Tuesday December 7, 2004

It’s differences as well as similarities that make international friendships so interesting. I sent a Carlton Ware dish to Australia a week or so back and it arrived there safely a few days ago. I don’t know and never shall know the person who bought it, not in real life, but it tickled my fancy that, when I remarked how it pleased me to think of the dish sparkling in Australian summer sunshine rather than languishing in our dark British winter, she came back to say how much it added to such things if there was a bit of a story to them. A nice mix of difference and similarity there.

Some differences are uncomfortable, of course. Focussing on them makes an international correspondence interesting. It also exposes us to the danger of allowing our unreconcilable positions on political, social and economic issues that touch us in our different lives, in our different worlds to get in the way of understanding one another.

Seeking to understand why different people in different places should adopt different attitudes and patterns of behaviour is, it seems to me, much more conducive to friendship than to criticise them for doing so. Expecting others, from different backgrounds, to adopt our own ways of doing things is asking for trouble.

Some things are universal, of course. Oppression, cruelty and murder are among them. Even here, though, at the fringes, there are differences in attitude and action which we simply have to learn to live with.

Judicial murder, or ‘the death penalty’, is an act of cruelty and oppression that sickens me to the very core. Yet it is common practice in America and some of my friends in the States actively support it. I’ve heard all the arguments, and taken part in the debates. Somewhere in the depths of my cupboard I suspect I still have one or two of the t-shirts. I’ve yet to meet anyone who started out with a firm view on the matter who was converted from one position to the other by argument. Self discovery is what leads to conversion, not coercion. So, I push my revulsion to the side, accept that the issue is one on which I must agree to disagree, and pass on to matters on which fellow-feeling does exist and which can be builded on.

Now it may be that, in America, Walmart really is a significant part of the Axis of Evil™, working to destroy the American Way of Life™ and that folks think badly of them. Similarly, IKEA/Axis of Evil™, Gap/Axis of Evil™, Starbucks/Axis of Evil™ and MacDonalds/Axis of Evil™ might be businesses which, if I were an American citizen, living in America, I’d choose to boycott. That would be fine. I’d have every right to my view, and to support my view by my actions. So long as I stayed within the law and on the lawful side of the picket lines it’d be my right to carry my placard and protest publicly against such businesses, and no-one would have the right to prevent me from doing so nor to condemn my actions.

But I’m not an American citizen, and I don’t live in America. I’m a British citizen, living in Britain. These international companies, and others, operate within British and European law and custom to provide me with convenience, value and quality. If the things they provide cease to satisfy my needs, I shall go elsewhere. If they cease to honour the laws and customs of my country I shall condemn them, and vigorously lobby legislative and enforcement agencies to act against them.

Until one or other of those conditions obtain, I shall continue to shop where I jolly well please.



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