Who are you?

What do you want from us?

Shhhh…. We have important healing work to do!


I am the doctor, I am your doctor and you shall have no other doctors before me, neither a GP nor a hospital doctor; neither must you resort to Google nor a professional healer, and another doctor´s second opinion is the Devils work.

You must listen to me; I do not have to listen to you. Look at me when I am talking; I do not have to look at you… ever.

Only facts in the form of extensive, expensive tests and scanning count; Your symptoms are your own and your narrative of them is totally irrelevant.

Your own general condition of mind and body is irrelevant; only the illness or bodily malfunction I personally have discovered matters.

Any and all health problems other than the ones I personally have discovered or are treating are irrelevant; I, your doctor, cannot do anything about them anyhow and any symptoms they might give you are irrelevant to my diagnosis and treatment.

You have been admitted to my my ward and my ward is where I am the expert, it is my exclusive domain, all other wards are the domains of other doctors and they are outside my influence.

Here, and only here, are you totally dependent on me and my minions. If you try to go outside my ward or domain you enter the domain of another doctor and that I will not tolerate.


Patients are confused and unaccountable; their kith and kin even more so; we will humor them, but under no circumstance will we listen to what they are saying – their story concerning their situation is irrelevant to our diagnosis.

We can only treat you in accordance with what the doctor wishes.

You are entitled to be coddled by us, but we will still only treat you as we deem necessary – your own wishes and needs are irrelevant.

Patients and their kith and kin with Internet access are of the devil. How dare they inform us about the latest developments in OUR field. How dare they start a discussion with their doctor or any of his minions?  They, who so depend on us, are neither to impugn our knowledge nor our competence and by no means our good intentions.

Your well-being once you’ve left us is of no concern to us; we deal in facts and only those measurable results we personally have achieved count.

If and when you must return to us, we still won’t listen to you or look at you, we will just continue to carry out the same procedure as before; because that’s what we’re really good at…



Hvem er du?

Hvad vil du?

Shhh…. vi har et arbejde at passe!


Du må ikke have nogen anden læge end mig, jeg er din læge, om det er i almen praksis eller som hospitalslæge; det er ikke tilladt at konsultere hverken Google eller naturlægen, og “second opinion” har fanden skabt.

Du skal lytte til mig; Jeg behøver ikke lytte til dig. Du skal se på mig, når jeg taler; Jeg behøver ikke se på dig.

Kun “facts” i form af test eller dyre skannings-resultater tæller; dine symptomer er dine egne og din fortælling om dem er mig irrelevant.

Dit almene velbefindende er også irrelevant: det er kun den sygdomen eller skavank jeg behandler, der tæller.

Andre skavanker end dem jeg har opdaget og /eller behandler er mig uvedkommende; jeg, din læge, kan ikke gøre noget ved dem og skal ikke gøre noget ved dem; dine evt. ”symptomer” rangerer langt under mine facts.

Du er indlagt på min afdeling; min afdeling er mit gebet, sådan som andre afdelinger er andres gebet og derfor helt udenfor min indflydelse.

Her, og kun her, er du afhængig af mig og mine. Går du udenfor mit arbejdsområde, så er du på en anden læges gebet og det kan jeg ikke være med til.


Patienter er forvirrede og utilregnelige; deres pårørende er det i endnu højere grad; de skal snakkes efter munden, men de skal ikke lyttes til, da deres fortælling alligevel er sagen uvedkommende.

Vi kan kun udføre det, der er pålagt os af lægen.

Du har krav på at blive taget hånd om, men vi gør det kun i det omfang, vi finder nødvendigt, og dine selvopfundne ”behov” er os ligegyldige.

Patienter og pårørende med adgang til internet har fanden skabt. Hvor vover de at oplyse os om det sidste nye indenfor det, der er VORES felt? Hvor vover de at diskutere med lægen eller hans medarbejdere? Vores viden, håndelag og intentioner må aldrig drages i tvivl.

Når du forlader os, har dit almene velbefindende ingen betydning for os – det er kun de målbare resultater vi har registreret, der tæller.

Hvis (og når) du kommer tilbage til os med dit problem, vil vi stadigvæk hverken høre eller se på dig; vi fortsætter bare med den samme procedure som sidst, du var her – for det er det, vi er bedst til….

