Swearing has infiltrated into daily office conversation on all sides.
You have become a little too comfortable sharing personal info with your co-workers.
You have come to terms with the fact you are a bit of a hermit (and by “a bit” I mean “a lot”).
You have attended an appraisal, and discovered talking about yourself for an hour is an exhausting endurance test which should never be suffered by any living soul.
You have stopped entertaining the thought that attending more than one social activity on a weekday within a week is a possibility.
You voluntarily give yourself, and stick to, a strict bedtime.
You have allocated a generous portion of your monthly earnings to a “new work clothes” budget.
You have calculated just how much you earn (i.e. are objectively worth) a day.
You now own, of your own free will, a Boots Advantage Card.
You’ve realised that actually a lot of what your mum says is very sensible and wise.
You’ve read the first two chapters of every shelf-help book aiming to improve happiness, motivation and/or productivity that Google has recommended to you. And aside for not wearing make-up to work, you’ve not really followed any of the advice given.
Every time you meet your friends you say, “aww we should do this more often!” – but in reality, if you were to fit any more into your already packed schedule you would internally combust.
You have enjoyed the smug feeling of being able to buy your sisters drinks and not ask for it back in taxi money at the end of the night.
You feel like the ratio of how many coffees you make for people in the office, versus how many you accept, is the direct indication of your value as a human.
Spending the 24 days of your annual leave in the wisest way possible is a year-long headache.
The delay-start function on the washing machine has revolutionized your life.
You have realised that even if your friends and boyfriend eventually find out you’re really boring and leave you, you will always have food. And this brings you great comfort.
Despite being perfectly content in the job you have, you have decided to change your role drastically in order to be nearer to vegan cafes, loved ones and cats.
Below are some observations of what I found unusual or interesting about Japan from my visit there. I hope they entertain you and give you a glimpse of my experience in this wacky and wonderful country! If you’ve been to Japan and want to add anything to this list or share your own stories, please do in the comments section, I’d love to hear about it.
• People are really polite and go out of their way to be helpful, to the point where it can even become inconvenient, such as showing you how to get on a train you don’t want or directing you how to take the best photograph.
• If you ask for directions, you will probably be led in person right to your destination.
• Most people are very petite and it is rare to see someone slightly overweight, making it impossible to fit in as large westerners!
• There are vending machines absolutely everywhere, selling every kind of soft drink imaginable as well as beer, cigarettes, chocolate and even cooked food.
• The main train stations are massive, and we got lost more than once whilst trying to find the right exit.
• Each train station has its own little jingle which plays when a train arrives. Lots of these are from well known songs, and some can be quite majestic.
• In rural areas especially, there are lots of cyclists who never use the bike paths and choose to disturb pedestrian walkways. Instead of ringing the bell to ask you to move, they artfully weave in and out of the people who are walking.
• There is matcha tea flavoured everything!
• The toilets range from being very high tech (with self-opening, self-flushing, music playing and rinsing capabilities) to basic squat toilets. Sometimes in one bathroom there is a choice of both to suit what people are most comfortable with.
• Every street is lined with loads of cables and power lines, which make quite impressive silhouettes in the evening.
• Most things, such as shrines, shops and museums, close early around 4 or 5pm outside the city centre, making lazy lay-ins impossible.
• Except for in certain night-life areas, in the evenings the streets are completely silent and barely anyone is around.
• Women dress very fashionably – mostly in loose, plain clothing – and have immaculately clear skin.
• People can smoke in bars and drink on the street, which takes a while getting used to.
• People rarely talk on the train, but often have a nap instead. I also didn’t see anyone eat or drink at the station or on the trains.
• Of all the Japanese manners I learnt before arriving, very few were followed by modern Japanese people, such as not displaying public affection or ordering the same drink in the first round.
• If in doubt, nodding and smiling gets positive feedback in all social interactions even if you can’t say anything other than “sorry”, “please” and “thank you”.
