Thursday, 9 August 2012

Intercultural Ailments

When I first arrived at Oxford, I was plagued by pretty annoying recurring headaches. The weather had been bad, and I conveyed my theory that the headaches were due to "Kreislaufprobleme" because of  low pressure. My newly found English friend just burst into laughter. "Sorry, she said after a long while during which my head hurt even more, "but this is just soo funny - circulation problems, I love it! When I lived in Germany, everybody was always suffering from circulation problems, and now you come up with it too!" It turned out that English people do not suffer from circulation problems, and don't really understand the term. "Does it mean your arms and legs don't have enough blood flow?" "Well no, it means you feel faint and dizzy, and have headaches, like I do now". That was my first encounterwith the fact that ailments do not really translate very well.

Not much later, it was my turn to be slightly puzzled by an indigenous illness. (It seemed too serious to actually laugh.) Lots of students seemed to be falling ill with something called "Glandular Fever". Hmph, "Drüsenfieber", I thought. Apparently this was caused by late nights, essay crises, and general overwork. It resulted in a very lengthy (often several months) absence from college, and was apparently cured by calm, regular meals, and lying in bed. I'd never heard of it, or anybody who had succumbed to this illness before England, but quickly learned to look utterly shocked and slightly panicked whenever "Glandular Fever" was mentioned. I kept it to myself that the illness in question was probably best thought of as "flu".

In France, people suffer from something called "Jambes lourdes" a lot - heavy legs. Of course everybody has probably encountered the sensation, e.g.after a lengthy hike. But can it be a proper illness which makes you stay away from work for several days, for which there is a plethora of medication available in pharmacies? Apparently yes, in France at least.

So I suppose the learning is, everybody shares the same symptoms but whether you call it an illness is up to you - or rather the cultural context you live in, and how seriously it is taken there.

Happy to hear about your country's special illnesses and ailments, I'm on twitter: @Margit11

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