Sounds from the (urban) jungle.

Living in the urban jungle you get accustomed to strange sounds emanating from the walls, ceiling, and floor, and I don’t just mean the settling in of old houses as the central heating kicks in. No, when you live in one of those former -slum-now-fabulously-in sections of town where the dividers between apartments are less than soundproof you must expect strange sounds…. can you imagine if you had a flamenco teacher living above you…

Something like that, only infinitely more positive, I experienced the other day – something I had never ever expected to experience… I had been convinced that it was just an urban myth of the type you read about in cheap novels, lurid cartoons, or French films or racy sit-coms…

Well, it was a pleasant Saturday afternoon, I was visiting my girlfriend and was taking a nap in the bedroom after lunch, when I started hearing a peculiar sound emanating from the ceiling …. come on, it couldn’t be?  – it couldn’t be the sound of bed springs being tortured by two bodies doing what comes naturally on a lazy Saturday afternoon…. I couldn’t believe it … (beds with springs are only still found in old bedroom farces anyway.)

So I called her in to verify… she listened and right away said, “yep, heard it before…just wait, it´s my neighbor above – she’s a screamer!”…”What – you never told me about this?” I responded …. and sure enough, as the rhythm of the pounded springs got faster more furious and louder I could just discern the start of a scream which got progressively louder, fully in step with the increasing tempo of the pounded springs, leading to an almost earsplitting  crescendo which was immediately followed by a just as deafening silence…

Remember the restaurant scene in “When Harry met Sally”? Or  the quirky French film “Delicatessen”, where there is a wonderful lovers’ scene with the landlord/butcher and his sexy lodger in a squeaking bed – the whole house shakes…

Not only was I a great experience richer, now I also knew that this type or urban inter-apartment sound is no urban myth… I actually felt quite happy almost grateful (perhaps even sated) for having been given this vicarious participation in their bliss; almost  as happy as if …you know… it was a confirmation that the universe that is we, us, and you and our neighbors, is as it should be… but that is not the end of it:  less than an hour later I had to leave the apt., and as I was closing the door, the upstairs neighbor passed me by, giving me that casual ritualistic friendly smile we all give when we recognize and reaffirm our neighborliness.… I had a more difficult time smiling back; I was too afraid that I might be blushing!

Hey, perhaps now that I have had these chance “encounters” with the upstairs neighbor I’m ready to see Lars Trier’s “Nymphomaniac”?


My Credo

I am 68 years old and male, and like most old men I often have to leave my warm bed at night to go to the toilet to pee. Now my toilet is quite a bit off from my bedroom and I have to traverse both my kitchen and living room as well as my hall to reach my toilet … I have suitably dim night lights on in each of these rooms and I often thus feel like a plane following an airfield’s landing lights as I land on towards the toilet seat (ps. At night it’s so much more comfortable sitting down) .

Sometimes as I go through this nightly routine, this sudden semi-awake light jolt, feeble as it may be,  triggers my little gray cells to come up with what I am convinced is quite a bright idea, but as I am not really awake and not much inclined top  picking up a pen … as if I even could find one.. I make no record of this bright idea and thus it always seems to fade away by the time I return to bed, and by morning it is totally forgotten. Mornings I often wonder whether or not I am not perhaps smarter (or even wiser) than I really seem to be, because though I always forget  what my nightly brilliance was about, I do still have a lingering feeling of having been terribly brilliant.

Except for this past night: all the way back to my bed as I retraced my flight path along my personal illuminated airfield, I continued to mull over my brilliant thought and then contentedly fell asleep still mulling over it. Perhaps that is why for the first time this morning I actually remembered what my nightly episode of brilliance was about.

My episode of brilliance was also, it seems to me, even a bit deep, but then as you might have guessed from the title of this blog … My Credo …  this night I had formulated something for myself that was by any definition necessarily deep, which does not say anything at all about its validity however: I will let you be the judge

Here is what I came up with last night at about two thirty in the morning as I landed onto the toilet:


  1. Murphy’s law is recursive
  2. There is no free lunch
  3. Whenever possible, be a mensch


 That’s it.

