Culture Shock on The Minnow

9 05 2015

This last week, we had a visit from a new member of our team. Due to an organisational reshuffle he was now reporting in to our Vancouver based marketing team, despite being physically based in Venlo, The Netherlands. The main result of our company being split over these two sites is that the Vancouver members are expected to attend regular con-calls and video conferences at obscene times in the morning. The Dutch, being very “socialised” largely refuse to take calls past their 5pm nominal finish time. Being 9 hours ahead, it leaves a vanishingly small window of overlap. Taking a call in your pyjamas, eating breakfast, slurping tea – and hoping “mute” is engaged – is one thing; being physically in the office and attending a video conference at 7am is quite another. I really should start questioning this whole “Canadians are so nice” thing. It was in the small print of my citizenship test though. :)

Since all but one of the newly configured team is living in Pacific Daylight Saving at the moment, our newest crew member came to stay for a week and get to know the oddballs he was now working with. I had a business trip to Chicago in the middle of the visit, so didn’t personally get to see much of him, but quickly decided I liked his enthusiasm and lack of world-weariness. (He’ll learn soon enough! It was good to form the “before” impression though.)

Anyway, our boss graciously offered to take the entire team for a couple of hours sailing around English Bay on his 37′ C&C yacht.

C&C 37 yacht - under way

C&C 37 yacht – under way

The wind was up, and we had a few high-speed, 45 degree tilted runs across the bay, weaving in and out of the various empty freighters anchored there.

Freighter and North Shore Mountains

Freighters and North Shore Mountains

At one point, I glanced back over the city and saw a huge pall of black smoke. It looked so dark I thought it might be oil and feared the worst – there’s recently been a lot of highly emotional talk about Vancouver’s oil terminal, pipelines feeding it and the potential development of the LNG industry in BC. Technology (Twitter in this case) answered the question and told us there was in fact a fire at a Vancouver church.

We were a mixed bunch, in possibly every dimension you could imagine. Six in total, we had 4 blokes and 2 women, one of whom didn’t behave that way (this is the West Coast in the 21st century, after all. We have both expressed an appreciation for the on-coming summer and the attendant rise of skirt hems – it’s always nice to share one’s interests!) Five had current certification to manage a boat on the water, though three readily admitted that their memory of the details were sketchy. Personally, I now only claim confidence as far as which way up the boat should be. Three were born Canadian, four had a Canadian passport, one was waiting for a Canadian passport and one was visiting Canada for the first time. Three also possessed European passports – well, 2 plus a UK one, grudgingly European. Of the three Canadian born members, one was of Scottish descent, one of Welsh and one of German. The remainder were born in the UK, France and The Netherlands, Ties to the old world, it seems, run deep.

We had a fine afternoon under clear, breezy skies and greatly enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually we slackened the sails, pointed almost parallel to the wind to regain a level keel, set the auto-pilot and broke out the picnic.

Terribly civilised!

One of the natural-born Canadians then tried to explain to “Dutchie” that “all North American men”, and indeed “a growing proportion of North American women” who were “of a certain age” had a ready answer to a specific question, namely “Ginger or Mary Ann?”

To prove his point, all three “proper” Canadians (apart from our new Dutch colleague, we were all of “a certain age”) readily replied, with Mary Ann winning 2:1 – Ginger getting her vote from our lady crew member “mainly for being blonde – I have a thing about blondes”. One of the blokes modified his reply with “it depends if it’s long term or over-night” and around this point I became aware of a huge gulf in North American vs. European popular culture.

The three of us born outside Canada had no idea who Ginger or Mary Ann were. None of us had heard of The Minnow; Gilligan; The Professor or any of the other various names thrown around. We stared politely while each of the six of us were assigned a character from “Gilligan’s Island”, though we had no point of reference at all. The low point was when half the crew began singing the theme song with much gusto.

Gilligan’s Island

Comments were subsequently made about the altitude of my eyebrows at the culmination of the singing. I think it was George Bernard Shaw (of Pygmalion and other plays) who said that the US and England were two nations separated by a common language. (He was Irish, by the way…. just sayin’.) It seems equally true that US-TV and Euro-TV can be similarly divisive. Despite having different home languages (one each in fact), we three non-locals culturally had a lot of similarities and shared our own common TV. We chose not to sing anything!