• Despite there being no rubbish bins to be found, the streets are very clean and tidy. Our hosts were strict on waste disposal and it seems to be taken very seriously here.
• The rural landscape consists mainly of forested areas instead of the meadows, farmland and shrubbery of the UK countryside. It is very beautiful.
• People are obsessed with cute animals here since pet ownership isn’t as commonplace – meaning cat, hedgehog and owl cafes are common! However animal welfare for both pets and livestock is questionable…
• Every single temple and castle we visited had been burnt down due to lightning or war and rebuilt.
• Food is either soft, sticky or slimy. Finding hard food in a meal is a rare treasure!
• The Japanese diet relies heavily on rice, which constitutes for the bulk of both savoury and sweet food.
• Zebra crossings alert you that you may walk by playing various bird noises.
• Ponds often have thriving communities of terrapin and koi fish who beg for food by gathering under bridges and opening their mouths.
• You can buy a decent meal out for £7.
• As a hobby or treat, Japanese people hire traditional kimonos and accompanying outfits, and walk around pretty parks and temples in them taking selfies.
• Animals are huge, especially butterflies, wasps, fish, crows and ants. Strangely the cats are still skinny though.
• People seem to be quite pious and often visit shrines and temples to pray. There are all sorts of good luck charms you can buy from shrines to help with love, study, wealth, family and health.
• Nothing is done by halves in Japan, and everything from adverts to shop signs to themed cafes are taken to the extreme by being loud, bold and obvious at all times!
British etiquette is often difficult to understand and put into practise for people who have not spent long in Britain (and for a good portion of the British population too). However, being polite is important in any culture to communicate properly and to be able to get what you want without hassle. Although these manners are flexible and do not apply in more informal situations, they are still worth knowing for this reason.
I have written what I consider to be the important rules of politeness below. Hope you enjoy and feel free to give me your take on what British manners are in the comments below!
The Three Golden Rules
• Say the magic words. If you ask for anything, say “please”. If anyone gives you anything at all, whether it is your change, a cup of tea or a car, you must always say “thank you”. In British culture, you cannot say thank you too many times. Ideally you should be saying it before, during and after someone gives you something in order for the message to fully get across. • Apologise. British people will apologise for the smallest thing, including for apologising too much. Sometimes, you say sorry not to acknowledge your own mistakes, but to acknowledge that someone else’s mistake is okay. For example if someone treads on your foot, you should say “sorry” to communicate “I acknowledge that you didn’t mean to hurt my toe, and I’m fine with that”. • Don’t make a scene. Staying respectful and calm is an important part of fitting into British culture. People often comment that British people are more reserved than other cultures, and that’s mainly because talking loudly, squealing with laughter or arguing in public is seen as inconsiderate in the UK since it can bother other people around you.
Out and About
• Do not stare at people…unless you are having a conversation with them, in which case you should make eye contact when they are speaking.
• It is considered extremely rude to spit on the street, cough up phlegm, cough or sneeze on someone, and otherwise do something which could create mess or spread germs in public. Overall, personal hygiene is considered very important in Britain and being clean and presentable in public is essential to fit in.
• When on public transport with few seats left, it is polite to offer your seat to elderly people, or people with wheelchairs or babies, who would benefit from the seat more.
• It is polite to make room for other people. Being aware of your surroundings, and allowing for people to get passed you, is key to being the perfectly mannered person. For example, it is considered kind to hold the door for someone, to let other cars waiting at a junction onto the road, and to allow people to queue in front of you if their needs are greater than yours. Even the most subtle of movements to give other people more room will be noticed and appreciated by most British people!
How to treat strangers differs in different places in Britain – for example in the south strangers will rarely strike up a conversation with each other, whereas in the north chatting to people you don’t know on public transport is quite common. People in the countryside are also much friendlier than in cities. If you’re unsure, smile at someone and say hello, and allow them to make the next move.