That’s what 68 years of life’s experience has taught me.

That’s the sum total of my wisdom (If I have any).

That’s my Credo.

Two visits to Gan Eden/Paradise/the Garden of Eden

Twice I have been in Gan Eden/ Paradise/the Garden of Eden … and it wasn’t because I flat-lined … and it wasn’t because I did drugs: The first time was when I was only about 5 years old, and the second time was when I was only about 11 years old.

I actually had no realization of this until I was well over 60. I had not just forgotten all about these two events, I had not until then even have any realization that I once had had such a deep experience … who knows then how these two “visits” there in my early childhood might have shaped my mature self? I had never even realized I had been there until just before my dotage.

One day a few years ago, my wife, who was terminally ill, asked me right out of the blue if I had any experience with Paradise or with the Garden of Eden … obvious what was on her mind of course … I immediately without even thinking about it answered yes, I had been. At that instant, and for the first time ever, those forgotten experiences entered my consciousness. I had what almost could be called a backwards déjà vu … a full blown eidetic vision. Strangely enough though, my recollection seemed totally matter of fact to me as I recounted it. (I am by nature very very down to earth, and not by any means given to flights of fancy, and I must admit, I even have an unfortunate tendency to scoff at those who do seem to have what I choose to call “spiritual” experiences.) But then to me these two “visits” to Gan Eden do not reverberate in me in the way that I image a spiritual experience must do. Quite on the contrary, emotionally or spiritually, if you want it, it feels just the same way as I would had I recalled a normal day at the beach when I was 5.

Apropos a day at the beach, it was right by the beach that I first entered the Garden of Eden. Right by the boardwalk on the Oostende beach there was an enclosed garden which once had belonged to some rich man, and one day I saw that the gate was open and I walked into Gan Eden. The second time was many years later in a totally different country, but again I walked into what had once been a rich man’s enclosed garden and entered Gan Eden… paradise.

Both times occurred one very beautiful summer’s day … could it be otherwise? Of course it could only have happened a beautiful day with the sun shining at its highest in the sky just after midday.

So, how was it? And why did I (and still do, without any hesitation, but also without any feelings of spirituality) claim that I had actually been to Paradise?

Both times I entered one of those gardens with lots of little cobblestone pathways and mazelike alleyways, little ponds, flower beds in full bloom and Greek statues (you know the type: asexual nudes in various positions) I had not just entered an enclosed garden … I had entered an unknown world, and each time I was utterly alone there. I was the only person present and no one had entered with me and there was no one else there before I entered (don’t ask me what made go in, I was normally an intrepid child and to this day I’m surprised I did it). I had left my world behind and had entered a magical kingdom (I think I now understand where Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter -and also Alice, of course – went to). Everything was so beautiful and so colorful all the colors were bright and the light was full of numous… how can I describe it? It was almost as if everything was more real than real (I was not and am still not much of a nature person and rarely if ever “gush” at a sundown) details and colors were super sharp hyper real and oh so evocative … Edward Hoppers landscapes come to mind … If you’ve ever dropped acid you might have had experienced a bit of the same, at least according to Aldous Huxley.

In short, that little boy that was me back then, twice had what I now realize were transcendental experiences … I must have then have been in Gan Eden or otherwise why did I say so without any hesitation when answering my wife’s question: I’m still convinced of the fact!

Strange isn’t it: I am such a prosaic person and yet I now know that I have twice in some way been touched by the transcendental.

Ps. Both times in the next summer I returned to these gardens alone and with others, and nothing … nada … I had just a year after almost forgotten what had been so special for me in these gardens.

Thoughts at the back of a Spanish church

Every time I enter or leave a church on the Camino I make point of looking at the bulletin board that usually hangs by the entrance and study what has been posted thereon. I also make a point of studying the brochures and other materials made available at the entrance of these churches. This has been a most edifying exercise and together with even just a cursory glance at the effigies, statues, altarpieces and other iconography I have been able to get a pretty good idea as to the tenor and practice of French and Spanish Catholicism and especially of the great difference between them.