As a child I remember lots of childrens TV in the UK that I subsequently learnt was from The Continent. Animated programmes such The Magic Roundabout or puppets like Hector’s House (both French, I believe) were easy to internationalise. But it didn’t stop there. I remember watching a programme that introduced me to dubbing, as I gradually became aware that the lips and sounds weren’t matching. I recently discovered that The White Horses was in fact German/Yogoslavian! Wikipedia also tells me that the UK audio dubbing has been lost except for a single episode. Ah, the vagaries of pop culture….

MagicRoundabout.com: Les Amis

 

Carter Collectables: Hector’s House

 

http://www.fernsehserien.de: The White Horses





Bill’s Sonnet CXVI

14 01 2015

I’ve been watching an old TV series called “Dead Like Me” in which a recently dead girl “finds herself” while performing her new job as a reaper of souls. It’s vaguely entertaining, not least because it was filmed in and around Vancouver, so it’s always fun trying to figure out where the locations are. She supposedly met her demise when hit by falling space debris… outside the Mink chocolate cafe at Hornby and Hastings. Anyway, the episode I watched last night included quite a bit of Shakespeare, so I thought I’d share one of his sonnets. For no other reason than he was the world’s greatest writer, and you really should read some of his stuff!

When he couldn’t find a word to subtly describe a human emotion, deed or thought… he’d make up a new one. And I mean words that are now thoroughly mainstream like “green-eyed” and “mountaineer”. Now that, dear reader, is owning your language!

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.





Jokes You Have To Be A Little Nerdy To Find Funny

11 01 2015

Sad to say… but I chuckled heartily!

Distractify | 26 Clever Jokes You Have To Be A Little Nerdy To Find Funny.

EDIT: Seems the original page has gone stale. Try this instead.

An example:





Write on, dude…

13 11 2014

So I’m feeling just a tad guilty about not posting very much these days. But I have been writing. Honest, guv!

I think I may have mentioned that I was bought a Creative Writing course at UBC, which is a weekly night class workshop affair. As part of that we are encouraged to write every day, as well as undertaking several set piece exercises. More recently the course lead – the talented Paul Belserene – has offered us access to a forum where members of the course can post their “dailies” online. It’s a kind of half-way between writing in a notebook and never letting anyone see your efforts and on the other extreme reading it in class, which volunteers do in order to have their work critiqued in a non-judgemental, objective way. (Remarks are made from the perspective of the reader – what they heard, what it made them imagine, and how that made them feel. No actual remark about the piece, just its effects. It’s left to the writer to use that feedback as they will.)

Anyway, I’ve yet to see anyone post anything (except my shy retiring self, of course), and only one other from the course of 17 has even signed up! So I figured if my classmates are not going to bother reading my stuff, why not let my other audience have a look?

Early days yet – I make no suggestion that this is high art of any kind – but as ever, I welcome comments.


This was a desolate place. The wind was howling about his ears and trying hard to dislodge his coat hood. He hunkered down, turning his back to the worst of it and thrusting his hands into his pockets.

From this high rock he could see for miles out to sea. The waves seemed gentle at this distance, but experience left him in no doubt that it was mere illusion. Nearer the shore there were sudden explosions of white as hidden rocks punished the reckless surge of the tide. He could see brave birds patrolling just above the undulating waves. Amazing how they could identify a meal amongst all that chaos.

Despite the frigid wind, the sun shone and attempted to warm the land. It was a lost cause here. The rock was smooth hard basalt, stripped clean of any living thing twice a day – the moon’s spiteful reply to the sun’s offer of life. Nothing grew here. The tides left no moss or weed, nor deposited any seaweed. Utterly barren.
Another illusion.
He was here.
The birds were here.
Presumably things they wanted to eat were here.

A sudden gust buffeted him so that he had to take a half-step to remain upright. He smiled. He felt alive.


Though it is a piece of pure imagination, I drew my inspiration from my summer trip to Tow Hill on Haida Gwaii. As a complete aside, you might enjoy photos of the place posted a while ago by burnt embers.





Creative Writing

5 10 2014

As part of my birthday present this year, I was bought a creative writing course at Vancouver’s UBC. It’s a 10 week evening course aimed at teaching the participants how to objectively assess their output and hopefully therefore write more better ;o). Though we get set weekly assignments, most of the focus is on providing solid objective feedback to the work of others. Our own assignment is there primarily to offer material for others to practice their feedback on. Hopefully towards the end of the course we reach a Zen state where we can disassociate from our own words and assess them as an impartial reader might – removing the element of “well, I REALLY meant…” and reacting only to what is actually on the page.

