Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Overseas Media Miscellany

A good day for spotters of things Irish in the New York Times. First, in an illustration of the quirks of running an international call centre out of Nairobi, the following anedcote is relayed:

Susan Mina, a Kenyan who has never stepped foot out of Africa, speaks English like the haughtiest of Britons ... Still, every once in a while, some Swahili slips out of her ... It happened the other day when she was trying to get a British man to sign up for a new cellular telephone service ... She sat near the Nairobi airport, doing her business as a sales agent for KenCall, Kenya's first international call center. The man's accent - she pegged it as Irish - was unintelligible to her. "Pole sana?" she blurted out, which is what one says in Swahili instead of "Huh?"

Indeed, who amongst us has not lunged for Swahili when confronted with an impenetrable Irish accent? Slightly more seriously, one of Dubya's former speechwriters, Matthew Scully, gives us a Behind the Speech look at what will go into the crafting of Dubya's State of the Union speech tonight (note to self: verify that Bond or Lord of the Rings film is on during this timeslot). And in looking for a way to communicate how much of a chore drafting speeches can be, Scully offers this:

Almost as dreaded as drafting a State of the Union, for example, are those yearly chores like writing remarks for the St. Patrick's Day visit by the prime minister of Ireland. How many different ways can you accept a bowl of shamrocks [sic], or celebrate the sterling qualities of the noble Irish people?

Fair enough. That it's been the same counterpart on the Irish side every year, Bertie Ahern, can't help with the sense of ennui about this occasion. And finally, the NYT has a more extended piece on, yet again, the Republic's grapples with wealth versus identity. Our own view is that some of the supposed downsides of the Republic's increased wealth are fairly understandable and generic.

When people get richer, they want more sophisticated stuff. So in the old days, we were happy sitting in our thatched cottages with the pig in the parlour and the sack of spuds in the corner and watching Fiddler on the Roof with dodgy reception on RTE. Now we watch Seinfeld off the dish in our O'Mansions while snacking on pesto-flavoured potato chips. It's progress.

What's more troubling is the slavish application by the powers-that-be of outdated notions of what modernity means. Our favourite example -- roads. Sometimes we wonder if the Republic's entire road building policy can be traced to one now important individual being on his holliers in the south of France 10-15 years ago and seeing their slick tolled autoroutes and wondering why can't we have those in Ireland? And he decides to make it happen.

God forbid that any thought go into why France and the Republic are totally different: the former a country of 62 million people whose roads also serve as essential transit routes for a huge chunk of Western Europe. So of course it makes sense to build flashy roads and toll them. But Ireland? Five million on an island which doesn't form a land route to anywhere. At least, however, our vacationing National Roads Authority suits are spared an inferiority complex on the way down to Provence.

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