For example, an experience I had in a church in Spain a very short time after I had left the Camino in France. As I left the church I had what in keeping with the ambiance might as well be called an epiphany: right then and there I found corroboration for what I had written in a previous blog concerning the differences between French and Spanish Catholicism, their church iconography and in the way they present Christianity to their congregations and the world in general

The Renaissance Alter of the church was an imposing and impressive and totally over the top: 10 meters by 30 meters tall intricately carved with bible stories and homilies and almost completely covered in in gold leaf. This type of alter is known as “plataresque” in that it truly would seem that they were made as carefully as if they were the works of goldsmiths,  It was not the first such alter I had seen, but it certainly was the most impressive.

My first thoughts, (having myself done some research into world trade history ) is that  the wealth here presented must almost certainly be derived from mines and plantations in the New World on the backs of slave Amerindian labor if not directly stolen from them, or from the  near monopoly the Spanish had on many trade items from the Americas, Africa and India; secondly in terms of economic history it is well known that all the gold silver and wealth that came from the Americas to Spain for some reason did not enrich Spanish Society or lead to development, and this altarpiece could be an indication as to why: wealth was sunk in religious and not in productive.

However this is not what led me to think of the tenor of Spanish Catholicism and where it differed from that in France. Neither was it the many effigies of the suffering Christ or sorrowing Mother Mary all over the walls, neither was it the glass case with a life-size effigy of Christ complete with thorn crown and “dried blood” on his hands and feet (this glass case had long wooden handles attached to it and once a year it carried around in processions

No, what got me started was that as we were leaving I noted a stack of small oblong cards on a table with the picture of a priest on it. It was of Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of OPUS DEI, and the little text that accompanied the picture praised the greatness of his devotion and his funding of the organization, and extoled the reader to follow his and the organization’s devotion to god and the Pope.  By itself this would certainly have piqued me, but now that it had not been so long since I had seen French churches my assumptions and theorizing concerning the differences were here categorically brought home to me as no textbook or article concerning how the Spanish churches is founded on unchanging roots and how they thereby dramatically differed from the present position of the French churches.

Almost every church I entered thereafter I noticed one or another version of this little colorful piece of propaganda (I use this word intentionally) sometimes accompanied with a picture of  Josemaría Escrivá alone and sometimes with a sugar-sweet tinted picture of Josemaría Escrivá  surrounded by children in the best Maoist/ Kim ill Sung style.

In many ways modern Spanish church history starts with Franco and ends with Franco (who knows though with the economic catastrophe Spain is going through today). Opus Dei had a natural place in “Franco’s church”. And the symbiotic relationship between the Franco regime and the Church depended on both parties retaining a shared vision of each other’s role in the destiny of Spain. Each was happy to cocoon the country in a nostalgic, imperial and Catholic past.

We tend to forget that Opus Dei is not only the powerful rich and extremely conservative organization of “The Da Vinci Code” infamy, but in Spain under Franco it was an extremely active and effective on the ground organization whose main project was to influence what and how Spanish school children learnt in school in order to have total control with the development of the Catholic loyalties and sensibilities … in which they were extremely successful and their control extended to almost all private as well as public schools w until well after Franco died… (Today they are experiencing a renaissance after the many years they were out in the cold when socialist sensibilities and pedagogy dominated the Public school system in the post-Franco era, and in the past few years more and more private schools have again come under the sway of Opus Dei)

The symbiotic relationship between the Franco regime and the Church depended on both parties retaining a shared vision of each other’s role in the destiny of Spain. Each was happy to cocoon the country in a nostalgic, imperial and Catholic past. French churches on the other hand look to the future, moreover whereas it seems to me that there never really has been any modernizing influence in Spain, the French have in all aspects of how both content and how they present their “message” endeavored to be modern and relevant to modern Catholics. There is a simple historical reason why and how this has occurred: The French Revolution. The French revolution not only saw the nobility as the enemy of the people, but it also rebelled against the clergy who were seen as being intimately allied with the nobility in oppressing the people. Much as also happened centuries later in the Russian revolution (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose),  priests were killed or quite publicly and quite literally defrocked, and Churches were turned into  granaries, stables … you get the picture. Afterwards the church had to reinvent itself as the protector of the poor: a combination of active priest, monks and nuns, went out into the world, not to save souls, but to succor the poor. A sort of resurgence of the female principle manifested by saintly ecstatic contacts with the divine by young women engendered also contributed to engendering an approachable people’s church.

