Sunday, 11 March 2012

Bullying is English

A few things I seem to have discovered since moving to Britain, 8 years ago, and which seem rather specific to this country.

The vomiting bug is one. Before, I used to think when someone is being sick then it was most probably that they ate something which did not agree with their stomach. Not anymore.

Marmite is another.  People love it or hate it. I love it!

Separate tax in couples/families. The UK politicians do not care if the person working supports a wife and three young children. That person would still pay the same amount of tax as a childless single person.

And bullying.

Not to say that people are not bullied in other parts of the world, but to start with there is no specific word in French for bullying. You could say "intimidation", though this rather means its English homograph. Similarly, the nearest French word to bully would be "voyou". Then again a thug would be closest in meaning to "voyou".

I think it is telling when a word seems to be culture-specific. It most probably denotes something that needs a specific denomination to acknowledge its presence and relative acceptance in that culture.

The danger of having a specific word for something that can otherwise be described with already existing words (mean, unkind, nasty, cruel, vicious) is that some people will accept this situation as a state of affair. I mean by this that people in general will think: here's a bully, how can we deal with this? Let's take the moral high ground and ignore it as the bully is not worthy of our attention. Or to the victim of bullying: oh poor you, please avoid this person, she's a bully.

If instead, the bully was called by its nearest French equivalent a thug, the attitude of the victim and the witnesses would be different. Would you ignore a thug? I don't think so.
A bully victim is by definition "weaker", and will only feel weaker unless they and society stand up to the bully and make them change their ways.

Lately, I have been having first hand experience of bullying. I do consider myself in this circumstance weaker, physically (I am much slighter than the bully) and mentally (I am a foreigner and an outsider to the setting). It all came to blows yesterday when I was called names. I just left the scene, shocked and upset. Everyone around was trying to calm me down, almost blaming me for attempting to retaliate.

Shall I be English and think I am above this and step away? Or should I be my Algerian headstrong and proud self and stand up to the thug? The jury is still out on this one.