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We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are

Anaïs Nin

Nothing on earth can make up for the loss of one who has loved you.

Selma Lagerlöf

The Economist Espresso via e-mail for Monday October 4th

Deep impact: it’s time to ditch the small talkEspresso ImageImagine waiting in a queue or for a bus, when a stranger sidles up to you and genially asks: “What is your life’s greatest regret?” If that thought fills you with horror, read on. According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people secretly crave deeper conversations with strangers.
In experiments with 1,800 people, pairs of strangers were prompted to discuss topics either shallow (“Seen anything good on telly lately?”) or deep (“When was the last time you cried?”). Before-and-after surveys revealed that all conversations, but especially deeper ones, were less awkward than people expected. They were also more enjoyable and aroused a greater sense of connectedness than stock chit-chat.
Psychologists say people underestimate how interested in them strangers are, and should delve deeper than the usual natter about football or the weather. So the next time you break the ice with a stranger, consider using a sledgehammer instead of a pick.
Espresso Chart

Deep impact: it’s time to ditch the small talk PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES  Imagine waiting in a queue or for a bus, when a stranger sidles up to you and genially asks: “What is your life’s greatest regret?” If that thought fills you with horror, read on. According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people secretly crave deeper conversations with strangers. In experiments with 1,800 people, pairs of strangers were prompted to discuss topics either shallow (“Seen anything good on telly lately?”) or deep (“When was the last time you cried?”). Before-and-after surveys revealed that all conversations, but especially deeper ones, were less awkward than people expected. They were also more enjoyable and aroused a greater sense of connectedness than stock chit-chat. Psychologists say people underestimate how interested in them strangers are, and should delve deeper than the usual natter about football or the weather. So the next time you break the ice with a stranger, consider using a sledgehammer instead of a pick.

The Economist Espresso via e-mail for Monday October 4th – greg.rafferty@gmail.com – Gmail

Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.

Iris Murdoch

Losing native languages is painful. But they can be recovered | The Economist

Losing native languages is painful. But they can be recovered In “Memory Speaks”, Julie Sedivy explores both experiences

Losing native languages is painful. But they can be recovered | The Economist

Losing native languages is painful. But they can be recovered

In “Memory Speaks”, Julie Sedivy explores both experiences


Jan 29th 2022

Memory is unfaithful. As William James, a pioneering psychologist of the 19th and early 20th centuries, observed: “There is no such thing as mental retention, the persistence of an idea from month to month or year to year in some mental pigeonhole from which it can be drawn when wanted. What persists is a tendency to connection.”

Julie Sedivy quotes James in a poignant context in her new book “Memory Speaks”. She was whisked from Czechoslovakia with her family at the age of two, settling eventually in Montreal. In her new home she became proficient in French and English, and later became a scholar in the psychology of language. But she nearly lost her first language, Czech, before returning to it in adulthood. Her book is at once an eloquent memoir, a wide-ranging commentary on cultural diversity and an expert distillation of the research on language learning, loss and recovery.

Her story is sadly typical. Youngsters use the child’s plastic brain to learn the language of an adoptive country with what often seems astonishing speed. Before long it seems to promise acceptance and opportunity, while their parents’ language becomes irrelevant or embarrassing, something used only by old people from a faraway place. The parents’ questions in their home language are answered impatiently in the new one, the children coming to regard their elders as out-of-touch simpletons who struggle to complete basic tasks.

For their part, meanwhile, the parents cannot lead the subtle, difficult conversations that guide their offspring as they grow. As the children’s heritage language atrophies, the two generations find it harder and harder to talk about anything at all.

Children often yearn desperately to fit in. Often this can mean not only learning the new language, but avoiding putting off potential friends with the old. Children, alas, can also be little bigots. At the age of five, researchers have found, they already express a preference for hypothetical playmates of the same race as them. They also prefer friends who speak only their language over those who speak a second one as well.

In theory, keeping a language robust once uprooted from its native environment is possible. But that requires the continuance of a rich and varied input throughout a child’s development—not just from parents, but through activities, experiences, books and media. These are often not available in countries of arrival. Parents are themselves pressed to speak in the new language to their children, despite evidence that their ungrammatical and halting efforts are not much help.

But a dimming language may not be as profoundly lost as speakers fear when, as adults, they visit elderly relatives or their home countries and can barely produce a sentence. Though the language may not be as retrievable as it once was, with time and exposure it can be relearned far faster than if starting from scratch.