Spanish Catholicism was born and developed in a constant battle with “foreign” elements who had either conquered or dominated Spanish culture especially in Andalus up until 1492 also known as the Reconquista (“reconquest”)i.e. the period (781 years) between the first Islamic invasion in 711 and the fall of Granada,  the last Islamic state on the peninsula, in 1492.

The Reconquista corresponds to, and is named for, a period of expansion of the Christian states of the peninsula at the expense of the Muslim states: I am of course referring to the Moorish conquest and Jewish influences especially in southern Spain. What resulted is to my mind a more devotional inward-looking attitude towards Christianity with an almost fundamentalist fervor.

But then personality differences to of the two otherwise related cultures “ Sangre and Arena” (blood and sand) fierce independence, masculine in Spain, and the female mother of god, La Virge, succoring and protecting the independent farmer. Most likely it is neither/nor and as well as synthesis of them all

French churches are decorated with (sometimes over the top) statues and paintings of the Virgin. Churches are also adorned with statues of “good” and saintly priests “bon homes” and monks and of the two or three ecstatic young girls that had been in personal contact with the Virgin or her son in the 19th century and before, most famously of Lourdes (it worked for the French in the in the 15th century i.e. Joan of Arc, so why not?). Most often there is a statue of St Roche dressed as a pilgrim … and in fact many a church in France on the pilgrim trails proudly emphasize their association with the Camino, not only by their iconography, but often by offering a devotional or resting place somewhere in or attached to the church for passing pilgrims sometimes with free tea and cakes.

The passion of Christ and the of the church is thereby made more personal and individually relevant here and now, today, and churches are friendly welcoming appearance. At the back of the churches instead of the Spanish admonitions to be a devout Christian, there are innumerable folders and magazines encouraging people to be  good Christians who are concerned with the welfare of the disadvantaged in the world , or with guides as to how to be a modern christen (catholic), father, husband wife, mother child … often these magazines have a cover-picture reminiscent of a one of those multiracial Benetton advertisements. Innumerable enlightening self-help Christian lectures and courses are on offer all through the year.

Every French village and town has a centrally placed statue commemorating the fallen in the first and Second World War, as well as the fallen in the French colonial wars in Indochina and North Africa. This statue always is adorned with tablets listing the fallen. When going through a town whenever possible I always make it point to look at these moments and without fail I feel a great sadness and an understanding for the French. So many men have died in such a short period of time, especially in the First World War. They left whole villages bereft of their men, and often you can see both two three and even four men listed who have the same family name: are they brothers, fathers and sons, uncle and nephew, all dead in one cataclysm? What then of their Women left behind? Who was left to carry on working the fields? These lists are almost always also to be found on marble tablet in the back of village churches. I have seen none of this in Spain: the closest I have seen in Spain is a marble tablet over the entrance of a church commemorating the fallen in the “crusade against communism” (direct quote) i.e. the Spanish revolution in the 1930’s.

Another very visible difference between the way Christianity is practiced in the two countries can be observed anywhere and everywhere in the Spanish or French countryside:  In Spain every little village or even hamlet has a church and often you can from a hilltop see small clusters of houses spread in the landscape each with a church spire in their midst. This is not so in France where hamlets and smaller villages rarely have a church. On the other hand when walking in Spain – at least the part of Spain traversed by the Camino Frances – there are few wayside shrines or crosses, whereas in France almost every crossroad has a stone or iron cross or little shrine or most often also an effigy of the Virgin. The types of cross their shape and the material they are made of most often reflects local and historical factor (for example the many Celtic stone crosses) and each area has its own aesthetic. At the entrance of most villages in France can be found a large (sometimes very large) cross or shrine to the Virgin or to Bernadette or St. Germaine.

Once in a mountainous region in southern France (on the Via Tolosana /Chemin de Arles) where we stayed the night we noted that we were of the grid with our mobile phones and as it was imperative for  one of us to make a call we “complained” to our hosts. Whereupon they calmly and with only the slightest twinkle in their eyes told us “We always go just outside town up to the Cross on the hill when we want to get in touch”. We tried doing this and instantly got in touch with our telephone.

