Geography, climate – and us COMMUNITY - IMPRESSION OF A BRIT A year-end edition of The Economist newspaper compared the dominant politico-social attitudes of the world’s two leading Anglo-Saxon communities, the Americans and the British. “Geography also plays a part,” it said. “America is a land of open spaces: demanding more freedom for individuals never seems awkward. Britain is a more crowded space: people have to share.” Richard Hill C ertainly the sheer size and the rich natural resources of the United States help explain the nation’s obsession with growth – often to the detriment of these resources. The impact of geography on culture is often grossly underestimated. Comparing the United States with the United Kingdom is the easy bit. In fact there’s a lot more going on than we ever realise… For one thing there are sociologists and anthropologists who see a parallel in the social organisation of Britain… and Japan! Not so much in the manner as in the degree to which they are organised – Britain with its constantly evolving and elusive class system, Japan with its more formalistic and all-pervading rules of social behaviour. Both are their respective cultures’ way of coping with a simple socio-geographic reality: an awful lot of people in an awfully confined space. Some people think that environment has done more than that for the English. In his book Identity of England, author Robert Colls asserts that the innately temperate nature and gentleness of the average English person are tendencies encouraged by a climate and geography without extremes, and by insularity. The brusque North Sea environment of the Netherlands helps explain the assertiveness of the Dutch, while the milder Continental climate here is at least in part responsible for the Belgian qualities of reasonableness and compromise. At the other end of Europe, and maybe as un-European as the English, are the Russians. Their reputation for stoicism and courage owes more than a little to the harshness of their climate. Landscape and resultant dietary patterns have all contributed to the Russian psyche. Short-term climatic changes can also influence human behaviour – things like the bise wind in Switzerland, the Mediterranean sirocco, the Föhn in southern Germany, the Santa Ana desert wind of California or the famous mistral of French Provence, all of which can turn people slightly mad. Most of us know that the Nordics are afflicted with something known professionally as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and better known to the rest of us as ‘the winter blues’. What is less well-known is that the poor Swedes are periodically afflicted with another more specific climate-induced condition: a temporary state of depression. According to doctors and scientists examining the phenomenon, it appears to be linked to the approach of low-pressure fronts coming in off the Atlantic. What is clear to me is that there is a link between pressure fronts and state of mind. I first came across this on the plateau, the meseta, of central Spain. In Old Castile and Leon provinces, the weather is habitually high-pressure and the people habitually optimistic despite the extremely hard living conditions many of them have known. I had this link between pressure and mood impressed on to me most forcibly in Namibia in south-west Africa. A constant high-pressure front moving in from the South Atlantic pushes the humidity back north-eastwards into the heart of the African continent. As for the inhabitants, well, despite the fact that they are desperately poor, they are consistently among the most cheerful and friendly people in the world. You can say that about many of the African cultures but, in Namibia, they really excel! ● BECI - Brussel metropool - januari 2015 43 Pagina 44

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