Often these rules aren’t followed, especially when eating with peers. However if you’re in a fancy restaurant or with people you want to impress, sticking to these guidelines means you can’t go wrong: • Use a knife in your right hand and a fork in your left for main meals, and a spoon in your right hand for pudding. • Make as little noise as possible whilst eating, because is extremely annoying to British people when they can hear someone chew! • Eat with your mouth closed. No-one wants to see your food after it has left your plate. • Keep your elbows off the table (quite an old fashioned rule, but some people still follow it).
• When eating out, always try and pay for your meal. If someone offers to pay for your food, it is customary to have some back and forth conversation saying “I’ll pay”, “no don’t be silly”, “no I insist”, “well I am happy to contribute” etc. before someone submits. This is because often British people will offer to pay for someone else’s meal out of instinct when they don’t actually want to – this dialogue is essential for figuring out whether they are making a genuine offer or not. • Get the waiters’ attention my making eye contact – not by waving your hand around. In Britain it is polite and expected to treat restaurant staff as equals, not as servants. • Tipping. It is not essential to tip in the UK, although if you’re eating in a nice restaurant it is polite to give the waiter / waitress 10% of your meal price, which is usually a pound or two per person. If you are eating out around the Christmas period, it is nice to tip more, since these people are giving up their holidays to earn money.
Visiting Someone’s Home
Adults in Britain will often socialise by going to each others’ houses during an evening and having a meal there. I’m pretty sure that this kind of thing will apply to most cultures, but here’s a few tips for what to do in this situation in Britain: • Bring something to the table. It is customary to bring a small gift for the host when visiting someone’s house. A good gift is food or drink that you can share around during the event, for example a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates. Note: the host will probably have cooked a dinner, so don’t bring something which would affect the main course. • Take your shoes off when you’ve entered the house. • Compliment their home – this is a natural kind thing to do when entering someone’s home, although the compliment obviously has to be genuine. • Engage in conversation (don’t look at your phone for long periods of time). • Help to clear the table, and if you’re feeling particularly polite offer to do the dishes. • Don’t overstay your welcome. You have to realise that the host can’t go to bed before you leave! Don’t stay too late, and look out for clues that the host is tired or is hinting for you to leave.
General last pointers
• Never insult anyone. It is extremely rude and inconsiderate to point out someone’s flaws both to their face or behind their back in Britain. For example, you should never call someone fat, ugly, annoying or boring. British people are quite sensitive and will take these things very personally. Of course people still do insult others, but it is generally considered petty. • Don’t ask personal questions. If you don’t know someone very well, don’t ask things such as what their age is, how much they weigh, how much they earn, or their opinions on politics. When you’re friends with someone, naturally the closer you are the more you share this kind of information. • Listen during conversations. Don’t interrupt what someone’s saying, and ask the person you’re talking to questions, or as some people call it “passing the ball in conversation”. To talk about yourself for long periods of time if considered bad etiquette in British culture.
British manners, like in most cultures, comes from a combination of tradition, old superstitions and consideration for other people around you. They are not set in stone and are adapting all the time.
Please comment below if you think of any more manners to add to the list!
This year I created an illustration a day from the first of December until Christmas day – depicting 25 things of what Christmas means to me.
The idea came to me when I was illustrating another advent calendar with ‘traditional’ Christmas icons such as snowmen, gingerbread men, bells and angels. When I was making it I thought that despite being the symbols usually associated with the festive period, they don’t relate at all to my personal experience of Christmas. For example, it rarely snows in Yorkshire in December – so snowmen are out off the question! Scenes such as church choirs performing and bells ringing are also very far removed from my own memories of the season.
I made these illustrations to represent what my Christmas is like, and what is significant about it for me. This meant that the drawings often showed spending time with my family, eating a lot of food, and enjoying / enduring the traditions of the holiday.
My favorite illustrations were Winter Walks, Getting the Sniffles and Making Mulled Wine. I felt that the illustrations were quite strong, and these were all things that happen every December without fail – despite not being traditionally ‘Christmassy’.