What I can read from this “topological” manifestation of differences in Christian practice is that in Spain all “contact” with the divine must be(and still is) mediated by the clergy, while in France devotion is more an on the ground communal manifestation …everyone( and anyone … even a non-Christian like me) can get in touch by going to the cross.




A Camino Church confession

I have a confession to make: when walking the Camino, every time I enter a Catholic church I have an adverse physical reaction … this is not because I am Jewish, it is not psychosomatic  …  I emphatically protest …  it is a natural physiological reaction. Look, I am walking along 3-4 kms an hour from early morning to late afternoon, thus often subjugated to the midday heat … I am hot and very very sweaty – my tee-shirt and cap are often drenched. I then walk into a church which is 10-20 degrees colder than the air outside … it’s as if I entered into my butchers walk-in fridge … my wet hot stomach just cramps up on me … it actually hurts … and this often results in immediate flatulence. … No disrespect intended … almost every time I enter a church on the Camino I have to fart … very embarrassing if the priest or deacon or some other kind person approaches me to make pleasant conversation or show me around … get the picture??

My only defense is that, as opposed to almost all other pilgrims I have met or walked with, I at least from time to time do enter an interesting church (albeit often cajoled by G.) and I almost always go away having learned something and/or having had an aesthetic experience, my flatulence notwithstanding (see my next blog on Churches in France and Spain)

In defense of the French – a very personal view of Camino companions

When entering a bar, cafe’ or albuerge filled with fellow pilgrims, one almost always experiences raucous bonhomie where everyone is talking, gesticulating,  laughing together in an at times bewildering number of languages and improbable combinations thereof. We are all communicating together as best we can and having a lot of fun doing it.

Nevertheless, just as often as not there will be a lone individual or little group who do not participate in this communication free-for all, and just as often than not,  they will be French. All over the world I (and, I am sure, many others) have experienced similar situations where the French do not seem to communicate or participate. This has given them the (undeserved) reputation for being unfriendly, elitist, standoffish, or what have you. Admittedly Paris waiters are amongst the most snooty in the world, and have not changed much from Mark Twain’s time when  “In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.”

This is also definitely not the case once you leave Paris and travel out in the country as we have done for several years on the various French pilgrim routes … people do make an effort to understand my far from acceptable French, and do make an effort to speak slowly and clearly when speaking with me, regularly evaluating if I can follow what  they are saying.  Moreover the French when you observe them in their native habitat are a very voluble and even inclusive people when they meet someone that speaks their language  and lots of talking and  lots of laughter can be heard from the moment they get together. Need I add that the French – of all ages – are also amongst the most courteous people I’ve met up with.  What really hit the nail on the head for me in corroborating my own opinion of them, is that the other day  I read that in an opinion poll of airline passengers concerning whether they always engage in conversation with their fellow passengers, 43% of the French respondents said yes, they would – they topped the list as being the most inclined to initiate a conversation (you want to know who was least inclined to engage in conversation with fellow passengers? the Brits  … see list below)

Let me start with everyone else … everyone that is not French, that is.

Let’s start with their diametrical opposite, the  Italians… a French word here, and English word there, maybe some Spanish, a few hand movements and some Italian I learned from Fellini  (and mafia) movies, and we have a conversation going, laughing communicating … bonding! (Once, some years back in Italy, I had gotten on the wrong train, and when the Italian ticket collector, who knew no other language than his own, came by, the resulting conversation between he and I was pure opera buffo: after his initial exclamation of “Mama Mia” (I kid you not) at my mistake, by utilizing this method of communication Italians are so good at, together we got my travel situation quite sorted out)

Germans, ach Germans, so easy to communicate with – especially if there are beers on the table … they speak some English and other languages, but if you can speak German with them there is no end to the possibilities for gemütlichkeit, and they are quite effusive in their praise of you fractured German. What I especially like about them is that you both can have a raucous time together with them and still  intermingle it with quite serious conversation. I know Germans have the worst of reputations –

– but as traveling companions and fellow pilgrims they have few equals. They also are good hikers with the best equipment and their Camino guide books are second to none (ordnung muss sein) and they have more than once rescued me from a wrong turn.