This depends, naturally, on the length of time someone spent speaking their first language as a child. Those who are older when they emigrate may keep their languages without great effort (though none is entirely safe from attrition). Those who leave at younger ages may find their grasp of grammar weakening, but will still have a large dormant vocabulary that can be reawakened, and are likely to speak with a near-native accent when they do. Most remarkably, even children adopted across international borders in the first years of life, before they can properly speak themselves, show enhanced ability to learn sounds that are native to their birth-country languages, after not hearing them for most of their lives.

Many bilingual people report feeling that they have different personalities in their different languages; overwhelmingly they say that their first language is the one most imbued with emotion. It is scarcely surprising that losing a mother-tongue leaves behind an ache like that of a phantom limb.

The official pressure on newcomers to abandon their old languages used to be much worse. Today, some democracies with long histories of immigration try to be more accommodating. Schools may bolster pupils’ multilingualism by, for example, getting them to write stories or poems in their home languages and explain them to the class. Such symbolic support shows the children that they are not considered divided souls or outsiders, but full members of their new communities—and ones blessed with a precious gift.

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.

Alfred Adler

How to Talk to Strangers IRL – The Atlantic

How to Talk to StrangersThe health benefits are clear. The political benefits are newly relevant.By James Hamblin

How to Talk to Strangers IRL – The Atlantic

How to Talk to Strangers

The health benefits are clear. The political benefits are newly relevant.By James Hamblin

Nicolas Pollock / The Atlantic

AUGUST 25, 2016SHARE

Next time you enter an elevator, walk in and keep facing the back wall. If you stay that way, in my experience, people will laugh or ask if you’re okay. (That’s an opportunity, if you want, to say you would love for someone to define “okay.”)

Standing this way breaks unstated rules of how we’re supposed to behave in elevators. Detaching from expectations gives people an excuse to talk, to acknowledge one another’s humanity. Absent a break in the order, the expectation is silence.

(Of course, you can make a quick joke—my favorite is, if the elevator is stopping frequently, “What is this, the local train?”—and expect a modicum of laughter. But even if the joke goes over well, the rule seems to be that you can’t say it more than once in the same ride.)

The celebrated Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman saw elevators as microcosms of society. Described by the Times Literary Supplement as “a public private eye,” Goffman covertly studied people as they rode in elevators in 1963. He noted that the rule upon entering seemed to be to give some brief visual notice of other passengers, and then to withdraw attention, not making eye contact again at any point. (Though 35 percent of people added one or two glances to the initial look.)

Goffman called this civil inattention. That is, we act civilized toward one another—not harming anyone or blocking their paths or shouting in an enclosed space—but also not attentive. This goes on today, wherever people might be described as alone together.

“That’s the principle that’s operational when people aren’t talking to each other on the subway,” Kio Stark, the author of the forthcoming book When Strangers Meet, explained to me. “You can pretend you’re there by yourself.”

And this is good and necessary at times, especially in a city as bereft of solitude as New York. But it can be overdone. As Stark argues from the top of the book, “This if nothing else: Talking to strangers is good for you.”

Her work appealed to me because I’ve suggested as much in a mediocre piece called “Always Talk to Strangers.” That was based on a study that found that people who considered their neighbors to be friendly and trustworthy were less likely to have heart attacks. Other public-health research has shown improved moods among commuters who chat on the subway, and happiness and creativity among people who talk to strangers.

Kio Stark always has and does. She was born in a New York family and doesn’t think it’s rare. Her reasons are many, but among the most compelling is essentially boredom. She writes that a stranger-encounter is “an exquisite interruption” to whatever expectations you had about your day. Go to work, and you know who you’ll see. Hang out with friends, and you know what to expect. But engage with a stranger, and at least something interesting might happen.

“It’s not only about novelty,” she added when we spoke. “It’s about feeling connected to my block, my neighborhood.”

At a grander scale, in an increasingly polarized society, it can require concerted effort to break out of sociocultural strata and online algorithms that are constantly pairing us with like-minded people. (Don’t know anyone who’s voting for Trump? That’s on you.)

Beyond the promise of a unique and enlightening experience, there is also the little jolt of breaking a rule. Of course, not a rule rule, like harassment or assault, but an unstated social rule. It’s up to us to know when and how to break those rules in ways that don’t unduly offend or put other people out. That’s the hard part. So she suggests exercises to start. Figure out what makes you uncomfortable, and target ways to get over those. A good one for most people is just to do an exercise where you walk around your neighborhood and just say “hi” to everyone you see.

Once you’ve mastered that, try having an actual interaction (not necessarily a conversation). That usually works well by doing what Stark calls “triangulation.” That’s sociology-speak for remarking on something external to both you and the stranger—something you’re both experiencing or observing. Like the weather, but less boring. Commenting on a shared experience tends to be less confrontational than making a remark about the other person directly, however flattering (read: creepy).

