When, just 3 weeks ago, I suggested doing our own survey of smokers, I had in mind a British survey (if only because most of my readers are Brits). But pretty rapidly it emerged that a number of Americans were interested as well, as well as a Canadian (Quebec), and a Spaniard. And a couple of people who lived in Greece. And a German (possibly two now). And then a Dutchman as well.
Almost all these require translations to be done of the v12 questionnaire. On the Social Impact Survey blog, this problem of translation has been approached in a rather ad hoc manner, with various fragments of Greek lying side by side, muddled together with French and German and Spanish ones.
Today I realised – with the peculiarly powerful sort of realisation that comes with the third mug of tea in the morning – that we couldn’t go on like this, and we really needed to separate out all the translations from each other, and have a German section, a French section, a Spanish section, and a Greek section, and (when it’s available) a Dutch section. Because it was all getting too unwieldy the way it was.
So today I’ve been doing that. I’ve been Mr Organisation Man today.
Half way through it all, I realised – perhaps with the fourth mug of tea (I wake up very slowly, and some days not at all) – that all these various languages happened to be European languages. And so I got hold of a map of Europe, and have been inking it in as a Progress Chart. I was rather pleased with the result.
And as I was doing it all, it struck me that the unwieldy, inefficient, all-muddling-along-together approach we’d been taking up to now was exactly like the European Union, where borders are erased, and everyone is supposed to be a European, with nobody different from anyone else, and one-size-fits-all rules and regulations for everyone handed down by tyrants that nobody elected, and who don’t even pay taxes.
What was far more practical, however, was to have the French in one place, the English in another place, the Germans in another place, and so on, exactly like with the translation problem I was looking at earlier today. Any attempt to create a unified Europe, consisting of ‘Europeans’ is pure idealism. It’s unwieldy and it’s unworkable. If Europe consists of a number of nation states, with the French in one place, and the English in another place, etc, it’s probably because it works best that way, and any attempt to ‘improve’ it is bound to fail.
And it’s always these attempts to ‘improve’ things that cause such grief (smoking bans being a prime example). And sometimes even trigger off wars.
Over time, Europe may evolve gradually into a single political entity, as people speak a language which is an amalgam of European languages – a bit English, a bit German, a bit French (in this respect the French word for blogger – blogueur – seems a wonderful recent example) -, and eat each other’s foods, and drive each other’s cars, and marry each other, and so on. English is anyway already an amalgam of Saxon (German), Viking (Danish/Norwegian), French, and Latin.
But such a transition can’t be planned, or made to happen. It’ll happen in its own good time, or it won’t happen at all. Meanwhile, Vive La Différence!
And anyway, the little international survey that I’m helping to organise (in my disorganised way) is becoming a wonderful example of spontaneous, grassroot, Pan-European (and in fact transAtlantic) co-operation among a bunch of people who just happen to be smokers, and who also happen to face the same existential threat as pretty much every smoker anywhere in the world these days. It’s something that has just happened. It wasn’t something that was planned. And it’s all being run on a shoestring.
Which is why, looking at the map above today, with all the blank areas in it, I wondered if pretty soon some Italians would show up asking to join in too, and some Portuguese, and some Croatians, and Poles and Hungarians and so on. Yesterday, I noticed that I’d had 60 hits from Norway – and that’s about 10 times the number I usually get from there. And it’s not just Europe. Smoking bans have been multiplying throughout North Africa and the Middle East, as I was writing last year. What do we do when Tunisians and Egyptians start wanting to join in? Or Japanese and Thais and Brazilians and Indians?
Because, as I see it, they’re quite likely to want to.
And then I’ll have make a bigger map, obviously. And it’ll take a lot longer to ink in.