Any one coming from an English speaking country should have a distinct advantage when it comes being able to mingle now that English has become the new Lingua Franca. The Brits, are my favorite, especially for their wit and humor, with the Canadian coming in a close second because of their unique combination of American openness and forthrightness and (I must say it) almost European sensibilities ( this goes double for the Québécois). Americans, especially the young, are often culturally very innocent and seem to take everything quite literally and therefore to my mind they are not as comfortably participating in light-hearted Camino banter. Though Americans are always outgoing, open and forthright, I sometimes detect a sort of hesitancy, which, with my own American background, I interpret as a sort of suspicion of the motives of others – I am most probably wrong, but …

The Spanish pilgrims, who are actually in fact our hosts on the Spanish Camino, also seem reserved vis-à-vis non-Spanish speakers, but quite voluble amongst themselves. Yet they are more than willing to talk to anyone else who knows a few Spanish words – in fact in this respect I have found the Spanish to be very similar to the Italians, and I have been able to negotiate in Spain (off the Camino) with the most atrocious Spanish, combined with a little French, a little English and some hand moments.

Finally I would like to mention the Koreans. We have met up with quite a few young female Koreans, most often traveling in groups of three or more. They are delightful to watch. Young, pretty, and energetic, highly organized, with the latest gear (including Samsung tablets of course), they are a giggly bunch obviously having a great time, and though they speak little of any other language, they are quite approachable and communicative in their own way. I also noted that of all the pilgrims we have ever met, they are the ones who seem not only to simply enjoy their Camino most, they also seem to eat better and healthier than any of us others. They have not at all abandoned the ceremony of preparing and eating a proper meal together, and always combine lots of proteins, carbs, fruits and juices (they do no ignore wine) in almost all of the meals they as a group prepare – they do tend to prepare and eat their elaborate breakfasts at an unholy early hour though, and the noise of their preparations and packing can be quite unnerving.

So what is it with the French?

It’s a big country with large population and a long history of fostering a very uniform and ubiquitous “high” culture with a very uniform school system: any potential outside cultural influence, be it literature or films, are immediately translated into French and often thereby “Frenchified. Thus, they really have no motivation what so ever to acquaint themselves with any other language (or culture) – once when I asked an American if he had read an important work in our profession (anthropology) that had as yet not been translated into English, he answered:  ”If it is truly important it would have been translated, hence it is not important” and the French would most probably with equal validity say the same. So, one reason they seem so insular is that they have really never been subjected to any foreign linguistic influence. Moreover, their uniform school system ensures that all native French speakers (everywhere in the world actually), speak a more or less standard (high) French and thus are not as accustomed as people in other countries are to understanding regional and ethnic dialects and variations to their language. Again, just like the Americans, the French never really developed an ability to negotiate in foreign cultures and languages (including internally, within their own country …).

Their mono-high-culture also sets a high premium on clarity in argument and respect for intellectual prowess expressed through the written and the spoken language. These two factors (mono-culture and a tendency towards casuistry) seem to me to be the most immediate reasons why the French seem to be so French when they are étrangers. I do think, however the link is not necessarily so direct in explaining why they do not at all participate, and why they seem so unapproachable – which they are not.

The French are great conversationalists, they love to talk together and their culture and school system puts a high premium on the art of conversation. Eating and conversation (they do go well together, don’t they) have both in France been raised to an art form. The French dilemma abroad or when meeting someone who does not speak at least a passable French, is that they are almost incapable to communicate freely and unselfconsciously with such persons. And not being able to communicate freely, means that the conversation they could engage in would be totally inelegant and not very artful – thus it’s not worth their time … it’s better to stay silent!



The most talkative nations

(percent of those responding that they will alwasystart a conversation with their fellow airline passengers)

1. Frenchmen: 43 %
2. Spaniards: 36 %
3. Italians: 33 %
4. Russians: 25 %
5. Turks: 24 %
6.  Germans: 22 %
7. Swedes: 22 %
8. Dutch: 19 %
9. Danes: 18 %
10. Brits: 16 %