giovedì, settembre 16, 2010

The Shoddyssey Part V

Things I will miss about Belgium:

1. Raw goat milk for morning lattes

That's fucking it. This stupid fucking country. Every time I look at the Art Nouveau and the lovely view from my window and start getting tinges of thinking perhaps I'll be nostalgic one day, memories or whole new examples of functionarial retardation overwhelm me. Of course it's worst at the moment since moving is always a pain in the ass and the modalities of moving out of Belgium are overwhelmingly technocratic.

The other day I realized I was in dispute with four different government institutions, and of course it is "I", that lucky bastard the F-word being as insulated as possible due to his lack of French and the functionaries' lack of English - nonetheless he's got enough of it that he's tearing his hair out too, and he's been really emotionally hit by the way we've been forced to give Lexie away - he has lived with her, after all, for four years now; just a little bit less time than I have, and she is a fucking charmer of a cat.

Anyways, I'd say I was in dispute with the four institutions, but I think they - if the 'disputes' are on their radar at all - would call it business as usual. It is hard to see how any dealings with them at all could avoid feeling like a 'dispute' to a person like me, who's been raised in a society where civil servants perceive their jobs as a series of problems to be solved, and who is now operating in a society where functionaries - they are far too unhelpful to be called 'civil servants' - perceive their jobs as a series of procedures to be enacted.

Reading Voltaire's Bastards again as I go through all this and it's like John Ralston Saul is cheering me on in a commiserating sort of way. I read it for the first time when I was 19 or so and liked it well enough, but I only had the vaguest idea of what he was on about. Now I'm being slapped in the face with so many concurrent examples of stupid fucking cunts who have, as a society, foresworn memory and common sense in favour of 'rational' process that it's really hitting home. And it's the memory thing that is most remarkable. It's as though little fairies appear every night at the bedside of Belgian functionaries and take a shit on their brain.

The other night, as we said bye to some friends we're not likely to see again before departing, one asked what it was like to move from Canada or Australia to Francophone Europe, and obviously there are a few things to discuss in that respect, but the most striking is the difference in brains and notions of intelligence. In terms of quantities of facts we have in our heads, New World Anglos are fucking ignoramuses; our knowledge of international history and geography, maths and the sciences usually fails to come up to scratch with even a stupid Franco-european. And I'm sure our general ignorance would shock to the point of offending almost any Franco-european exposed to it.

But due to the paucity of synthetic and practical training Franco-europeans get - I know one aristocrat here who'd gone to top-crust schools all his life, studied art every year of his education, could comment on every painting in the Louvre, and who had never been taught to draw in perspective; you know, Grade 3 shit - they tend to come off as absolute helpless, incompetent idiots to us as soon as they're presented with a problem. And the thing is, life is a fucking series of problems. That's not even 'sad but true', it's just true, and I'd venture to say it isn't even a problem that life is a series of problems.

Anyways, in a bid to problem-solve myself, I'm trying something new. For my remaining weeks in Belgium, I'm going to try to deal with my problems the way I imagine a Belgian would, which feels like thinking about everything stupidly. Case in point: our neighbours' mosquito-breeding pool. Since I wasn't sure what house it belongs too, I just wrote to our commune (city hall) to tell them about the problem. But rather splendidly, the boundary between my commune and my neighbours' commune runs between our gardens, so I got an email back from the commune - full of exclamation points no less - about how they'd like to help but couldn't because it wasn't in their jurisdiction. More for a joke than anything, I wrote back explaining I wasn't capable of getting in touch with the commune that my neighbours live in because I live in a different commune, so would they please forward my concerns to their counterparts? And you know what - it worked.

2 commenti:

Dr Wommm ha detto...

It's a problem that I think infects Europe as whole, given that 90% (at least) of the top level civil servants are the product of an ancient, moneyed up elitist (in all the wrong ways) educational system which imbues them with a sense of superiority and entitlement far beyond rationality, and simultaneously strips them of any fucking common sense, empathy or even the capability of being sympathetic to the situation or plight of those who are unfortunate to have to deal with them, and a complete lack of understanding of context and environment, and given the top-down nature of the civil service, destroys any chance of people lower down the chain being able to act on citizen's behalf in a remotely sensible or flexible manner. It's also a system that I think the (European) Francophone world has elevated to a level undreamt of even by the public school/Oxbridge axis in Britain given the astonishingly rigid grandes école system that so many of these people are drawn from. They're fucking bred for it, and view everything like a Chinese room argument.

You may have guessed this shit really fucking riles me too, and I haven't been exposed to it nearly as much as you have in the past few months. But I have also found that making like a fuckwit is the only way to get anything done. I always need a really good bath after dealing with these morons.

Must read Voltaire's Bastards, I'd not heard of it before and it sounds fantastic, and in turn I'd recommend Italo Calvino's The Complete Cosmicomics as a fantastic antidote to the twisted brainwrong that dealing with that shit engenders. It's just the most beautiful, odd and resonant collection of stories I've read in an age, and so subtly satirical of rigid hidebound thinking that it should bring a smile to the face of anyone whose brain actually works as opposed to being programmed.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Yeah, the French are a bit special, and Ralston Saul has a field day with their education, especially the ENArques. And predictably enough I think they manage to beat out the British in the social immobility stakes. Except that it might be even easier to slide down the scale than in Britain, I'm not sure. It's like snakes and ladders without the ladders there.

Or maybe there's just such an inbred snobbishness in the culture that most of the Parisians I got to know claimed as a matter of course they were from 'good families' who were past their glory days.

Yeah . . . you should definitely read Voltaire's Bastards. It sounds like you're already thinking the same way but he cooks up some interesting examples and expositions and whatnot. Plus it's a 600 page rant and rants are great, especially if they come from a former businessman who's cracked but can still think. So I'll take the Italo Calvino but the Ralston Saul won't match the smoothness, it's choppy and grumpy and unpolished. I like it though.

And thanks for the Chinese room argument reference. I hadn't heard about it before, it's neat.