Category Archives: society

What’s behind a name?

I facilitate an English roundtable in Luxembourg every Friday, and we discuss professional, social and personal-interest topics. Last month, it was about names; one of the participants mentioned a girl initially called Nutella, a popular hazelnut chocolate spread. I checked it out and came across a Guardian’s article about a couple from Valenciennes in northern France who registered their daughter Nutella ( https://www.theguardian .com/world/2015/jan/26/french-couple-name-girl-nutella seen on 04/052021). The registrar alerted the local prosecutor, who referred the case to a family court judge. The court ruled that Nutella is a commercial brand and such a name was against the girl’s interests as it would cause “mockery or disobliging remarks”. The couple had to rename her Ella, which means a pleasant young woman.

According to Ms Catharine Smith (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/baby-named-facebook-egypt_n_825934 seen 04/05/21), an Egyptian father, Jamal Ibrahim, named his daughter “Facebook” to honour the social media site’s role in Egypt’s revolution. Ms Smith quoted this from TechCrunch newspaper: “A young man in his twenties wanted to express his gratitude about the victories the youth of 25th of January have achieved and chose to express it in the form of naming his firstborn girl “Facebook”. 

In Marcio’s Italian family, all the children’s names start with the letter M.  According to Marie-Pierre, her name’s male version is Pierre-Marie. The Arabic name Shadi means happiness. Do names reflect an individual’s personality? There are studies that show names make a difference in professional, social and financial standing.

My late uncle was Silverio Carangan, Sr. My cousins’ legal names are Silverio Carangan 1st, Silverio Carangan 2nd, and Silverio Caranagan 3rd; to everyone, they’re Ono, Dos, Tres.  I was already eight months pregnant, and my hubby and I couldn’t agree on a name for our firstborn. We decided to play chess; I won two out of three games and had the privilege of naming him Sidney, which is easy to pronounce in almost all languages.

My late parents, Roberto and Adela, named their first daughter Rodela; from this, they came up with four other names by rearranging the letters, and mine was one of them. If you know of another person with the same name as mine, please notify me. So far, the closest is Rolande and Rolanda, which are both of Latin origin and mean “known in the land”. My French acquaintances call me “Rolad” (/ruːˈlɑːd), as the last vowel is not pronounced in the French language. They also have a dish roulade (/ruːˈlɑːd) de boeuf“, which is a filled rolled meat.

S.J. Velasquez’s 2018 write-up spoke about nominative determinism, a theory that people are drawn to jobs matching their names, e.g. Baker for a pastry chef and Dennis or Denise for dentists (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180404-do-our-names-push-us-toward-certain-jobs). Two weeks ago, I grinned watching the French television station TF1’s interview of a restaurateur Didier Desert (“Desert” is pronounced by English speakers as ‘dɪˈzəːt’ (dessert – a sweet course eaten at the end of the main meal, e.g. cheesecake or chocolate mousse).

If you had a funny, weird or embarrassing name, would you change it? If your family name was Head, would you keep your first name Dick knowing that dickhead means a stupid or ridiculous man? You are probably one of those who would go through all the legal fuss to do so.  Many people, however, never change their names. Are there names that employers find, either subconsciously or sentimentally, attractive or ugly?

Ms Stéphanie Thomson’s article revealed the Canadian Ryerson University and University of Toronto’s finding that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to get job interviews than the fictitious candidates with English-sounding names, even when they had the same qualifications (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/job-applications-resume-cv-name-descrimination/). Ms Thomson also mentioned a French government’s conclusion that employers were less likely to interview candidates with North African-sounding names. Likewise, in the UK, “an all-parliamentary group study from 2012 found that women who ‘whitened’ their names or made them sound more British had to send only half as many applications before being invited to interview as those who sounded foreign”, she wrote. 

Has our society progressed in terms of addressing bias and discrimination associated with names? Have you had a good or bad experience because of your name? What’s behind your name?

