Global Buzz

20070625_02.jpgOK, people. I know there are readers of this little blog all over the world. Let’s find out what’s going on. Let’s hear some buzz, some chit chat, what the talk of the town is, what’s bubbling under… I know we have regular visitors in Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Finland (natch), Egypt, India, Senegal, the UK, Hawaii, and…. Vegas. So what are people talking about where you are? What’s on the news? What’s playing on the radio? What are people wearing? What sex scandal is rocking the upper echelons of government? How often do you see hacked iPhones? Where are the cool kids hanging out? I’ll start:

In Helsinki, they hang out at a giant mall/bus-station complex called Kamppi. This suits me very well, since this is in fact my main hang out too. I feel like I spend most of my life buying groceries and waiting for the bus in this place. This means that I spend a lot of time watching the children and their get ups. Helsinki kids are fiercely devoted to over-the-top looks, in particular goth (this pic is from my favorite local website; the goth stuff, as here, sometimes shades into Harajukuism; Finns seem to love Japanese design cues, and vice versa actually: I understand that Moomin trolls are huge in Japan) and metal. Anyway, in the last several months I have noticed a distinct, and now overwhelming, shift toward a particular kind of costume, synthesizing Helsinki’s hard rock (&/or black metal) ethos with transnational 80s mania: Hair metal is huge. The kids at the mall are now completely decked out in Mötley Crüe gear, with ratted hair, eyeliner, the whole bit. So the mall, especially on Friday nights, is basically utterly mobbed by 14-year-old Nikki Sixx’s, many of them drunk. It’s good times.

Meanwhile, for several weeks the country was gripped by a sex scandal involving dirty text messages the Foreign Minister was obsessively sending to various women who really didn’t want to receive them. He eventually was replaced, but the scandal apparently continues because there is a court case involving the right to publish said messages in newspapers. One friend reported that on a radio discussion she heard, two interpretations were offered of the scandal: (a) a new moralism is taking over Finland or (b) Finland is finally becoming civilized. And then there is the issue of the invasion of beggars. Panhandling is virtually unknown here, so last summer when there were just a few on the streets, they seemed to dominate headlines. The country is bracing for the arrival of folks with the temerity to ask for money in public.

Plus, Luis Vuitton just opened a store. OK! So that’s some Helsinki buzz. Tell us something about where you are… 🙂

10 thoughts on “Global Buzz

  1. In Dakar you can make a good impression on a girl by taking her to a pastry shop for cake, or to an ice cream parlor. The beach season hasn’t really started yet.
    Young ladies have gotten into skinny jeans in the last year. They wear them with flats, and if they are really hip, the hems of the skinny jeans are tucked _into_ the flats. The look is different from the US skinny-jeans look, as the legging-like spandexy jeans are ideally paired with a top that ends at mid-hip, accentuating the width of this part of the body. This appears to be the entire goal of the fashion.
    House is on broadcast TV, as is Lost. Both are pretty popular.
    The talk of the town is a series of odd (supernatural?) events, spontaneous and synchronized epileptic fits experienced by female students at a downtown high school (90 or so “fell down” last Friday, another 21 girls had to be taken to the emergency room on Monday). Many different theories have been floated in the news, the most popular one now is that a genie named Maimouna is behind the fits, and that she is TICKED. Unclear why, as of yet.
    Rice now costs over $30 for a 50 kilo sack. (Rice is the center of almost every noon-meal.)
    A new comedy just came out on VCD, which centers around a scam involving pretending to be a close friend of Youssou Ndour. Ndour has a cameo. The comedy is FUNNY.

    Finally, a great documentary on NYC serial killers though the ages was on broadcast tv last night. There are no (widely publicized in the media, at least) serial killers in Senegal, nor have there ever been. It seems very exotic.

  2. Thanks Gretchen & Kerim. Is anyone in Dakar talking about that penis theft witchcraft story out of Kinshasa? I know people in LA are talking about it.

