After The Storm

by | Culture | 6 comments

A few months ago I had an odd experience. Those were the times before the madness came. When our days had definition rather than the never-ending panorama of uncertainty we now find ourselves wandering through. It was a fleeting, insignificant thing even then; a moment of everyday rudeness we’ve become immune to but for some reason it stuck with me. I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more over the past few days.

It was a Saturday night and we were out on the beers. One of the sad consequences of edging ever nearer my 40s has been my ability to hold more than a pint in my bladder diminish at an alarming rate. As I embarked on yet another trek to the lavvies I was delighted to find a full-size adult size rocking horse outside the toilet door, presumably put there by the proprietors to keep dickheads like me entertained while queuing. With a bit too much glee for a father of 3 rapidly approaching middle age I hopped aboard the wooden beast and demanded two passers-by take my photo for posterity. Having duly obliged and obviously clocking me as a canny operator, one of them asked where the ladies’ toilets were and I pointed at the door I’d just emerged from. “Oh, I assumed that was the gents” came the reply but I reassured her from atop my trusty stead that the door did indeed serve baith sexes. A look of sheer disgust spread across both their faces as they mockingly snorted in unison ‘baith’ and off they flounced with a condescending flick of their hair extensions thrown in for good measure.

Having been born and raised in a town where everyone speaks in a broad Doric dialect, I’ve always been fiercely protective of it. From millionaire fishermen in their mansions to my dear old granny, everyone sounds the same and is proud of it.  Growing up I was adamant I’d maintain the way I talked regardless of what I did in life; it was and still is a hugely defining aspect of my identity. I was defiant in the face of successive teachers who preached that we’d never amount to anything if we didn’t talk properly.

These days I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve had to consciously tone it down over the years in order to ‘get on’ in my line of work. And I feel like a traitor to myself for it. That’s why the mid-Atlantic sneers of those two Aberdeen locals – who’d have been speaking the same brogue as myself had it not been for the advent of the oil industry – cut so deep.  

But what has this really got to do with anything?

Well, maybe it’s the longs weeks I’ve spent in the house or it might be the fact that like most folk at the moment I’m struggling to form cohesive thoughts as this existential crisis unfolds around us but I see a thread.

We’ve got to the point where local dialects are being marginalised by exactly the same mechanism that poor hygiene in a Wuhan wet market has now killed more than a quarter of a million people worldwide: rampant globalisation. The past three decades have seen unprecedented advances in global communication while barriers to the mobility of people have been dismantled. As a collective, the 7 billion of us have never been closer.

As with any seismic shift, globalisation has inevitably caused significant collateral damage. 

Globalisation works by creating uniformity. The less diverse we are the easier it is for us to live together, work together, and keep the wheels of global business turning. Cultural differences and traditions are not conducive to integration. Our unique cultures and communities have been repeatedly mashed through the sieve of capitalism, our idiosyncrasies filtered out to leave us as a nice homogeneous goo. In a world of near-infinite choice, it’s perverse how narrow the mainstream is: neatly packaged pop culture churned out and consumed by the proliferate masses.

Language was an obvious barrier to globalisation. Now, every twenty-something from Osaka to Oslo can speak English, forever burdened with Chandler Bing inflections having grown up on endless Friends re-runs. The sad fact is if you can’t be universally understood with minimum fuss you’ll be left behind. Take a recent survey of employers for example, where 80% admitted that a strong regional accent would count against prospective candidates.

So what has Coronavirus taught us about globalisation?

The virus has held up a mirror to the whole concept of a unified world. There’s been no global response. When the chips have fallen every country has devised its own strategy and followed its own science. Faced with such vastly divergent infection rates, countries have been forced to acknowledge the unique demographics, social norms, and cultures of their inhabitants. Coronavirus has proven globalisation to be a flimsy construct that hasn’t held up to an existential examination. 

In the UK as the Westminster government dithered and struggled to come up with a cohesive plan, they asked the public to invoke the spirit of The Blitz; conveniently ignoring the fact they’ve spent decades trying to systematically dismantle local communities and undermine the concept of society. Despite this, the strength of local communities has come to the fore and become one of the few cornerstones people can rely on.  

Local businesses have stepped up to donate food and PPE supplies to frontline NHS staff. Neighbours who’ve previously barely uttered a word to each other are now taking turns to do food shops. Having been brought up to forgo the parochial, people are now remembering that you can be a citizen of the world and of your own street.

These are dark times for everyone but the hope is that we can emerge from the gloom with a renewed sense of ourselves and our communities. That we can celebrate the things that make us unique while embracing our differences and becoming ever more tolerant. Friends, family, neighbours, those we’ve shared real experiences with; those are the ones who’ll help us through to the other side. Have pride in your city and each other. And stop treating local accents as a punchline to a shit joke.

Stay safe. Take care of each other. 

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