunciation, what used to be called the Queen's English. If i hear someone speak in an accent other than RP, i find that i am biased ~ not against them or what they are saying, but i make assumptions which i have no right to make, and which are very likely completely erroneous.

Now, to be perfectly honest, this prejudice does not really arise in everyday life ~ perhaps i unconsciously expect people to talk in more regional accents when i meet them. But when i have the radio on, which is frequently, and an interviewee or, worse, an interviewer or, worst, an announcer speaks English in a manner that indicates their regional origin as being somewhere other than the South-west of the country, oh then, then i just am appalled at their lack of self-respect, at the shame which must accrue to them over the dishonour of speaking that way in public.

And how foolish i am to think this way. I recognise it, when i think of it, because i don't judge my friends for having Welsh, West Country, or Birmingham accents. It makes no difference to me, the way they speak; why should it, they are still my friends, still who they are. So, then, why should it matter when i hear such accents over the air? It can only be because, in my mind, the way i was brought up (i assume), the person behind the radio microphone is an authority, educated, knows what he is talking about, and speaking with what i apparently think is an uneducated accent is not the way to demonstrate that authority. It isn't a regionalism, therefore, that i have found in myself, a disdain for all things Welsh, for example; rather it is an assumption that there is a proper English that everyone ought to try and use, and anyone who doesn't is, well, uneducated.

Now i can't say that i am proud of this discovery about myself. It was quite an unpleasant shock, in fact, as i realised it. What i can do, however, and do, is to actively remind myself that the accent on the radio is not, just as it isn't with my friends, an indication of the value of the person speaking, nor of what they are saying. It still makes me feel good, though, when i hear a newsreader using RP; i guess that's still something to work on.

18 July, 2007

Travelling Woes

Well, home again after a fortnight’s trip to Canada to see various members of the family ~ and to perform my brother’s wedding ceremony! There’s an honour for you! So, what should i write about other than travel and its frustrations?

The trip itself, i hasten to add, was lovely. The journeys, though, were anything but. I suppose that’s the penalty we pay for living in a world in which we can travel so far so fast for so short a period. After all, i did travel about 4600 miles (or 7400 kilometres) from here to there, and the same back, in a matter of some hours, no matter how many years it seemed.

So, i was going to complain...well, i will. The trip there, actually, wasn’t too bad, other than the chap sitting next to me for over nine hours in the aeroplane ~ sitting i say, but it would be more accurate to say he was sleeping next to me for almost all of that nine hours (how did he do that?); the problem was not the arm he left on the armrest between us, but the shoulder attached to it that continually drifted over to the upper part of my (already small) seat back, giving me less room to twist myself into. And, of course, the fact that for two or three of the hours one of his feet stayed under the seat in front of me, giving me little choice with mine other than sticking them out in the aisle to trouble passers-by.

What i really wanted to complain about, though, was not my neighbour: I could have done something about him ~ or, rather, it would have been possible for someone more assertive than i to do something about him ~ what really frustrates me is the things about which nothing can be done, regarding which there is no appeal: The variant policies of travel companies, airlines and such.

My itinerary/e-ticket (incidentally, it's printed on a piece of paper; how can it be an electronic ticket?) indicated that i had twenty kilos weight allowance. Carefully, then, i travelled with about nineteen and a half, and commented on that to the woman at the check-in. Oh no, she said; you have twentythree, that twenty regulation is wrong. Great, i thought, and wasn't too worried about returning, even though i had a little more weight than going, what with gifts and so on. But, as you doubtless guessed, at the return check-in the lower limit was strictly enforced, and i had to pay a two kilo overweight charge. No use arguing that i had based my action on the airline's own employee; no use arguing at all in truth, not if i wanted them to bring me home.

The second frustration from the airline, also at the check-in counter, was the people who came up with two carry-on bags, despite clear instructions that only one was permitted, and a laptop case or a woman's handbag each counted as the allowable one. Came up, i say, to the counter, and then strolled on the aeroplane carrying two bags. If that were the case, i needn't have paid the excess baggage charge, but just used a handbag!

I suppose the question is, how can i tell which of their policies are the airlines going to be selectively enforcing the next time i fly?