Willing listeners and your correspondent in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (Nicolas Pollock / The Atlantic)

Once you’ve mastered saying hi and triangulating, Stark suggests advanced strategies like asking people profound existential questions, or getting lost in a neighborhood where you have to genuinely ask people for directions. And, before doing that, embrace the sensation of being “the stranger” who doesn’t belong. She describes that as “emotionally risky.”

So I didn’t try that one. But I did attempt some others, and you can watch them here in today’s captivating episode of If Our Bodies Could Talk.https://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/497309If Our Bodies Could Talk

One fun behind-the-scenes fact is that I met a guy named Enrique in the park, and he was there practicing on his brand new, red guitar-kelele. (It’s barely larger than a ukelele, and has six strings like a guitar.) We chatted for a while, and I asked if I could play it. He kindly agreed. I played for a long time. I played all of “Stairway to Heaven.” I was sort of testing the waters of his politeness, which were apparently boundless. Anyway, we had to cut this footage because our legal team told us that someone already owns the performance rights to “Stairway to Heaven.”

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read – London Daily

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read – London Daily

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read

Nate White“Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England wrote the following response:A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers. And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface. Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul. And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist. Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that. He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat. He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead. There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

• Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.

• You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss. After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum. God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid. He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: ‘My God… what… have… I… created?’ If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

Travels With Boji: Istanbul’s Commuter Dog – The Atlantic

Travels With Boji: Istanbul’s Commuter Dog

Travels With Boji: Istanbul’s Commuter Dog – The Atlantic

Boji, a street dog living in Istanbul, Turkey, has become a popular sight on the city’s subways, ferries, trams, and buses. Chris McGrath, a photographer with Getty Images, recently joined Boji as he made his rounds, during which he can travel as much as 30 kilometers a day. “Since noticing the dog’s movements,” McGrath says, “Istanbul Municipality officials began tracking his commutes via a microchip and a phone app. Most days he will pass through at least 29 metro stations and take at least two ferry rides. He has learned how and where to get on and off the trains and ferries.”HINTS: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

  • A dog lies on the floor of a subway car, surrounded by commuters who largely ignore him.Boji, an Istanbul street dog, rides a subway train in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog sits in a seat on a tram among other commuters.Boji rides Kadiköy’s historic tram on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog stands on the ramp of a docked passenger ferry.Boji boards a ferry to Beşiktaş on October 21, 2021, in Istanbul. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog on a ferry looks out through a railing as commuters take photos of him and the scenery.People watch as Boji rides a ferry on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog rests on a soft bench on a passenger ferry.Time for a rest: Boji finds a seat aboard a ferry to Beşiktaş on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog sleeps on the bench of a ferry.Boji naps on the ferry to Beşiktaş on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog walks through a tunnel in a subway station.Boji trots through a subway station to catch a train on October 21, 2021, in Istanbul. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • The tail and back legs of a dog are seen passing through subway station turnstiles.Boji passes through subway-station turnstiles on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog stands on a subway station platform, awaiting a train.Boji stands on a subway platform waiting for a train to arrive on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog waits to board a subway train.Boji allows other commuters to disembark while waiting to board a subway train on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog drinks from a bowl inside a subway station.Boji takes a drink from bowls provided for stray animals inside the Kadiköy subway station, before catching a train on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog lies on the floor of a tram, surrounded by commuters.Boji rides Kadiköy’s historic tram on October 21, 2021, in Istanbul. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog walks on a sidewalk with two passenger ferries docked in the background.Boji rounds a fence corner at the Kadiköy ferry station on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog lies in the sun on a ferry deck.Boji rests in the sun on a ferry to Beşiktaş on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog runs around a corner in a subway station.In the passageways of a subway station, Boji runs to catch a train on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A dog runs alongside an arriving subway train.Boji chases an arriving subway train on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • A man pats a dog that lies on the floor of a subway train.A man pats Boji while riding a subway train on October 21, 2021. #Chris McGrath / Getty
  • Caregivers brush and check a dog in an animal shelter.Boji is groomed and given a medical check by staff at an Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality animal shelter on October 8, 2021. #

Living Alone in the U.S. Is Harder Than It Should Be – The Atlantic

The Hidden Costs of Living Alone In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people. By Joe Pinsker

Living Alone in the U.S. Is Harder Than It Should Be – The Atlantic

The Hidden Costs of Living Alone

In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.By Joe Pinsker

A place setting for one: A light green plate on a green woven placemat with a knife and fork sitting on a plaid napkin. A half-full glass of wine sits by the plate.
David Steets / laif / Redux

OCTOBER 20, 2021SHARE

If you were to look under the roofs of American homes at random, it wouldn’t take long to find someone who lives alone. By the Census Bureau’s latest count, there are about 36 million solo dwellers, and together they make up 28 percent of U.S. households.