Each illustration took about 2 hours to complete – plus or minus some time depending on the level of detail. Things such as drawing expressions or trying to create a likeness of a real person took significantly longer, whereas drawing scenes with just objects (such as Day 4 – Mince Pies with Brandy Butter) was a lot quicker.
I didn’t realise that it would take me this long to draw each picture before I started, which meant that I had to alter my daily schedule to fit them all in. Often I would wake up early before work to get a head start, and got into the rhythm of drawing through my lunch break with a sandwich in one hand and a pro-marker in the other. Before the weekends, I would create a few illustrations in one intense evening and set up my social media posts for Saturday and Sunday so that I could actually have a social life too!
Due to the time constraints, I went straight into each picture in pencil and then pen without planning the layout on a separate piece of paper beforehand (like I normally do for illustrations and comics). This meant that the pictures weren’t as good quality as I had wanted, and some were experiments that I pulled off with varying degrees of success.
At the start of the project, I chose a colour palette and stuck to it throughout the illustrations. I incorporated the traditional Christmas colours of red and green, but also added warm tones of pink, brown and orange. These colours not only gave off a nice cosy vibe to me, but were also ‘practical’ natural colours which I could use in most situations easily. For instance, the pink and brown I could use for skin, hair and eye colour in the cartoon characters, and the greens and oranges worked well for outdoor scenes.
The only time I broke this colour scheme (by incorperating two blue tones into the mix) was to illustrate Day 8 – My Blue Velvet Dress and Day 15 – The Trip to the Attic, to depict shadow in a more accessible way.
A few days into the advent, my friend, talented watercolour artist Rebecca Freeman, joined in the challenge and drew 25 illustrations of what Christmas means to her. Follow her Facebook art page here for more illustrations!
Overall, making an advent illustration a day was very fun – although I have to admit there were a few moments I felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew, or wanted to slack off for a night! By the end however I managed to create 25 illustrations, and post all – except one – on time on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook each day. Unfortunately, Day 5 was 18 minutes late due to it falling on date night – my bad.
Many thanks to everyone who has liked, commented and otherwise sent me good vibes throughout this process! Your support was a huge motivation to stick to it and finish the project.
Click here to see the full album of advent illustrations on my Facebook page.
If you haven’t already, feel free to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates on my art in progress and more pieces. Also keep an eye on this blog for a variety of articles on art and other topics that interest me.
Want to see more of my artwork? See my previous blog post showing my sketchbook in Cambodia.
Feminism is a very simple notion: that men and women are equal, and that our structure of society and the way that they are treated should reflect this. The majority of people would agree that this is a good idea, particularly in Western society, however despite this feminism has become despairingly difficult for the new generation to really identify with and embrace – particularly among men. In fact, the word often evokes negative associations which generates criticism and judgement towards both the ideology and the people who openly support it.
Why Is This?
Feminism is not a new thing. The desire for women to be treated as equals among men has been about for a very, very long time, brought into light most notably by the suffragette movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although equality has come on in leaps and bounds since then in a lot of places, the cold hard truth is that men and women are still not treated equally in any part of the world, and in some places female empowerment is even decreasing. (You can see the facts and figures in the Global Gender Gap Report.)
Everyone knows that changing the very foundations of patriarchal society is a very lengthy process, but for most feminists the progress is agonisingly slow. Besides this, feminism is continually contested by people all over the globe who patronise the ideology and dismiss the oppression of women in society, which makes people very angry (and quite rightly so). However, this unhappy mood has coloured feminism, and the result of this is often the association of feminism with anger and bitterness as opposed to liberation and peace.
A Personal Approach
Feminism has become very personal. For men and women, feminism means freedom. It means being able to be one’s true identity with no restrictions from society. Feminism is the power of choice, and a lot of people use it as a medium to support their voice and their personal choices – which is not a bad thing.