Inaction is aiding and abetting society’s ills

It’s the second lockdown in some places.  In my city in the north of France that shares borders with Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, the streets are almost empty. Although the authorities allowed shops to reopen three days ago, local businesses find customers hard to come by.  Residents who go out for work reasons are at home before dusk. Hence, I was not surprised when I read that the number of reported street crimes has declined.

Meanwhile, we know that every crisis provides an opportunity for people to be resourceful; as well, not all crimes happen in the streets. Since the first lockdown in March, there have been reports on the rise in domestic violence, sale of fake medicine and treatment, consumption of exorbitant coronavirus-recommended cleaning and health products, and solicitation of donations for charities that either do not exist or do not deliver what they promise.

Recently, I heard about the UK’s COVID Fraud Hotline (0800 587 5030) encouraging people to phone anonymously and free of charge any suspected fraudulent activity. If you knew someone who has been claiming support illegally or abusing government schemes, would you call the hotline? It takes a long time for fraud to be discovered, and governments need a helping hand. Should we extend this to them?

Fraud against the public purse, wherever you are, limits or even denies access to vital funds that benefit society as a whole. This money should be used to help the poorest: contract workers, market stallholders, casual service providers and carers, struggling small businesses and independent earners, and those who are ineligible for unemployment benefit and do not have the means to feed and shelter themselves and their families; not double-dippers.

Will you tell the authorities about your colleague who is on paid parental leave but still continues freelancing? Will you refuse your employer’s directive to deal with clients’ queries or respond to work emails when you are on furlough? How about companies that get subsidy or funding to keep employees but do the opposite and pocket the money?

Fraud, whether big or small, affects all of us. The article “Most Common Workplace Frauds That Employer Should Know About” (https://www.bizeducator.com/most-common-workplace-frauds-that-employer-should-know-about) mentions, among other things, “Bogus supply of goods and services” and “Manipulation of bank reconciliations and cash books”. Those found guilty of these crimes are punished by fines, restitution, dismissal from work, or imprisonment.

Some common frauds in the workplace are hidden and unlikely to come to the attention of the authority. These include claiming for unworked hours, malingering, stealing office supplies, staging accidents, and faking injuries. It will be interesting to research on fraud in the workplace pre, during and post-pandemic.

“I’m not an informer”, “I hate workplace spies”, “I can’t be a whistleblower”, “I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s scuppered life”, so forth. Inaction is aiding and abetting our society’s ills, and it’s the elephant in the room.

Ethnic and race profiling, unconscious bias

On 29 July 2020, while promenading, my son and I were stopped by French Police asking for our IDs. Unlike in Australia and other western countries, in France, we are legally obliged to show our photo identification if we are stopped and asked to by a police officer. This is called the identity check “Contrôle d’Identité’”. Pretending to be having a conversation with my son, I commented in English: “ethnic profiling”, “why us”, and “I wonder what criteria they use to decide who to stop”. I was hoping they would understand what I was saying; after all, English is taught widely in elementary, secondary and tertiary institutions in France.

Ethnic or racial profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person based on assumed characteristics or behaviour of a particular ethnic or racial group rather than on individual suspicion. I’m a Filipino-born Aussie and have a typical south-east Asian appearance. My 18-year-old son is 178 cm tall and has physical similarities with his white French-Australian father. They probably thought we were not together because I was some steps behind him trying to fix my hat while picking up my mask. Whereas, my son was in a hurry to avoid the soaring heat and was already under a shrub. When I called him back and he turned around, there was a change on the face of one of the police officers. His eyes became amiable, and he handed back my ID.  At least we were not searched during this “contrôle”. We had our identification cards with us; otherwise, they could have taken us to a police station to establish our identity (“vérification d’identité”).

Ethnicity is a social grouping based on common and distinctive culture, religion, or language. Race, however, refers to the person’s physical appearance; for example, Black, White, Asian, or Indigenous. An individual can be Asian but, ethnically, German.