    The skinny jeans look you describe sounds vaguely reminiscent of the legging/shaker sweater combo I remember from junior high in terms of silhouette. The kids here are doing skinny jeans too of course, but as I mentioned it is more about a hair metal moment. A friend returning from a recent trip to NYC said also that the skinny jeans there had reached some sort of zenith of skinniness, like denim second skins.

    Food prices. Maybe if I had made this thread, such as it is, about food prices, more people would chime in. As you know, the story out of the US is that people are hoarding rice and that Sam’s Club and Costco are restricting purchases. Unclear whether this reflects panic buying on the part of consumers or more stockpiling on the part of store and restaurant owners. My glycemes being indexed the way they are, you know that I don’t hang out in the rice aisle too much, so I can’t say what prices are doing here… N Europe is typically just much much more expensive than the rest of Europe.

    I did see a presentation recently on the rise of bilateral trade agreements in the 1990s, during the WTO era, which ostensibly was supposed to usher in a more nondisriminatory multi-lateral trade ethos. As it turns out, bilateralism is sky-rocketing. Causes of this aren’t clear I guess, except that maybe corps can more easily manipulate bilateral trade settings than multi-lateral ones. But the food crisis is giving bilateralism further impetus, according to the “Financial Times”:

    bq. Governments are racing to strike secretive barter and bilateral agreements with food-exporting countries to secure scarce supplies as the price of agricultural commodities jump to record highs, diplomats and cereal traders say.

    Then there is this story out of highland Papua New Guinea, where a single mud slide is causing a very local food and fuel crisis: “PRICES of goods and services in parts of the Highlands region have doubled from yesterday with transport operators penalising passengers as fuel runs low and most of the depots have already shut down. This is becoming a major concern for the people and the Government faces pressure to intervene quickly to clear the roadblock caused by the landslip at Gera village outside Kundiawa.”

  3. Strong: there is enough local penis theft in the news (off and on) that I think other cases seem kind of banal. The story from Kinshasa just hasn’t been picked up with the kind of media framing of “exoticism” here…maybe it’s less surprising here than in Kinshasa? Or Maybe Dakar’s one reporter writing for the American press (Lydia Polygreen, covers Chad and Sudan too), doesn’t read the newspapers that report penis theft? Unclear.
    The (pressumed) genie attack against school girls is more in the news, it’s on the radio and people are talking abut it on public transport. Political cartoons have started playing off the “Genie Maimouna” idea, and the (speculative) supernatural being has quickly become a fixture of other rhetorics. Meanwhile, the spontaneous hysteria, whatever its cause, has hit several other schools. Again, only girls have “fallen down,” which is the odd thing about the story (a genie usually can cause problems in a more equal opportunity way).

  4. I just got back from Cairo and it was my first time there in six years, so the changes were really obvious. All the liberal middle- and upper-class people are complaining that more and more women are covering their heads and wearing veils over their faces, but I don’t actually see such a drastic change there. I think that face-veiling is more a spectre that frightens upper-class liberals than an actual trend. It’s true that uncovered women are distinctly the minority now. But the majority of women who are covering their heads aren’t wearing the billowing robes that the face-veiled women are wearing. They’re wearing tight jeans and tight, long-sleeved shirts that show all the curves of the body. No jeans are tight at the ankle here; they still tend to flare or at most they’re straight-legged.

    Consumerism runs amok. While the place I stayed is really far from being considered downtrodden, everything was noticeably peeling and falling apart (in one shop, as the shop owner came down the stairs, one of them literally crumbled under his feet; I looked concerned, and he brushed it off: “It’s nothing! Really!”), but that’s pretty standard for Cairo, so I only noticed it by comparison with the new malls, which are made with polished marble and granite and lots of glossy, clean glass. The biggest mall that everyone goes to is in Nasr City (a northern suburb) and it actually had a Virgin Megastore. I had brought gifts of CDs to certain friends who I knew loved the Buddha Bar series, but it was always a taste marker for the upper class because you couldn’t buy the CDs locally. I was shocked to find that not only does the Nasr City Virgin Megastore carry all the Buddha Bar CDs, they are the same price as in Sydney!

