Part 15: Camels, Socialism and Allah

Since I’m going to be studying in Brazil from January onwards, I’ve starteding teach myself Portuguese. Portuguese sounds like a bit like Spanish after a car crash, the words sound familiar, but malformed and I must admit that this is part of the appeal of the language. In the same way that one day I want to learn Dutch, since it reads like a German dyslexic having a really bad day.

German <3

German ❤

I like the way that Portuguese sounds weirder than Spanish, primarily because I think I’m still scarred from learning French (and hence romance languages) in school. Getting bad grades when your aunt is a French teacher…and is French…is really not the best idea. Ever since then I’ve avoided romance languages. The problem in school is that there was such an absence of grammar that it was near impossible to learn anything. We learned scripts, like actors, rather than learning how the language itself is expressed and synthesised. For someone who has a more scientific and analytical mind, the lack of grammar frustrated me. Without knowing the rules, how can one be expected to play the game?

This love of rules is what ended up making German a perfect language for me. German is often seen as a difficult languages due to its copious amount of rules and order (much like the German society and people…), but where many people see this as a complexity, I found this to be a great help since it allowed me to process the language. Everything had a clear rule as to why, what, where, when.

Grammatik ist Wichtig

Grammatik ist wichtig

Of course though, like all learners, I’ve made some pretty horrendous mistakes along the way to becoming conversational in German. One of the best of these was declaring myself to be a socialist (rather than a social person) to my friend’s parents. Needless to say, they were rather confused at the apparently raging Bolshevik from Scotland that their daughter had brought over.

Better than this was when I did an Arabic course in Singapore. I arrived in Singapore wanting to learn some Chinese, since I was going to be living in Asia. However, after arriving I found Chinese far too ugly a language to want to pursue, so choose an Arabic course instead. During a practice session I said to someone “anta jamal” instead of “anta jamaal”. So instead of calling them handsome/beautiful I said “You are a camel”. Somehow I doubt most Arabians would treat as the intended compliment that it was. I’ve found Arabic to be a really fun language to have dipped my toe into. After making small talk with a guy on the street in Marrakech in Arabic, he kindly informed me that it was good that I’d started to learn Arabic, since I’d be able to talk to God (Allah) when I reached heaven. Later, another Moroccan in the street came up to me out of the blue and said simply “It’s OK, gingers do have souls!” Finding out that I’m going to heaven AND that I have a soul, Marrakech was a great trip!

However, it is comforting to know that I’m not the only makes such mistakes…

  • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I saw the Pope” (El Papa), the shirts read “I saw the potato.” (la papa).
  • Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick”, a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that “mist” is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the “manure stick.”

In any case, I’m looking forward to making all the mistakes that come with learning a language when I go to Brazil. Already learning German has already helped me in so many wonderful ways; like being able to communicate with my girlfriend’s parents when I go to Germany, to my girlfriend and I being able to make disparaging comments about people in public and being able to read books about a communist kangaroo, who lives in Berlin ( I highly recommend Die Känguru Chroniken if you can read German). I can only hope that learning Portuguese have such a lasting effect on my life as German has.




Part 14 – Copacabana, Kidnapping and Arnold Schwarzenegger

I feel that a preface is necessary, since it is now almost two years since my last update. The primary inspiration for the renewal of my blog is that I will spending my next semester in Brazil.

Originally, I had an ERASMUS exchange set up in Austria for my last semester. Austria, a country where the most dangerous thing that could happen would be questioning the greatness of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or returning to Scotland with an Austrian accent, that would make my German girlfriend want to punch me in the face every time I spoke with her in German (assuming that she doesn’t already want to punch me in the face, irrespective of accent or language). Instead, I swapped a piece of tranquil, picturesque, Alpine Europe for Brazil. A country with its dedicated own crime article on Wikipedia. This impression has hardly been helped by the frenzied coverage during the World Cup, with seemingly every cross section of Brazilian society seeming to decide that a few good riots were exactly the right ingredient to spice up the World Cup.

My new home in January?

My new home in January?

Of course, there is a simple reason I chose to forsake Austria for Brazil. Generally, for myself at least, the more awkward/dangerous/downright crazy an option is the more attractive and logical it seems at the time. Doubts and common sense seem to be a delayed function of time in comparison, useful and present only after a decision has been made. And for exactly these reasons can I not wait to go to Brazil. A land of binary states: the beauty of the Amazon and Copacabana beach, juxtaposed with crack cocaine caused crime and poverty. I will be living in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Belo Horizonte, the smallest city of which, Belo Horizonte, still has a population that exceeds that of my homeland, Scotland.

