It wasn’t my first choice to move to the remote countryside. To be more precise, it wasn’t my choice at all. Even less so since it was the kind of countryside that wasn’t particularly welcoming to people who moved there from other parts of the country (or even worse, from abroad). My father moved us there because he would make more business contacts and further his career. The company he used to work for had their headquarters there, in one of the small towns. And from there you could drive into near-by Germany and Switzerland. A good location for a company that produces packaging materials. In summary, my father spent a lot of time commuting and travelling. But it did buy him his dream: a remote standing mansion on the foot of a mountain with a great view onto a lake.
Unfortunately, his career move had the opposite effect for me: isolation, social as well as educational disadvantage. But at that time, as a pre-teenager back in the 1980s I didn’t know that yet. Instead, I thought I’m already doing pretty well as a lone anthropologist – spending my afternoons strolling through nature, and in the mornings at school I was watching the peculiar behaviour of what I later thought might just be the most reserved citizenry in central Europe.
Oh. „Why am I writing this?” I ask myself.
It was there, on the countryside, that I witnessed a few new words popping up. Before that I thought words just existed. Much like the forest and the bees just existed. But the occurrence of new words made it clear to me that words are not a given, they are created. Apart from the words that were particular to the local countryside accents, these were words I had not heard anyone use before, and I observed people trying them on. My two best examples:
a. In my school, which was a slab of concrete and had empty tunnels as hallways which could have been the inspiration for the computer game Doom, one day I suddenly heard some kids call each other „ego”. This went on over the course of a week. Everyone was using the word „ego” up and down all day. „You’re an ego.”, ”You’re the bigger ego.”, „You don’t even know what that means!”, „You don’t even know yourself!” (which was, actually, the truth). By the end of the week the buzz died down, and even though nobody gave (or was given, for that matter) a proper definition of the word „ego”, everyone seemed to have settled with the opinion that „ego” has to mean something like „selfish”. But it was the much cooler sounding word, and the cool kids carried it over into our pop cultural heritage.
b. One of my first computer games I got was from Activision, and on the package it said in big letters: INTERACTIVE. It was like one of the main features of this game. I didn’t understand that word, and I couldn’t find a person to explain it to me either. I can’t blame my parents for their lack of English language skills, but my school’s English teacher was of no help either, that was the real bummer. Therefore I went to the local library. I scanned through dozens of books and magazines to find the answer. In hindsight a good thing. The explanation was this: before the advent of Radio and Television everything was interactive. But nobody knew that everything was interactive, because EVERYTHING was.
At that time, in the 1980s, I couldn’t share these observations with anyone. Nobody cared to listen to me. And if someone did, the best response I would get was „You are strange”, but what I usually got was „You’re not from around here, are you?” I was not upset that nobody liked to be interactive with me. I was not sad. Not even disappointed. Yet.
But isn’t that interesting? Words like „reactive”, „responsive”, „proactive” are greatly useful words nowadays, and people appreciate them and the concepts behind them.
With COVID-19 we are strongly restricted in traveling, but… God bless the Internet and video chat. When meeting online we do not blame each other for being from different places. Nobody is „from around here” anymore.