21 January, 2008

I go to...?

There is a youngster who works with me at GPHQ whom it is so easy to tease that really it's no challenge at all. As well as our mutual employment, she also is taking a course at the local 6th form college. Her goal is to complete this course, then apply to and attend a university, and emerge with some form of employable degree. The teasing ~ and my interest in it today ~ comes from the fact that, as in so many other areas, our language use is slightly different.

Here, apparently, it is an insult to call all places of education schools, the word being reserved solely for use with those institutions which actually have the word in their name ~ Penglais Secondary School, or Rhydypennau Primary School, for example ~ and not for other places. Thus, since although my friend is still involved in her secondary education she is attending a college, not a school, all i have to do is to ask her when i see her how school is going for her to be annoyed.

This is, to me, a funny distinction to make, as in the usage i am used to (Canadian?, American?, i don't know) school is used to all levels ~ primary, secondary, and tertiary ~ with no derogatory implication. Thus, i have talked about doing this or that “at school” referring to the post-grad university course i'm taking. In fact, my friend usually tries to tease me back when i ask her about school by saying something along the same lines to me, but it has no effect ~ to her further annoyance.

The reason that i find this interesting is that it seems to me to run ~ in both parts of it ~ counter to the stereotype. One expects, according to type, North Americans to be quite concerned with status, especially their own, and thus if they were attending a university to be sure all know that fact, rather than allowing it to be called school or, as is also often the case, college. The British, however, have a reputation for understatement, for allowing the wrong impression to gained by people they meet. How curious it is, then, that my British friend is so concerned (apparently as a cultural influence) that her college be recognised as such.

Goes to prove, i suppose, that stereotypes are merely a guide to what can be expected, not graven in stone guarantees of what people will be like. Maybe that's what makes them dangerous.

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