Category Archives: culture

Cheers to the year 2019

Cheers to the year 2019 as it gives us the opportunity to do better at home, work and play.

As in previous years, there were irreproachable and rough moments for me in 2018. The latter has been due to being in France at this time of constant grassroots demonstrations due to economic difficulties caused by political decisions and indecisions, such as regular increases in taxes. Meanwhile, France’s the 2018 World Cup (soccer/football) champion.

During the first two weeks in December I was coming home later than usual and walking a kilometre or so farther because bus drivers were instructed not to enter the city centre to avoid being hit by the demonstrators’ stones. These protesters adopted the name “yellow-vest movement” after a social-media campaign that urged people to go to the streets wearing the high-visibility “emergency” yellow jackets (In France, a yellow vest “gilet jaune” must be carried in every vehicle). Initially, they were against the rise in duties on diesel, which had long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel. Their causes have since widened to include issues concerning education and employment. Do protests work? Well, the French government was forced to scrap the unpopular fuel tax rise. As well, it promised an extra €100 (£90; $114) a month for minimum wage earners. On the other hand, there were ten deaths and many people were injured and properties destroyed.

The reported sightings of drones caused havoc for about 200,000 passengers a fortnight ago at Gatwick airport (LGW) outside of London. A member of my family was impacted and had to travel the following day at a different destination that incurred additional expenses and longer travelling time.

The terrorist attack in Strasbourg, a French city known as the Christmas capital, in the midst of the festivity caused deaths and injuries. My sadness was summarised in this message: “I express all my sorrow for the victims of the Strasbourg attacks. This Parliament will not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks. Let us move on. We will continue to work and react strengthened by freedom and democracy against terrorist violence” (Antonio Tajani @EP President). The EP building is near where it took place.

What a difficult time we are living in! How can we help each other during difficulties? Research studies have shown that we, human beings, are predisposed to feel empathy and show kindness. In 2018, these were evident during the earthquakes in Italy, fire in the USA, tsunami in Indonesia, flooding in the Philippines, bushfire in Australia, and many other natural and human-made disasters. The risky, unprecedented international rescue of 13 Thai boys and their coach reminded us of the selflessness and kindness of strangers when needed.

An act of kindness can be a simple hello, smile, hug or forgiveness. It can be carrying an elderly’s heavy shopping bag, letting another car to merge ahead of you while other drivers have refused, or paying for the parking of the person on line before you who’s having difficulty doing it annoying others behind.

A few months ago, I saw a woman giving a man some coins at the checkout as he didn’t have enough to pay for his groceries. Last November, a young lady wanted to pay her bus fare by cheque which the driver refused. She looked really disturbed and was perspiring (in winter!). There were eight of us behind her waiting patiently in the cold. I asked her how much she needed; she opened her wallet and said “rien de tout” (nothing). I handed the bus driver five euros and gave her the ticket. She offered to issue me a cheque. I declined politely and told her that it’d be alright to pay me next time we meet. Although, to date, I haven’t seen this person again, I don’t regret doing it. Expressing and receiving kindness makes me feel good with modesty.

Hopefully, the year 2019 will be safer and more peaceful for all of us. I wish you good health and happiness every day.

Who are you? What are you? Where are you from?

I am writing this while on a short holiday in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, before heading to Spain and England. It is summer here in Europe and because we travel a lot during this period, we often get asked “Where are you from?” Depending on my mood, my answer ranges from my birthplace to current city or country of residence. Often, I give information on my nationality/citizenship, and I will tell you why later. In some cases, the enquirer really just wants to know the main language I speak and my religion.

During the world cup, when I wore my gold and green outfit, some strangers smiled and commented, “You’re from Brazil” thinking that I had something blue invisible to the naked eye. Whereas, friends and acquaintances teased me “Socceroos, go, go..” My gold and yellow dress, green sandal and green bag said it all. They did not question my citizenship (Are you Australian?), appearance (but you look Asian), etc. On other occasions, however, I have to answer a follow-up question “Yes, but where do you really come from, your family?”

A fortnight ago, a close friend invited me to her barbecue dinner party. Her house is 15 minutes on foot from where we live, and since it was a sunny day, I decided to walk. France had just won the 2018 World Cup and knowing that there would be jubilant crowd, I put on my blue, white and red apparel. The time it took me to her place doubled as I had to stop and shake hands, take photos for others and kiss strangers. Everybody was so happy, friendly, and courteous. How I wished it was like that every day. No one asked me “where are you from”? Instead, many nodded and shouted amicably “On a gagné” (We won). They ignored my physical attributes and my non-French accent. They made me feel like I was one of them, which wasn’t my intention. I am a lover and partaker of peaceful and jovial celebrations, festivals, and traditional gatherings.

I, too, sometimes ask people “where are you from”, but it’s only to start a conversation. When I recognise the accent, I even say, “You’re from _______, aren’t you”? So far, no one has been offended by this question; instead, people have been friendly and helpful.

The answer to the question “where are you from” is generally based on one’s personal identity related to national and cultural belongingness. Though I was born in the Philippines and typically look south-east Asian, I often say with pride “Down Under” then add a few Aussie slang words and expressions as it’s my country of citizenship and where I have my educational, professional and social roots (my dear relatives and friends live there). Furthermore, I have this sense of pride and familiarity with Australia being considered by many people in other countries (such as those in France and Luxembourg) as a great place with fair and peaceful inhabitants, which is always a bonus to new and old relationships.
When the situation warrants the question “where are you from”, I present myself as a global citizen with a Filipino heritage and dual nationality (Australian and French).

Regarding France, one thing that amazes me in this astonishing country is that 2nd and 3rd generations of North African immigrants still call themselves Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, etc. Recently, I said to one of my students, “Why did you say you’re from Algeria when you were not born and have never lived here? For me, you’re French”. He said, “That’s nice, I feel French when I’m with those who think I’m French”. Many French people don’t make me feel that way, so it’s ridiculous to claim I’m one of them”. This situation demonstrates that the question “where are you from” has a temporal element.

As well, the answer to the question “where are you from” has moral and political grounds, as my case with Australia. I can identify with its values of simplicity over exuberance, resilience and reward for effort, and layback mentality. Compared to the majority of nations, it is a more middle class country with more efficient social and welfare services.

Have you asked someone “Where are you from”? Did their answers meet your expectations?