Even though this percentage has been climbing steadily for decades, these people are still living in a society that is tilted against them. In the domains of work, housing, shopping, and health care, much of American life is a little—and in some cases, a lot—easier if you have a partner or live with family members or housemates. The number of people who are inconvenienced by that fact grows every year.

Those who live alone, to be clear, are not lonely and miserable. Research indicates that, young or old, single people are more social than their partnered peers. Bella DePaulo, the author of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, reeled off to me some of the pleasures of having your own space: “the privacy, the freedom to arrange your life and your space just the way you want it—you get to decide when to sleep, when to get up, what you eat, when you eat, what you watch on Netflix, how you set the thermostat.”

The difficulties of living alone tend to lie more on a societal level, outside the realm of personal decision making. For one thing, having a partner makes big and small expenditures much more affordable, whether it’s a down payment on a house, rent, day care, utility bills, or other overhead costs of daily life. One recent study estimated that, for a couple, living separately is about 28 percent more expensive than living together.

These efficiencies are an inherent feature of sharing costs with other people, but the barriers to living alone, for those who want to, would be much lower if housing (and health care, and education) weren’t so expensive. Moreover, the types of housing that are most commonly available for one person typically privilege privacy over togetherness, but the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. DePaulo has studied communities where single residents have their own spaces, but also plentiful shared areas with “the possibility of running into other people.” If you need to, say, move heavy furniture or get a ride somewhere in an emergency, your neighbors are easy to reach. More such options would make solo life easier.

Many who live by themselves are effectively penalized at work too. “Lots of people I interviewed complained that their managers presumed they had extra time to stay at the office or take on extra projects because they don’t have family at home,” Eric Klinenberg, the author of the 2012 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone and a sociologist at NYU, told me. “Some said that they were not compensated fairly either, because managers gave raises to people based on the impression that they had more expenses, for child care and so on.”

And if many workers who live alone end up making less money, as consumers they face less favorable pricing options than other shoppers. Buying larger quantities of food at the grocery store is usually cheaper, but as DePaulo pointed out, people who live alone might not get through perishable items quickly enough. (She wishes more stores would let people buy only as much of something as they please, instead of locking them into certain packaging sizes.) Even when a consumer good such as paper towels can’t spoil, people with a small home might not have the space for a stockpile.

The bias against solo consumers runs deep: Recipes are rarely written for a single diner, and DePaulo said that she has heard from single people who have had trouble booking restaurant reservations for one. Also, some aspects of travel, particularly lodging, are much more expensive, per person, for single people. These all may seem like small annoyances, but in practice they are regular reminders that American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.

More concerning, some health-care protocols are essentially built on the assumption that a patient lives with someone who can support them. Certain medical procedures require patients to be dropped off or taken home by someone who could stay with them. A friend can fill this role for people who live alone, but they may not want to make a burdensome request or share sensitive information about their health. In the Facebook group that DePaulo created for single people, some members have reported paying a driver from a ride-hailing service extra to pose as a friend or just forgoing a procedure entirely.

And people who live alone don’t always get to take full advantage of government policies. For instance, the Family and Medical Leave Act, a (fairly meager) law that protects some workers’ jobs if they take unpaid leave to look after a loved one, covers care only for spouses, children, and parents. A person who lives alone and doesn’t have a spouse might want to look after a sibling or close friend, but the law doesn’t cover that.

According to the Pew Research Center, the share of American adults who aren’t married and don’t live with a romantic partner has also been growing, having jumped from 29 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2019. Many of these people live with others, such as their parents or other relatives, and some of these disadvantages apply to this group as well, depending on whom they share a home with. They may not be able to get a ride to the doctor from a homebound older relative, or may get treated differently at work if they don’t have a child. Some of them might want to live alone, but can’t afford to do so.

And many single people, whether they live alone or with others, constantly face the stigma associated with not being partnered. “It’s oppressive, always getting pitied,” DePaulo said. “People have bought into the ideology that having someone is better—[that] the more natural, normal, superior way of being is being coupled or having a family.”

She sees this norm in the political rhetoric around virtuous, “hardworking families,” and thinks that this cultural default can to some extent be blamed for the ways in which American society has been slow to adapt to people who are single or live alone. She also attributes the slowness to “cultural lag”: In the future, lots of Americans are going to live alone—tens of millions already do—and eventually, society will, with hope, catch up.