The course instructor is Paul Belserene, a “professional story-teller”. Being the detail-oriented anal-retentive I am, I checked him out via the well of occasionally accurate information available on the internet. Turns out he is an American by birth. Originally educated there, he saw the light and now lives in BC. He even occasionally puts ‘u’ into his words just to show he’s open in principle to assimilating into his adopted country. Though gently spoken and dry of wit, his knowledge and experience on the subject make his 2 hour sessions seem far too short. He also has the patience of a saint which, not myself being of a religious bent, I would equate to other mere mortals, so I suppose that’s just a truism.

As I mentioned, we’re provided a handful of assignments each week to provide some fodder for the main task of learning how to objectively evaluate the written word. Since this course has reinvigorated my writing juices, I thought I’d share one here on my much neglected – though steadfastly quite irrelevant – blog.


 

Write an email that is a follow-up from one person after their first face-to-face meeting in an internet dating situation.

Hey Greg,

I wanted to write to let you know how much I enjoyed last night. I’m sure you’ve texted me like you said you would, but my stupid kid brother dropped my phone in the bath and it’s stopped working, so I can’t get my texts until I get a new one.

Going to the cinema was such a treat. I had no idea that “Death in a Storm Drain” was still showing. Thanks for letting me buy your ticket – so many men these days insist on paying, which hurts my feminist ideals and would have ruined the romance of the movie. I still can’t believe you had your wallet stolen while we were out. Don’t worry, you can pay me back for your train ticket later.

How is your flat mate? It was sad to hear of his Haemorrhagic Fever, but maybe we can go back to your place next time instead. I think I wrote your number down wrong because when I called today there was a Chinese restaurant that answered. Please email me back soon – I bought us tickets for that batik design seminar I told you about.

Hoping to be yours – Elsie


Now, if you want to play the game, you assess the piece in three phases:

1) What do you read? Assess it AS WRITTEN. Infer what YOU will, as the reader.

2) What do you imagine? Use your own experience and knowledge to paint the mind pictures around the specific words you read. What do the words lead you to imagine?

3) How does it make you feel? What emotional response results from that?

As the reader, these are your assessment of the impact of the piece. Only the writer knows if those responses are even close to the intent – but they’re valid nonetheless. Notice that there’s no judgemental element? There’s no concept of good/bad, only a report of how one reader was “moved” or had reactions to the piece. The writer can then use that feedback to tune the piece if those responses are not aligned with the intent.

Eventually I hope the course will allow me to perform that feedback loop myself, and get at least one step closer to my intended reaction before letting my writing loose on an unsuspecting reader. I’ll let you know how things progress…





Thank-you and goodnight

12 07 2013

So I have this thing.

Actually I have a whole bunch of things, but the thing I want to tell you about right now relates to travel.

I suppose I should apologise to those of you who have noticed my lack of output of late. I’ve been away on a trip to Europe for work, and then got busy trying to catch up and then took a weekend camping to re-acquaint myself with my kids. Any or all of the above may eventually become the subject of blog entries, but I want to start gently and talk about my thing.

Ever since I first got to travel for work, I made it a habit to learn how to say “thank-you” in the local language. I firmly believe that if you make an attempt to show gratitude then you can get away with a lot more stumbling and pointing helplessly at menus. Actually, my first ever business trip was to Oman, and I confess my “thing” hadn’t yet occurred to me, so I don’t know how to say thank-you in Arabic. Everyone I interacted with spoke better English than me, and it didn’t seem necessary.

When I went to Taiwan though, I learned that “xie xie” was the Mandarin for thanks. My recent travels added Romanian and Hungarian to the list, so I thought I’d just show off a little and enumerate all the ways I’ve learnt to say thank-you to beer-suppliers around the world…

[Edit: 5th August 2013… I realise I’d forgotten Portuguese!]

Austria Danke
Belgium Bedankt
Denmark Tak
Finland Kiitos
France Merci
Germany Danke
Hungary Köszönöm
Italy Grazie
Japan Arigato
Korean Kamsahamnida
Netherlands Dank u well
Portugal Obrigado
Romania Multo mesc
Spain Gracias
Sweden Tak
Taiwan xie xie




Suck cess

16 04 2013

Did you know that “cess” means “tax”? Nothing to do with cesspits at all. Though I think you’d likely agree that taxes are the pits.

But anyway… here’s a couple of quotes I came across today in my meanderings through life:

Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fireReggie Leach

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasmSir Winston Churchill








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