Perceptions of speed

Since I have started telling people in the real world about this as my blog, I have had a lot of off-line discussions that started like this:

‘Listen, about that thing you wrote in the blog the other day…’

I feel this is not how blogging should turn out to be; I think discussion should mainly take place in the comments. Anyway. Since my half-joking ‘discovery’ that Outposters are peasants and the furore it caused (Outposters are not exactly keen on irony and many of them firmly believe that everything carries a hidden meaning that should be read between the lines; yea, verily this is Da Vinci Code-land sometimes), as well as the recent story about breasts and war, I am a bit wary about what I write here.

However, there is the topic of slow Outposters that has been bugging me for years, and I need to write about it. To avoid any misgivings or cries of me being an orientalist, a gleeful Momus full of Loki-esque scorn for locals or, even, a racist (“but would you think Outposters are a race, Loxias?” my Sensei once wryly objected), I will cast the ugly wigs and masks of irony and sarcasm and most forms of meta-representation aside and be a literal and careful (as careful as I can be) observer.

One thing I ‘knew’ about Outposters before I came here, the ‘knowledge’ originating from spending some time with those Outposters I knew personally and from the stereotypes of Compatridos (who hate everyone and, most of all, themselves and each other), was that Outposters are painfully slow-witted, they are dim and oh-so-thick. This is quite a widespread view where I come from, to the extent that the ever-suspicious and paranoid Compatridos sometimes feel this dimwittedness must be feigned, a decoy while Outposters are successfully taking over Compatridia’s banks and nightlife.

My theory back then was that, due to the Principality’s oppressive educational system, Outposters are too shy when speaking Compatridese (for fear of sounding, well, like Outposters), which resulted in them sounding a bit slow. I have been a foreigner with my tongue tied too many times due to poor language skills, fearful I would open my mouth and sound like a retard, ending up looking like a retard in the end, for having said nothing at all. I would therefore completely sympathise with them. So, the problem, I thought back then, was one of language shyness.

After almost five years here, I now think I was very wrong and a little bit right. Outposters are excruciatingly slow thinkers, even when using their own language(s). By Compatrido standards, of course. Exchange of quick witticisms, well-placed answers and ripostes, subtlety in humour or elsewhere, “nudge-nudge” tacit mutual understanding, displays of brilliance, make-believe (and irony, of course) are scarce. Blank stares are often the default, jaws dropping in perplexed incomprehension all too common — and so on. Finally, this seems not to be an opinion I share with nobody else, or one that comes from my line of work only.

So, is that a problem? Nope. The society has its own rhythms and norms. I mean, nobody is ever in a hurry here, mentally or physically. Even when they are late. The first car in a queue usually takes off whole seconds after the lights turn green (even though drivers in the Outpost have the benefit of a ‘ready, steady, go’ orange light before green). Actually, nobody seems to be in a hurry, except ‘whining Compatridos’ and ‘foolish foreigners’. I have never seen anyone rushing anywhere. Maybe I am surrounded by devout Buddhists. Maybe I am warped. Or evil. Or unfamiliar with local realities.

So, slow, either in thinking or in moving, is ok. What is not ok is that many people here behave like they are lifetime underachievers, talented individuals who cannot bother. There is only so much they want to do (get a car, a house, a family, Saturday shopping — then talk about them), learn or achieve. Now, this could be a problem and I think the educational system plays its role.

As I have said before, the dominant ideology here is in effect all-pervasive and virtually incontestable. It is inculcated upon the locals via the family, the school, the media — the army and the Church less so, I sometimes feel these two are not taken very seriously. This dominant ideology is about loss and victimisation; about a Utopian past irrevocably lost; about organised Evil being out to destroy the Principality and all the values of human civilisation and dignity it stands for; about overinflated national Pride; about family values; about making do and coping, one way or another. All that people are supposed to need is, again, a job, a car, a house, a family, Saturday shopping. Naturally, the above mantras sound all-too-familiar. The emphasis here is on these mantras forming part of a subtly repressive and virtually inescapable ideological package, where everyone should know their place, and they usually do.

In other words, on top of a slower lifestyle (which is, really, nobody’s business to criticise, unless they live here and have to get home for dinner), we have an authoritarian conformist society making sure that no head protrudes, that no overt display of brilliance or curiosity or talent and wit sees the glaring light of the Outpost day. Actually, it seems that all those brilliant or curious or talented and witty Outposters I have had the joy of meeting since I came here either have secret niches they ‘hide into’, or flee the Outpost.

Irony warning on: The really dim ones they send to Compatridia, as a means of cruel punishment, maybe.

Irony warning off: I would really like to hear your views on the above. Not over the phone or over coffee. Finally, please do not key my car, it already looks like crap.

6 thoughts on “Perceptions of speed

  1. you’re talking about an awful lot of stuff here, but if i may, since you’ve asked your readers to come and play, i’d like to put down a couple of thoughts.