A map of where I could be living in Brazil

A map of where I could be living in Brazil

However, before I head to South America, I’ve been living somewhere even stranger for a Scotsman…England

More specifically, London. A city which, in truth, is not dissimilar to an independent country within the UK. On about every conceivable economic statistic London is a massive outlier. Today I read that the average rent in London is over £1400 a month. The rest of the UK is £650 a month. The average house price in London is approximately £400,000, compared to £180,000 for the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is, of course, a very good reason that I know these statistics. I’m currently working at the Financial Conduct Authority, which is the regulatory agency for the financial sector in the United Kingdom. I could talk more about my work, but then they’d probably have to kill me. What I can say is that I’m working within mortgage regulation, giving me a horrifying insight into the lives of grown up problems. Y’know, those people for whom doubts and common sense is not a delayed function of time, but a constant companion.

I must say that I’ve found London to be disappointing. Now, I’m not some country bumpkin from the north of Scotland who’s missing his croft and cuddling up to his beloved sheep during those harsh hours of northern darkness. I’ve lived in Singapore, Berlin and Glasgow and I can, without a doubt, say London is my least favourite of this exquisite selection. Singapore is as expensive, but at least is a wet dream for anyone who has OCD or craves organisation, while Berlin is infinitely cheaper, more welcoming and blessed with a unique sense of craziness that simply makes it my favourite city.

The one unique attribute from the selection that London possesses is its sense of power. Since I’m working at Canary Wharf, I’ve been working in the same place as all those nasty bankers you’ve been hearing about. Y’know, those guys that caused that little financial Armageddon that you may have appeared on the news once or twice… Compared to my normal life as a penniless student, this contrast is rather marked and bizarre. Going to work in a suit everyday feels about as unnatural an addition to my body as that of wings or a second head who insists on being addressed as Hugo. I think the one experience that I’ve had that sums this up, was when I was waiting in line for the cash machine outside work. The guy in front of me’s bank balance was more than the worth of my parents’ house.

Canary Wharf - Where I'm currently working

Canary Wharf – Where I’m currently working

Anyway, I’ll leave this here for a first effort at restarting my blog, and leave you with some Portuguese that I’ve been learning

Por favor, não me raptem!” – Please don’t kidnap me!

As you can see, I’m well prepared.


Part 11 – Academia, Spaghetti & Liquid Nitrogen

My experience in research has been pretty brief. A mere 69 days (chortle chortle).

Nevertheless it has definitely been an enjoyable and insightful, if infuriating, time.

One of the best things is having a project that is yours. Ownership of anything work related makes it so much more bearable. It depreciates the sentiment that you’re doing it for someone else and that you could care so much less. The fact that it’s yours means you take pride in it, because ultimately it is YOUR work and people will judge YOU on it, no one else.

However, academia itself can be, predictably, infuriating.

Researchers have a euphemism for “infuriating”.

It’s “interesting”.

“Those results are…interesting”

It’s almost like a defence mechanism against the constant barrage of unclear, confusing and, occasionally, just damn wrong results. According to my results at times I’ve violated such laws as the Conservation of Mass and Gravity. I’ll just assume that the Noble Prize is in the post for these advances…

Eventually though, those good results do come around then it’s fantastic. But it’s made all the more fantastic because of all those terrible results. Those supposed straight lines of data points that instead look a bowl of spaghetti.

That’s something true about life, that we cannot have Good without Bad. We all wish to nullify all the unpleasant experiences in life but without them, what’s left? If everything in our life was good then the thing that was “least Good” would become, by definition, Bad. Good and Bad are not absolutes, but are relatives. It’s the same reason that finding a pound coin on the street would inspire nothing but a passing smile. However, if someone in the depths of poverty found one, then it would be almost a miracle.

Hence as we gather experiences we begin to reassess what is “Good” and “Bad”.

Just one of the reasons that we’re in a constant state of flux. People don’t suddenly “change”; they accumulate change, which we don’t notice until something triggers our acknowledgement. Why so often outgrow people for seemingly no reason. We are merely an accumulation of experiences.

Finally, there is one more advantage to working in academia.

When it’s 30oC outside, you can make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

-170oC of pure joy.