Western countries’ statistics show that non-white people are more likely to be stopped by the police on the street. It is widely known that Australian and Canadian Aboriginals are more likely to be charged with crimes. In the USA, there is sufficient information on how African Americans and members of other minority groups (Hispanic and Latino Americans, Middle Easterners and South Asians) are suspected of criminal activities. In Germany, there was a court ruling concerning racial profiling in its policy allowing police to use skin colour and “non-German ethnic origin” to select persons who will be asked for identification in spot-checks for illegal immigrants. Of course, non-western nations are not exempted from this bias. The media have reported the Chinese government’s use of a facial recognition technology to track down and control its Muslim minority.

“Racial profiling” occurs when government and law enforcement people target those of colour for a humiliating and often frightening stoppage, detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of an illegal behaviour but based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.  Racial profiling must not be allowed in countries where the core promise of its Constitution is equal protection under the law for all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Is racial profiling effective? Studies and consultations show that this jeopardises law enforcement because police officers lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve.

Is racial profiling discriminatory? The general principle of equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental element of international human rights law.

Anti-/non-discrimination law refers to legislation that prevents discrimination against particular groups of people based on sex, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, mental illness or ability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, sex characteristics, religion, creed, or individual political opinions. It is designed to hinder discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other areas of social life (this includes being in the streets or elsewhere). However, “not every distinction or difference in treatment will amount to discrimination. In general international law, a violation of the principle of non-discrimination arises if: a) similar cases are treated differently; b) a difference in treatment does not have an objective and reasonable justification; or c) if there is no proportionality between the aim sought and the means employed.” (http://www.humanrights.is/en/human-rights-education-project/human-rights-concepts-ideas-and-fora/s…)

In other words, with such international human rights legislation, we have the right to pursue our material, spiritual and social well-being in conditions of freedom, dignity and equal opportunity.

Discrimination is unproductive. In employment, it is economically unwise as victimised employees are unable to focus their energy on performing their tasks fully. Their feeling of negative vibes from a supervisor or colleague not only adversely impacts their job performance but causes absenteeism and ill-health.

France, for example, stands to gain some €150 billion over 20 years (i.e. a 0.35% increase in GDP per year) by increasing women’s and minorities’ access to skilled jobs and their overall employment rate (France Stratégie, https://www.strategie.gouv.fr/english-articles/economic-cost-workplace-discrimination-france-billions-euros-lost-potential).

How can prejudice and discrimination be dealt with? Employers, big or small, should have anti-discrimination policies and procedures in place that include regular training on cultural awareness and unconscious bias.  In the case of police departments, there should be a preference for community policing over strategies of power and fear.

No kisses and handshakes, declaration needed

Last March 11 at 10 AM in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, I witnessed an irresponsible act, which at other times would have been normal or even impolite not to do so in France. On the bus for work, a middle-aged man showed his monthly ticket to the driver, leaned to the woman sitting on the front and gave her two kisses on the cheek. (In France, depending where you are, kisses can be two, three or four). That same day, I heard on the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then there have been measures to combat its spread, such as lockdown, quarantine, testing, self-isolation and social distancing.

A week before the mandatory social distancing, business premises where I worked had already “no handshake” signs. If handshake was discouraged, obviously “kisses” too. It’s so obvious that they didn’t think there would be a need for “no kisses” signs, but there should have been because, pre-coronavirus pandemic, kissing was a form of greeting in many European workplaces, particularly in France.   

We’ve all experienced the “accidental” handshakes, hugs or cheek kisses during these times of the coronavirus.  Politicians, such as the US President Donald Trump, were seen shaking hands with several people during their press conferences and hospital visits. Mr Trump was reported to have said, “People come up to me, they shake hands, they put their hand out. It’s sort of a natural reflex, and we’re all getting out of it. All of us have that problem.”  (https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/15/how-the-new-coronavirus-could-change-our-behaviour?). There’s no excuse for social irresponsibility.

