Emigration Lessons About Human Nature

From Leinster to Flanders — being an Irish expatriate

I had been thinking about moving to Belgium for quite a while, but the decision to really do it was made in an instant. The thought of the hassles of emigrating over Christmastime didn’t even occur to me. I just kept thinking about how stifled I felt in Dublin, and how much I wanted an adventure. It’s not that I wanted a new life, really. I just had to get out of my surroundings.

Two months in, I’ve discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to move from one EU country to another. I had been under the impression that as an Irish person I could just leave and live wherever in Europe I wanted — which, due to the language barriers and it not being North America, had never truly appealed to me until now.

The Certificate of Celibacy

I was, of course, terribly, terribly wrong about it being easy. My forms still haven’t been processed yet. They’re up in Brussels somewhere. That was one of the first things I learned about living here in Belgium: they really do love their red tape. I even had to go up to the Irish Embassy in Brussels to get a letter that confirmed that I was an unmarried woman. The name of this letter (which cost €40 by the way) roughly translates as a Certificate of Celibacy.

In English, this ‘celibacy’ of mine isn’t the right word to use, but in French, and more so in Dutch, it doesn’t seem to have the nuances of the word in English — it just means you’re unmarried, really. This minimalist approach to language is the second thing I learned about Belgium by living here.


In English, there are so many words to describe good food. In Dutch they usually just use lekker. It’s on all the food ads, from billboards to TV commercials, and was the first word I learned to pronounce properly.

Other words are the same. If you’re feeling bad, you’re slecht. If the weather is stormy, rainy, cold or just plain horrible, the umbrella word is also slecht. You could be feeling horrible, nasty, or even downright ghastly and the word would still be slecht. At first I didn’t like this not one bit — and then it made me realise something about

  1. English as a language and
  2. Human beings as living creatures.

What I learned about English as a language

English is a big monster. It gobbles up other languages, spits out the words it doesn’t feel it needs, and keeps the ones that do. Banana, for example, comes from Wolof, a Niger-Congo language spoken in Senegal and Gambia and other countries in West Africa. Penguin (somewhat amazingly) comes from Welsh (an Indo-European language spoken in the UK region of Wales).

It absorbs phrasing patterns from other languages as well. This is how we end up with the diverse differences between Hiberno-English and American-English, for example.

Melvin Bragg argues in The Adventure of English that this is how English scrambled its way into being a dominant international means of communication. Rather like the Catholic Church, it just fit itself in with the ways and traditions of the places it found itself so that its presence wouldn’t seem so threatening (until it was too late).

What I learned about human beings

Language is a complex thing. It shifts around like water and can be difficult to get a solid answer from. Pet in English is a domestic animal you keep in your house, but in Dutch a pet is a hat.

There are even differences within the same language, as I’m sure you’ve noticed even if you didn’t know you have. Words are pronounced differently from place to place. Flanders, where I live now, is a region of four principal dialects of Dutch: BrabantianEast Flemish,West Flemish, and Limburgish.

The crossover of the vocal sounds from one language to another and the variations of dialect both got me thinking about how humans are just like words. Words are complicated, and fluid; they can have shades of grey and multiple facets. Languages can even have a feel to them. In The Secret History, Classical Greek is described as having an intrinsic but chilly beauty (I’m paraphrasing here). I’ve found that the Irish language (called Gaeilge in its own tongueis a poetic one, chock-full of adjectives.

Like people, languages cannot be stereotyped. They don’t fit neatly into boxes. You can lock a language into a textbook, but the truth in that book will only be one facet of a larger truth, a more complicated, luxurious truth. So it is with people. You can chain people down and examine them all you want, but you’ll never be able to define what makes them themselves.

This post appeared first on Medium.

Is Social Media Wrecking Your Life?

Social Media: Me and Other Social Media Systems

This is a two-part series that looks at social media from both sides of the coin.

What is the connection between social networks and being lonely? Do you feel less connected, that your relationships with friends are superficial and fleeting? What does this whole idea that social media is destroying our lives make you feel? Do we expect more from technology and less from each other?

Do you think that we’re engineering ourselves out of our own humanity?