    One thing I have in mind to add to your list of what might make the Outpost somewhat static is that society tends to be dominated by old (in some cases, almost dead), Christian, men. It seems to me that, in politics and business especially, young ambitious people (I am restraining myself from going on a rant about being female in the Outpost) haven’t really got anywhere to go up the ladder of success until somebody pops off. The guys on the top aren’t all that keen on encouraging fresh blood, and coupled with a general fear of change, the result is a rather stagnant nation, that, to me at least, sometimes seems to be stuck in the Cold War era, with everybody yearning for their prelapsarian state.

    I realize I might be oversimplifying. I’m just trying not to waffle.

    On a finer note, I couldn’t help but be slightly irked by that ‘overinflated national Pride’ that you point out as part of the dominant ideology… which national Pride are you talking about? Because I think that if there was some kind of authentic national Pride, in the GB.Shaw Sense [‘patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it’], where Outposters were proud of their language as they speak it, of their own history, and placed more emphasis on their own exploits (Peter Andre and George Michael excluded, not sure about Stelios) then I think a lot of the problems you’ve noticed might not exist. If the Outposters was proud of being brilliant themselves, rather than pronouncing their greatest claim to fame as ‘being somehow related to those brilliant people across the sea,’ they might be more open to allowing brilliance to flourish at home.

    Anyway, I suppose as I am writing on the internet I should add that nothing here was said aggressively, and should be read more as a thinking aloud process.

  2. I think I agree with you on the deleterious effect of the old (almost dead) people’s dominance. This is coupled with treating them as holy cows, despite the (not-so-obscure) ugly secrets most of them hide.

    As for the huge issue of national identity: if Outposters identify with one of the two great peoples from across the sea, instead of ‘being themselves’, that’s the end of the discussion, really.

    Besides, who wants to be themselves if identifying with the ones grants you a glorious past and identifying with the others happiness enough to be writ large on a mountain slope?

    My complaint is that either could have been done in a more, let’s say, productive way.

  3. Well, see as an Outposter I would have to … agree.

    I have many times noted the converging values, beliefs, voting habits, dress code etc etc. It is the result of living in a small place. It is sort of an inbreeding of ideas. I would also agree that education is the only way forward.

    It all gives one a sense of living in a backward place. That nobody really thinks for themself, but rather waits to see what most people will say and follows the crowd. Sort of like sheep… Anyone that dares to disagree is a traitor, he must have been on the payroll of those bloody foreigners!

    As far as the slow pace of life, once again I agree. People are so lackadaisical it is almost annoying at times. And while, they take a few seconds to actually move when the traffic lights turn green, you also get those who make sure they remind you -by hooting- that the light is green!
    However, as far as the thinking slow part, you are falling into the trap – if you will. There is a disproportionate number of academics as well as enterpreneurs doing very well overseas – maybe those are the few that are not so slow, as you comment… Take a closer look, the rest might not be super smart but they are bloody sly. Not that that is something to be proud of, but that is how it is. I was going to mention the accomplishments – offshore businesses, tourism – etc, but as far as the potential we have, I think we are only at about 40%. We end up building something and then ordering investigations into were half the money was spent and why it took double the planned time (new Nicosia hospital).

    Nationalism is something I do not get either… I think we need to feel we belong somewhere, instead of being this random small state with an ancestry of Phoenician, Assyrian and Greek pirates and traders. This is a huge subject.

    I have more to say and I might be back. These are just random thoughts for now. In general, conformity is very prevalent in all aspects of life. There is a sort of weird dual identity thing going on.

    I have a question for you though: Do you read Greek? Just to see if you also read greek newspapers and watch the news in greek. Not that you’d be missing much…

    Oh, finally, as far as sarcasm, I tend to find Outposters a lot more sarcastic and humorous than most others!

  4. holy cows, huh? nice description. i think also that a country that has been autonomous for less than 50 years of its existence will naturally tend to have a complacant people who are more used to being told what to do, and not aware of their voting power, etc. There isn’t really a huge questioning of authority in the Outpost. I mean, I was shocked when I saw the BBC trashing Blair in their daily 10 o’clock news, or open programs like Question Time, and watching the Tories, Labour, and Liberal Dems insulting one another heartily. My past experiences had certainly not prepared me for such domestic aggressiveness, I was gobsmacked. I’m not saying the British public are particularly active, but I do admire their media, and often wish our own had the same kind of nerve.

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  6. @m:

    the rest might not be super smart but they are bloody sly.

    I think this is too general to be fair. I have met too many people who are neither witty, nor sly — just ok, honest-to-god people.

    I will nevertheless grant you that, too often, slyness and a certain quality of cunning is the opposite of wit. Moreover, slyness and cunning are by-products of oppression and repression (hence the customary label ‘Levantine’ that some append to them, when in the context of the Outpost), whereas wit can only grow in a context of freedom…

    I tend to find Outposters a lot more sarcastic and humorous than most others.

    Erm, yes, ok. Subtle, too?


    There isn’t really a huge questioning of authority in the Outpost.

    … which is the source of a lot of evil.

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