Daily Rumination No. 25: Belgian is Belgium is Belgian

Whilst it can sometimes be unclear what constitutes Belgian chocolate Belgian (other than where it’s from), really, who doesn’t love it? Whether in the form of Guylian seashells or delicious hot beverages, it’s generally rich and super-delicious.

Unfortunately, its popularity doesn’t mean that everyone is entirely sure about how to name it. Notice that I wrote Belgian chocolate. The word ‘Belgian’ is the adjective that describes the origin and type of chocolate. Pretty clear, right? More often than not, I see shops and cafés advertising it as Belgium chocolate instead. With the use of the country’s name, it’s almost as if the particular snack on offer has official, governmental backing. It is the chocolate of the nation!

As much as I rolled my eyes over this in the past, it is such a common error nowadays that I have tried not to get too cranky about it. I’d rather not die young as a result of grammatical stress.

Today, however, I saw something different at David Jones, which may reintroduce my aforementioned health risk. See if you can find it in the picture that I took below.

Did you spot it? This Godiva chocolate is not from Belgium… it’s from Belgian! This could simply have been an overlooked typo by the retailer but it has reignited my concern that people:

  1. Don’t know the simple difference between nouns and adjectives; and
  2. Have no clue about what Belgium actually is.

I am uncertain as to whether this is only an issue in Australia, however I do believe that increased funding should be directed immediately to English and geography courses across all public and primary schools, just to be safe. There is no time to waste.

Daily Rumination No. 24: The Value of British Humour

Normally, before I start to talk or write about a show or film that I have seen, I try to finish it in order to reflect on its overall themes, plot and quality. That’s hardly unusual—you don’t leave a film halfway through it and then write a review.

Watching Ricky Gervais’s new Netflix show After Life, however, I have some thoughts to share after only the first episode. The story follows a miserable, middle-aged Englishman who is struggling after the recent loss of his wife to cancer. He treats others brutally and acts in a completely nihilistic fashion.

As much as I enjoy American comedy, there is something about the British that cannot be matched and After Life is a perfect example. Within only 28 minutes of television, Gervais and the supporting cast make legitimately funny, sophisticated jokes about death, paedophilia, suicide, mental illness, drug use and obesity. Thrown into the mix is a healthy amount of blunt profanity. Are any of the situations in the show even slightly offensive? Not at all.

British comedians like Ricky Gervais manage something that American comedians, as funny as they are, just can’t. They take crushingly awkward, embarrassing and even emotional moments and deliver them to you in a way that makes you cringe and chuckle simultaneously. Gervais is a master because he can make you sad and entertained at the very thought of cancer.

Such comedians and writers don’t seek to denigrate people or belittle their troubles, they seek to unravel situations that are seen unreasonably as sacred, taboo or just downright untouchable. In the process of avoiding topics such as death and mental illness, we don’t end up talking about them at all. In such a vacuum, harmful ideas and misconceptions take hold. As I watched the show, I thought about people I’ve known who are now dead, and I felt both sad and heartened. There’s an authenticity to British presentation and it enables us to grapple with our own personal negative experiences.

Unfortunately, too many people hear profanities from comedians like Gervais and switch off. They miss the subtlety, becoming offended without ever understanding the brilliance of the delivery and the potential relevance to their own lives. The world could do with more British humour, whether in the current era of Gervais or earlier style of Monty Python (which certainly couldn’t be written or broadcast today).

Satire and observational humour hold a mirror up to society, enabling us to mock and therefore understand ourselves better.

Daily Rumination No. 23: The Productivity-in-Transit Lifestyle

In today’s world of hyperconnected, digital capitalism, we hear constantly that careers should be rewarding, fulfilling endeavours that create meaning for our lives. This is in no way representative of most people’s experiences, particularly for those who commute long distances. Work doesn’t give meaning to your life… it just becomes your life.

I saw great evidence of collective worker misery this week whilst commuting to Sydney for two different events. For a little over three years, I also commuted to Sydney from my home town of Wollongong, optimising the trip over time to the point that I couldn’t make it any shorter. My two recent trips were a dark reminder of that earlier period.

People of all ages and backgrounds pile into overcrowded trains, jostling for seats and tiny gaps in which to stand in the stairways and vestibules. It’s always either too hot or too cold in the carriages and passengers turn to their iPhones for any kind of basic amusement, usually in the form of exploitative, free-to-play games with in-app purchases.

The people whom I pity the most are those who do their work on the commute before they even arrive at work, frantically sending emails in the hope of achieving inbox-zero before the end of the week.

Many would say that working on the train is an efficient use of time that would otherwise be spent staring out the window. I don’t believe this at all. It’s an illness. Not only do people waste months of their lives sitting in the same odorous carriages on the way to work, they then further sacrifice their time by doing extra work for an organisation that neither knows nor cares about it.

Digital devices and services that are meant to make our lives easier have become tools of oppression, enabling this productivity-in-transit lifestyle. It seems that for many, flexible work can quickly become even more work, just away from a desk.

I’m glad that I escaped this daily death march to work in Sydney and I only hope that more people can do the same. We need to ask ourselves what we’re working for and why we are motivated to do certain things. Long-distance commuting has become an unfortunate norm and I fear that many just accept their circumstances, never stopping to achieve better balance in their lives. A sacrifice will always have to be made. In most cases, that will be one’s health and time with family.