However, when feminism mixes in with someone’s personal life, it can be tricky to distinguish the two from an outsider’s perspective. For example when someone uses it to explain their motives to do certain things, or their feelings towards certain things, their actions can be misconstrued as an act of feminism itself, rather than an act of theirs which is perhaps inspired by self-empowerment as well as other personal qualities.
The root of a lot of hatred towards feminism (and the concept of ‘anti-feminism’) is the assumption that these personal views are what feminism stands for, rather than what the person who is feminist stands for.
When one person shouts: “I hate all men, and by the way I am a feminist,” people may read it and think that other feminists also hate men. And so that feminism stands for men-hating. This association between personal qualities in individuals and the qualities of feminism blurs the definition of the word, and can make it seem like an illogical or self-righteous escapade with no real merit. It is important to remember that an opinion voiced by one person is not necessarily shared by the community.
The Shock Tactic
Feminism often works on the confrontational approach: whereby when sexism is come across, it is challenged and shouted down. This can be very effective, especially if the person is gifted with good reasoning power, but in daily life it can be more intrusive than operative. For example, when talking to someone who is openly a feminist, other people in the group may feel (wrongly or not) uneasy or cautious in-case they say something out of turn with the other person’s feminist ideals.
This is built upon the assumptions that feminism is:
a complex idea with many pitfalls, and
that all feminists are inherently ‘picky’ and quick to judge.
This of course is not true. However, it is true that sexism is a complex, many-layered thing. This is why there are so many sexist incidences that occur in everyday life, and so what may seem commonplace to us will annoy a more observational person – such as not looking a woman in the eye during a business meeting or expecting a man to buy his date a drink.
For someone who identifies as being feminist themselves, being told they are acting in a way that is sexist can be very distressing. Being on guard in conversation does not make feminism an inviting community to be part of, and makes people associate the threat of external judgement as a cornerstone of the ideology.
An Unwelcoming Community
Because feminism is surrounded by controversy, people who are feminist are often questioned about it. The fact is, if you expose yourself as identifying as a feminist, you feel like you will be put under undue scrutiny by other people. And because so many articles and manifestos are written about feminism, the rules and expectations of what a feminist is can seem endless and incompressible.
This leads to you questioning whether you fit into the feminist community at all. What if you aren’t ready to defend your opinions to drunken strangers? What if you still want to shave your armpits? What if you still want to be a housewife, or be a masculine man? What if you love looking at boobs? Surely according to the rules of feminism that means you can never one of them!
Someone I met who obviously supports gender equality said she opposed to being called a feminist because she didn’t feel that she fit into the “feminist image”. She was not prepared to discuss her views with people, and didn’t want to be associated with the brunt of bad press that feminists are given. Sadly this is a very real barrier to people embracing the identity of feminism.
Barriers to Male Feminists
Feminism is particularly perilous for men. Even though the blame for sexism, misogyny and patriarchy is rooted in society as a whole,men are sometimes individually treated as being guilty of sexism even if they themselves have not acted in this way. For example, the ridiculous notion that ‘all men are part of rape culture’ (a topic which deserves its own article).
In general, men are subject to more scrutiny than women in terms of potential sexist comments or behaviour. This can be very intimidating for a man, particularly for someone who identifies himself as being feminist. Even if this is avoided, men are further ostracized from feminism by things such as ‘women only’ feminist events and the generalisation of men as being sexist pigs who are unfeeling towards the suffering and oppression of women – a stereotype which is sexist and therefore very un-feminist.
Things to remember:
Feminism is a simple idea that men and women are equal (not the same) and should be treated equally, which the opportunity and right to make their own life choices.
There are no rules to being feminist, other than that you agree with the above.
You don’t have to tell people that you are a feminist if you don’t want to.
Self-identified feminists may not act in a feminist manner all of the time. This is because sexism is inherent in our society, and is therefore sometimes part our personality without realising it.
It can be more difficult for men to ‘come out’ as feminists due to the controversy surrounding the topic.
