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.