    The spread of both international and local franchises proceeds similarly. A gas station in Mohandiseen now has an On The Go (or whatever that little shop is called that gets paired with gas stations). It was really well stocked. A local book store chain that seems to be really popular is Diwan. There are cafes everywhere called Cilantro, and this cafe chain produces a little monthly in English that seems to be written entirely by Egyptians, not expats, signaling the importance of English as a marker of aspirations to upward mobility.

    Some things haven’t changed: the Cook Door restaurant still calls their crab-and-shrimp sandwich “The Viagra” (available as “Fried Viagra” and “Grilled Viagra”) and the drug is very popular and features in a lot of jokes. But now sildenafil is also available under a range of locally-produced brands: Vigoran, Virecta, Vigorama, Erec, Phragra, Vigorex, and Kemagra. The last has a picture of a tiger on the package. Rrawr!

    Another change is that cafes with wireless are everywhere, and they are crowded with teenagers with laptops chatting online and checking Facebook. Even my poor working-class friends are borrowing friends’ computers to check their e-mail, and a taxi-driver was telling me about how he uses Facebook. It used to be pretty expensive to get a mobile phone and line, but now it seems like 75% of the people in Cairo have one. No taxi driver was without one. Bloggers are the face of information and political protest in Egypt, and recently someone was arrested for creating a Facebook group, several thousand strong, that called for a strike to protest the rising cost of bread.

    I think that the new malls and increased consumerism of the middle-classes must be linked to the calls for a strike on April 6th in which a few people were killed by the police. Several people have also died in fights while standing in the long lines for government-subsidized bread, and the police now patrol bread lines. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor, and they’re spending their money at the City Stars Mall in Nasr City. And the bloggers are reporting on the protests that the state-controlled newspapers downplay.

  5. Was talking with a friend, an American artist and anthropologist who lives in Denmark. There his three sons are guaranteed health care and education through college for free, and the government provides generous funding for the arts. Yes, the government takes from the rich and gives it to the rest, and most everyone seems content. He recently visited the United States, where he was appalled by growing signs of inequality, poverty and social disorder and shocked by the costs of education and health care. His number one concern right now is to concern permanent residence status in Denmark for his family and himself.

  6. LL: Thanks for the update on Cairo — did you ever get that link to abandoned 5 star hotels on Sinai that I sent you? Also, I am beginning to think we need a Facebook thread here on SM… Discussion of Facebook not only as a social phenomenon in itself, but as a concrete research tool that enables contacting people (research ‘subjects’ or ‘informants’) and keeping up with them. The presence of these online publics makes some of those IRB questions (to do with research vs. real life) that Rena was writing about really problematic.

    John: Many of us overseas I think are sort of wary of the situation ‘over there’ in the US. This is a routine subject of conversation, like, how much of a US will there be to go back to, should it come to that? The healthcare situation in particular is enraging. Education too: I live in the country that now trounces all others in OECD measurements thanks to an excellent primary education situation. I don’t have kids myself (most of you I think may have guessed this), but I reap the benefits of this system in terms of very talented and serious students with excellent English!

    Another buzz thing: May Day is coming up. The streets will be strewn with broken beer bottles and the youth will be sunning themselves in drunken stupor on public lawns. I will be trapped in my office writing. As usual.

  7. Strong, when did you send me a link to abandoned 5-star hotels in Sinai? I never got it — unless I’m flaky and forgot. Please send, that sounds fascinating!!

  8. Montreal, Spring 2008:

    The Montreal Canadiens (also kown as the Habs) are out of the NHL playoffs, much to the relief of those of us who were sick of seeing Habs flags on every other car a few weeks back.

    Local cops are cracking down on jaywalking, much to the bewilderment of residents of what is affectionately known as the jay-walking capitol.

    The low-cut jeans with g-string sticking out is finally out of style. Who ever convinced young women that plumber’s butt was sexy?

    Activist-y Montrealer’s are worried about Harper and his ilk trying to push the rights of women and queers back by at least half a century.

    However, the vegan and indie scenes are thriving.

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