Column: Merry Christmas21 December 2009 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
It’s that time of the year again in The Netherlands, the results of the vote for The Word of the Year have just been announced. And the winner is: unfriend, which was also selected by the New Oxford American Dictionary as Word of the Year.
Unfriend means: to get rid of friends by removing them from your friends or contacts lists on social networking sites. Interestingly most of the time a negative word comes out on top, this year the runners up were ‘Swine Flu’ (which should be disqualified because it consists of two words) and ‘Mortgage Misery’ (sorry, this is one word in Dutch). They reflect a true Annus Horribilis.
My own personal experience of unfriending ties it to a certain character in one of my novels. Or, to put it more accurately, it reminds me of someone who thinks he appears in one of my novels.
Unfriending is a verb you have to do something to achieve the intended result. Until now my latest novel Engel has led to the loss of just one friend. However, on a far more positive note, through Engel I have been reintroduced to many friends that I had lost contact with.
You can unfriend in many ways. Last week I was on a quest to collect enough small change before we would start selling Engel at the launch event. In the process I may have unfriended the shopkeepers in the provincial town of A.
It was a novel task: how to generate enough small change? Well, this was my approach: I went to the nearby supermarket and paid for just a two litre bottle of Coca Cola with a 50 euro note. ‘Please give me my change in five euro notes,’ I requested.
My next action was to purchase a newspaper and pay with a ten euro note, followed by buying two deep-fried balls of dough (oliebol in Dutch, a sort of donut, a traditional Dutch sweet eaten at this time of the year) with a 20 euro note, even though I didn’t fancy eating them at all at that point.
This continued for a while and so you can imagine the growing number of disappointed shopkeepers I left in my wake.
Suddenly I thought of a strange meeting that happened long ago. Out of the blue someone wanted to befriend me.
I happened in the bookshop of The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank in London. I was looking for poetry. It was the day I first became acquainted with Philip Larkin’s poems, his collection ‘The North Ship’ to be precise.
A man appeared next to me. He looked closely at the Larkin book I was examining and concluded: ‘You are a poet.’ OK, I had in fact just begun to write my first poems, but how was he to know?!
He introduced himself as Ivor Cutler. I immediately thought this sounded like ivory cutlery and I would discover later that the pun was intentional. After Ivor Cutler (1923-2006) – Scottish poet, songwriter and satirist – died, they indeed found a complete ivory cutlery set at his home.
This aside, Ivor Cutler did give me his business card. You have to remember that the Swine Flu was still an unknown phenomenon of the future, yet on this card it said: ‘Befriend a bacterium’. Before I could say anything in return, he had disappeared.
Going back to the Word of the Year competition, it did throw up some magnificent examples, such as the ‘Oops Centre’. This is located near the top and along the walls that divide the frontal lobes.
It shows heightened activity when someone makes a mistake, and determines if someone is able to learn from their mistakes. I do hope that the person who believes he appears in my novel has a temporarily disabling lump in this area.
This is the season of making ‘Most Popular of the Year’ lists. For example, in The Netherlands the most popular name for boys this year is Daan and for girls it is Emma.
The fact of whether you consider a name to be beautiful or not is often related to a real person. If you loathe a particular person you often dislike his name, even when this name appears in quite a different context. The reverse is also true of course.
Some people are given names that create an instant association. Belgium apparently is home to a lady called Doremi Fasol. It would be great if she could meet up with Mr Latido.
In the United States lives a lady called Mary Christmas. Imagine throughout the year whenever she introduces herself she indeed wishes you a Merry Christmas. Actually this is much to be preferred over Season’s Greetings which is used more and more.
What does it mean? It’s a disgrace, I really hate these words. I'd much rather befriend a bacterium.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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We are pleased to announce that Yugoslav Requiem has been acquired by the Poetry Library
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