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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cultural Bias – message received and understood

I grew up in a time and country that mocked Americans. Like many children, I didn’t question the status quo. I had my own views but didn’t voice them. I knew that adults were unable to appreciate the joys of a good Western and that American cartoons were infinitely superior, rather than ‘absolute rubbish.’ [translation = trash]

One of the clues that I gleaned about Americans was actually a mistake. It was my mistake. I disliked titles. I accepted Mr and Mrs. Salomon as a title but I wasn’t much taken with Lord and Lady MacIntyre. I wasn’t overly fussed with the ‘Lord’ bit, but ‘Lady’ stuck in my throat. [translation = craw] I felt similarly about Queen and Princess, as even at that age I was biased against stinky pinky.

I had learned that the colour blue, indicative of the male species, became associated with boys a long time ago. Blue, or the dye indigo, was expensive and rare. It was used to dye the robes that little boys wore. This meant that when there was a raid, the boys, the valuable creatures, could be scooped up and rescued speedily. The history books were silent as to the fate of the girls. Thus, when I became familiar with American terminology, I was delighted to accept the title ‘Sir.’ I liked the title ‘Sir’ for men but I liked the title ‘Siree’ for women even more. Yup, those American’s would yell it out too, ‘Yes, Siree!’ and it was so empowering. What can I say? As a little girl, the term spoke to me in an oh so personal way.

I carried that delusion around with me for many a long year. [translation = my own personal secret weapon] My confidence was boosted by the knowledge that somewhere in the world, women had the power to make things happen. [translation = kick arse] When the bubble finally burst, the ridicule was easy to brush off. What was not so easy to dismiss was the vague sense of disappointment. [translation = someone had stolen my magic wand]

A little thorn such as this, helps me when I come across mis-understandings in my own children, especially the speech delayed ones. Whilst I am the first to laugh at their mistakes, I try hard to thread my way back to the source, so that I can help them untangle it. The English language is such a tricky thing. It is full of pitfalls for the unwary. Today’s educational system is based on the system of phonics, how the words and letters sound. It your attention span is challenged and your auditory processing is dodgy this makes the task of understanding the spoken [or written] word so much more difficult. The issue is further fogged by the fact that for many autistic children, communicating by language would not be their natural first choice. For mine, gesture and mimicry would be their first choice. For many it is sign language, but their success can be compromised by poor fine and gross motor skills. But I digress.

We drive around in England on holiday on the wrong side of the road. For some strange reason, the road signs seem far more obvious than they are in America. Maybe it is because the car is smaller. Maybe it’s because the whole scale of things is smaller. We seem close to the road, closer to the edges of the road and somehow far more crowded. Maybe it is easier to pick up the road signs because they differ so greatly from their American versions. They are different colours with different icons, far more icons that I recall from America. More importantly, probably due to my own cultural bias, they are easier to understand. ‘X’ ing in America for railway crossing always causes me a double take in America, but the British equivalent does not.

We play ‘I Spy.’ I loved ‘I Spy’ as a child whenever I could bribe someone to play it with me. I thought that my children would also enjoy playing ‘I Spy.’ I was half wrong in this conclusion. The girls loved it, the boys loathed it. Approximately two years ago, playing ‘I Spy’ was a refined method of torture for the boys. When you think about it for more than a nano second, the reasons are obvious. Here are a couple of chaps who are generally overwhelmed by the busy messages that their bodies and brains receive. [translation = a jumble] Added to this, you the parent, are asking them to single out units of information when they are already buried.

Additionally, to add insult to injury, the child is then expected to not only process the incoming information, but also then verbalize their findings. The little one has a layer of hyper-vigilance. [translation = everything is out to attack and kill him.] the other lacks a gymbal [translation = stabilizer] which I suspect means that he is permanently at sea. [translation – sea sick]

As a result, ‘I Spy,’ is still, strictly speaking, a no go area. They permit us to play with their sister. [translation = increased tolerance] We explain the road system; brown signs for tourist attraction. We also translate ‘tourist.’ Green signs with their corresponding numbers are ‘A’ roads. [translation = big ones] Blue ones are motorways. [translation = bigger ones like freeways] White ones are ‘B’ roads. [translation = little ones] We do not attempt to translate ‘dual carriageway.’ [translation = psychological cul de sac]

Time passes amiably enough. [translation = with the prop of a time count down as to our estimated time of arrival, to assuage the ‘when will we get there?’ metronome] All of a sudden Junior writhes into a screaming vortex. He is out of his seat belt and scrabbling at the driver, grabbing and scrambling for control. We have no option but to pull over as he is wordless.

On the side of the road, the hedgerow presses against the window, close enough for us to examine the veins of the leaves, as Junior recovers his composure and his ability to breathe. I have my ‘stop hand’ up to each face that tries to intervene as we wait and minutes pass. All the adult passengers want an answer and explanation, but they are genuinely concerned for his welfare. Surely the child must be suffering from a fit or impaled himself on a deadly weapon to be creating such hysterical display? The rapid fire questions from all directions only serve to wind up the pressure again until he is once again overloaded, spluttering and a fire cracker of flailing nerve endings. To calm him down a second time, takes even longer.

When he is calm, he is also now exhausted. Few people appreciate the physical exertion of a level ten meltdown. Now the word bank is on closed. He turns in his chair and points back along the road, wordless. All heads in the car turn to follow. We examine the road hunting for clues. His sister, advocate and best pal, translates for us. “I know! It’s the sign! Back there away a bit. The sign that shows the car falling off the road! Thanks for saving us Leo, but we’re not really gonna fall off. You’re safe when Daddy’s driving.” He blinks at her for a few minutes, checks that all the bodies in the car with him are still alive and then promptly falls asleep.

I conclude from this one tiny incident, of many [to follow] that England is far too dangerous a place for us to live in. [translation = as if I needed any additional excuses] In essence, the old country suffers from far too much new.[translation = we are allergic to new]

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