You have heard a lot how this virus originated in Wuhan, China last December, its victims, preventive measures, challenges for governments and health practitioners, etc… We have been advised to sanitise as often as possible, especially after touching money bills, guard or hand rails or light switches or lift buttons or anything that is touched by others in public places; no wonder supermarket and pharmacy shelves are still devoid of these products. Even alcohol bottles aren’t easy to find. We’re discouraged from stockpiling, but I bought enough supply of vinegar to last us for a year.  There is ample advice online on how to make the most of our time at home, from having a fitness routine to reading a book. I have opted to write a novel, and I am halfway through it . In France, we’ve to carry a declaration when we go out; the on-the-spot fine is 200 euros per violation.

Due to social distancing, almost all public gatherings have been cancelled. Why are elections being held during this pandemic? Why haven’t these been postponed? The March 15 city mayoral election in France was odd and a bit entertaining. Citizens had to hand sanitise before and after voting, then volunteers disinfected every pen used; there was a television crew filming them. Australia and the USA also had elections last March.

At home, space distancing (recommended 1.5 M) wasn’t easy, so we’d imposed time distancing instead. We ate at different times; after a while, however, we decided to space out the chairs and have meals together.  This pandemic has changed our individual habits, cultural ways, travel decisions, holiday preferences, etc.

My students found elbow or/and foot bumping fun as a replacement for handshake. I wonder if they’ll continue to do this when we resume classes (I don’t know when!). The majority of language teachers for adults are freelancers, i.e. they get paid when they work. So, you can imagine what this pandemic has done to our livelihood and the financial burden it has caused us.

Even in this gloomy situation, let’s practise patience, creativity, compassion, altruism across space and time. Even with time and social distances, we can still reach out, help and support each other in coping with all sorts of difficulties. 

If you fancy contributing to coronavirus research without leaving your home, read the March 27, 2020 issue of The Conversation https://theconversation.com/citizen-science-how-you-can-contribute-to-coronavirus-research-without-leaving-the-house-134238.

If you have a special skill, give lessons free of charge, e.g., meditation, yoga, music, cooking, gymnastic, aerobics and sewing via Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime.

Call, text or email relatives and friends regularly to show that you care for them. According to Dr C Singer, “human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking”. If you want to know more, check his and his colleagues’ research findings regarding the health effects of social isolation and loneliness on https://www.aginglifecarejournal.org/health-effects-of-social-isolation-and-loneliness/.

Let’s stay safe, healthy, patient, considerate, optimistic and responsible. We’re all in the same boat!  Worldwide statistics on infections and deaths continue to rise. (COVID-19 death rate in countries with confirmed deaths and over 1,000 reported cases as of March 31, 2020 by country https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105914/coronavirus-death-rates-worldwide/)

Take care.

Free and agreeable public transport

All buses, trains and trams are free in Luxembourg starting today, 1 March 2020!   As far as I know, it is the only country in the world that has free public transport.  It has slightly over 600,000 inhabitants in an area of 2,586 square kilometres. However, about 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the borders every day to work there; and I am one of them.

While the Luxembourgish government saves on the collection of fares and the policing of valid tickets, I have extra euros in my pocket (I only have to pay up to the border as required by the French government). Hat’s off to those who contributed to such environmentally-friendly decision (less private vehicles on the road). Of course, there are nayers to free public transport, and their reasons include the possibility of degradation of the property and condition of travelling due to rowdy people who are unlikely to be in paid transportation.

During the daily commute by bus from France to Luxembourg and back, it is always the same scenario. Some passengers who get into the bus first, occupy two seats: one for their body and the other for their belongings (e.g., bags, coats, etc.). In the beginning, I thought it was fun observing people walking up and down the aisles trying to find friendly faces to ask for seats. These days, I find this annoying and believe that if passengers want to occupy two seats, they should pay for two tickets and put a note on an unoccupied one with something like “I’ve paid for this seat because I can’t be bothered by your smell, telephone conversations, or light/image from your online activity,” or simply “I don’t like being close with another human being”.  