How do you stay human in an age that is growing increasingly more mechanised, more technologically astute, and more artificial?

The Innovation of Loneliness

Watch a video below that illustrates this theory. It is based on Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and Dr. Yair Amichai-Hamburger’s The Invention of Being Lonely.

FACEBOOK ARRIVED IN THE MIDDLE of a dramatic increase in the quantity and intensity of human loneliness, a rise that initially made the site’s promise of greater connection seem deeply attractive.

Americans are more solitary than ever before. In 1950, less than 10 percent of American households contained only one person. By 2010, nearly 27 percent of households had just one person.

Solitary living does not guarantee a life of unhappiness, of course. In his recent book about the trend toward living alone, Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, writes: “Reams of published research show that it’s the quality, not the quantity of social interaction, that best predicts loneliness.” True.

But before we begin the fantasies of happily eccentric singledom, of divorcées dropping by their knitting circles after work for glasses of Drew Barrymore pinot grigio, or recent college graduates with perfectly articulated, Steampunk-themed, 300-square-foot apartments organizing croquet matches with their book clubs, we should recognize that it is not just isolation that is rising sharply. It’s loneliness, too.

And loneliness makes us miserable. – Is Facebook making us lonely?

by Shimi.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

What Does Your Handwriting Say About You? [infographic]

Happy Infographic Friday!

Graphology (the study of handwriting) has always interested me. I remember asking for a book on it when I was a kid and someone mistakenly bought me a book on calligraphy. I was disappointed but now I love calligraphy so it worked out well in the end.

According to this infographic, I’m arrogant, stubborn, determined, but also relaxed and spontaneous (?) and extremely social.

What do the particular quirks of your handwriting say about you? Continue reading “What Does Your Handwriting Say About You? [infographic]”

‘Life changing’ – or Just Marketing?

Google Calendar Says Play The Piano

Except I don’t do what Google Calendar says, because I’m not a robot. I wish I were a robot. I mean, making habits seems easy when you think about it.

You do something.

You repeat it.

Ad nauseum.

Except it’s really not that easy at all.

I mean, if you don’t do something, like exercise or piano practice, that you know you’re meant to do, it implies that you don’t want to do it, yes? Except…you do really want to do it. You just wish you’d already done it, or you’d already reached the shining end goal in your mind (ripped abs, for example).

What is it, though, that makes people not do things that they know they’ll

  1. Enjoy doing once they start
  2. Be glad they’ve done it
  3. Find rewarding


Why don’t people stick to their good intentions?

Is it laziness? Are humans really that lazy? What is it that separates people with drive from people without? Self belief? A clearer image of the goal? Or is it having no goal at all?

I’m really not sure.

Leo over in Zenhabits says that it could be that the habit’s too hard or that it’s a really big undertaking (i.e. run 5 miles a day when you’ve never run ever in your life). Dave Navarro says that it’s because you say you want it, but really you want something else (i.e. lying in bed eating cookies and watching horror films).

I Googled ‘how to make something a habit’ and a plethora of links came up. It seems to be quite a thing.

Here’s a few of the links:

18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide

Can You Build a Fitness Habit in 21 Days?

Habits Are Everything

Hacking Habits: How To Make New Behaviors Last For Good

The Power of Habit (book)

The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers

The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick

What do you think? Hes anyone in the WORLD ever actually stuck to their guns and acquired a new habit, or is it all just marketing?


Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain? [infographic]

Happy Infographic Friday!

This is also the day in which I fly to Charleroi (after work) and spend the weekend in (hopefully) sunny Belgium. Hooray! Also there’s some kind of market…and I get to touch my typewriter (which was bought for the princely sum of 7 euro), a 1952 Remington Quiet Riter which is actually older than my parents and apparently ‘built like a tank’ according to this blog here.

So really, all these things are good.

Whether Ryanair are going to let me on the plane with it is another matter entirely.

Over the weekend, I shall be pondering an interesting thought – does the act of writing affect your brain? And how? How does writing facts or names or phone numbers down help us remember them? Why is telling a story more memorable than just telling someone the bare facts of the tale? Continue reading “Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain? [infographic]”