Posted by: Catherine Weston | August 5, 2011

Taking things for granted

I was in the Ashmolean Museum with my Japanese friend, walking through a gallery containing glass cases filled with exquisite examples of European ceramics. My friend’s comment took me by surprise, although it shouldn’t have done. “It’s a good thing you don’t have earthquakes in this country.”

She should know of course.   The recent catastrophic earthquake in Japan shook her home badly, although she was a long way from the epicentre.  I saw the photos she took of the mess of tumbled shelves, ornaments and paperwork, which must have taken days to clear up. Their house was left with some cracks but of course they got off lightly compared with some. However, her complete collection of Wedgwood pottery that she had so carefully transported home after her five years in England was smashed to pieces.

Knowing what beautiful ceramics the Japanese also produce I asked if there are not any such items on display in Japanese museums as there are here.  “No, it’s too risky”, she replied. It sunk in, yet again, how much I take for granted.  I take it for granted that I will never have to do an earthquake drill.  I take it for granted that I will not find a tornado shelter in the basement of my church building, as I once did in Michigan. I take it for granted that a south-facing garden is sunny, April is a spring month and a westerly wind will bring rain.

Recently a friend recounted a lesson with her English-as-a-second-language class.  The students were all at the elementary stage and the topic was vocabulary. “Name some objects you will find in the home.” Each student offered a suggestion in turn …  chair, table, carpet … Kalashnikov. My friend wasn’t quite sure if this student intended to make a joke. However, given his home country, she concluded that his suggestion really did reflect  his realities at home.

And that is a good reminder of how important it is to ask the right kind of questions and listen carefully to the answers that our international friends give.  What are the things they take for granted that we don’t have an inkling of?  What are the things I take for granted to which I should maybe pay more attention?

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