Both men and women are subject to stereotypes and generalisations which negatively affect both parties.
A Small Solution
No one person or group of people is to blame for the unwelcoming nature of feminism in today’s culture – it is just the product of a long-contested history of feminism which has struggled to survive throughout its lifetime. The voices of feminism are strong and passionate, and should continue to be so.
What we can do individually is to take a more positive approach to equality in our daily lives. Embrace our identity. Be supportive and kind to each other at all times, and give each other room for error. (That means no judging on either side of the debate!) Above all, remember that men and women are equal, and act accordingly. (Don’t hug girls and dither at the guy in the group. Give him a squeeze!)
It is time to cheerfully and wholeheartedly accept gender equality as a fact, and work on making it a more welcoming world for all of us.
Selfie culture has taken over our social media and become a part of everyday life. But should we embrace the fad or take a step back from this strange segment of online culture?
The growing prevalence of taking selfies does not mean that our culture is getting more vain or more image conscious – pride and vanity in our appearance has always been there, in every culture, in every time period. It is just that now we have found a new way to express it. However, showing our vanity through the medium of selfies is much more acceptable now, to the point that it is celebrated and encouraged through systems of approval such as ‘liking’ photos and posts on social media.
Selfies are after all a way of controlling our appearance, and therefore how we are perceived by others. It is only natural to want to show our best side in order to represent ourselves well. However, controlling our own image to the extent that we now take it only makes our standard of beauty (for ourselves and others) much higher. This promotes negativity about natural, uncontrolled, unflattering images of people, to the point that we will criticize and try to disassociate ourselves from “ugly” pictures by ‘untagging’ ourselves or censoring which photos we share. This high standard for our own image creates dissatisfaction about how we really look and an unwillingness to embrace our whole self, warts and all.
Whatever the consequences to our mental health, the fact is that taking selfies is now part of our culture. As sociable animals, it is a natural instinct to want to fit into our society and associate with our peers. Avoiding being in photos can result in people thinking that you do not fit into normal society or that you are purposely isolating yourself from it. This may lead to further social exclusion, meaning participating in selfies is in some way necessary for our social survival.
Furthermore, the act of taking selfies has become a bonding experience for people. It is a way of documenting and celebrating our relationships with people – whether long-term or fleeting – and showing other people that we have accepted them into our social circle. When we look back at the photographs, we get pleasure from remembering the connection and the happy memories that we associate with the image.
Like the act of taking a photo brings us closer together, sharing it gives us confirmation that we have been accepted by our society. Sharing a selfie is a way of getting direct feedback on the way we present ourselves through comments and ‘likes’ on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Receiving this (usually positive) feedback reinforces the idea that we are valued by, and fit into, our society.
It is definitely not healthy to need to receive this feedback, since it means our sense of self-worth is determined by something external to ourselves. A much better attitude would be to be comfortable in our own skin and to not need other people to openly tell us that we are looking great to believe it. However, such confidence is not so easily obtained, and therefore it is only natural to seek it from people who we also admire and who’s opinions we value.
In the long run, the world is changing, and as animals who live in a complex and highly social society, we must adapt to fit into it. The alternative is to be left behind by our peers, and potentially to be considered as old fashioned, stubborn, strange or unsociable. When we stop to consider the act of taking selfies, we realize how shallow and strange the concept actually is. However, it only stems from a natural and very important desire to belong in human society.
In general, selfies do not harm anyone, they are not evil or cause cancer or destroy rainforests. However, neither do they promote acceptance about the way we naturally look and can actually diminish our sense of self-worth. Overall, we should not over-indulge in this modern pastime. We should not take ourselves or the images of ourselves too seriously, and remember that the number of ‘likes’ on our latest profile picture does not equate to our level of beauty.
Your true friends will be the ones enjoying your body positivity (and probably ‘liking’ all of those photos), but equally will be the ones who couldn’t care less if you never took a selfie in your life.