This morning, I took a double-decker bus and decided to be on the second level.  I had my work and lunch bags and jacket on a vacant seat next to the one I was occupying. There were three stops before I got off, so there were several people going up and down eyeing for seats.  As usual, when new passengers came in, I transferred my belongings to my lap.  It was only 7:30 AM, so the bus was not crowded and there two seats per person for the majority of us.  As expected, I had to carry a load of computer, books and lunch bag on my lap for more than one hour. Why did I have that discomfort and inconvenience when the women in front, behind and to my right had their small shoulder bags neatly rested on the vacant seats.  Honestly, I was hoping no one would see the empty seat next to me.  Why did I take my things away, which was surely interpreted as an invitation to sit? I also prefer to have two seats, like other passengers; however, my sense of courtesy and empathy are ahead of it.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow female passengers has become a friend. After saying “merci” (thank you in French), she added that the others pretended she was invisible and was pleased when she saw me smiling, as she knew instantly that she did not have to “beg” for a seat. Last December, she came to our house with her 17-year-old son for tea, and we enjoyed eating the home-made “Bredele au beurre” Christmas biscuits they brought.

Two of DH News Vancouver’s (Canada) 25 Public Transit Etiquettes (https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/the-top-20-public-transit-etiquette-rules-you-should-know-and-follow) are: “8. One seat per person is common etiquette, especially during peak hours and when the seats inside the vehicle are almost completely occupied; 9. Seats are for your bottoms only: keep your dirty shoes away from the seats – do not rest your feet on a seat.” We should have these etiquettes written on all public transports.

Enforcing civility in cinemas

In December 2019, I went to the cinema in Luxembourg where movies/films are screened in original versions and subtitled in French and/or German.  There was still full lighting when I got in, so it was easy to find my allocated seat; but there was already someone on it. I showed politely my G8 ticket to a man in his 50s; to my surprise, he stared at me and said in English, “Is it really important” (it sounded as a cynical remark rather than a question). Yet, I responded politely — “it should be otherwise there would not be such a policy and the cinema attendant would not have asked me where I wanted to sit”.  The woman next to him held his hand and leaned her heard on his shoulder. I looked at the vacant seat next to him and suggested I could sit there if he removed his belongings (i. e. expensive-looking coat and hat).  He shook his head and commented “It’s idiot”. Luckily, it was “It’s” because I do not usually let unreasonable, insensitive statements go by unchallenged.

If they did not move, what would have happened? I like the idea of fairness, justice and respecting policies and regulations; so, I would have gone out and complained to the staff spoiling my and their cinema outing.  Is seat allocation in the cinema necessary? If yes, why is there no staff to enforce it? It is quite embarrassing to deal with “it’s my seat” situation. 

My personality favours seat allocation, however, I know that others are happy to sit where there is space.   As a movie enthusiast, I always go to the cinema during its first week of showing.   I enjoy choosing a seat that is in the middle of the room where I get most of the visual and audio features; as well, it ensures that my companion/s and I sit together. When there is no seat allocation, it is “First come, first serve”, which is alright when the cinema is only half full.

When there is no shortage of empty place, seat allocation becomes unnecessary. Thus, should there be a seat allocation only for sold out films? I am not sure about this because there are other intervening factors, such as time of the showing (e.g., 10 am session often attracts less people) and the length of time the film has been in the cinema.

The principle behind seat allocation is sound when there is someone who enforces it (as in theatres and concerts with ushers).  It does not work when people do not sit in their allocated seats and there is no one who ensures that this is respected. It becomes even more complicated when those who sit in the wrong seats refuse to move.

For me, going to the cinema is a leisure activity and watching a good movie (particularly those based on true stories) is a form of relaxation. Unfortunately, this was not the case last December.  What are the explanations to his behaviour and comments? Perhaps he always gets what he wants disrespecting other people (environment plays an important role in this: family/upbringing, education, etc). Maybe he is a manager and used to bossing people around and dislikes being told what to do. Though I was the one who asked him to change seat, I felt intimidated and uncomfortable. Consequently, it ruined my afternoon of lone cinema treat before the busy holiday period of cooking, tidying up, entertaining and visiting Christmas markets. Are you for or against seat allocation? Have you been asked to move or vacate a seat? Have you taken someone else’s seat by mistake or deliberately?