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#81 The BBC (and sometimes Al Jazeera…)

August 12, 2011

Submitted by Fritzerland.

Expat Aid Workers like female reporters, especially those with exotic good looks and surnames with a hint of French.  Christiane Amanpour created this mold; and when she left CNN, so did any reason to watch the network.

Now mention you caught something on CNN, and you might as well just parade around in a t-shirt that boasts you volunteered for Habitat for Humanity one weekend at your overpriced liberal arts college in Minnesota.

The BBC is the news channel EAWs like, particularly Americans.  Referencing it carries gravitas, panache and aplomb; it oozes worldly sophistication and grace.  Include “BBC” with “The Economist” in any sentence, and a nimbus appears.

Since the BBC is headquartered in fashionable, erudite London, it’s inherently superior to any product from “so-last-century” America.

“The BBC is like NPR…but British!”

Americans (and thusly, American EAWs) secretly view the British as our cultural superiors (well, except for those ungrateful rioters we learned about last week); the source code of our New England Brahmins.  High tea, Shakespeare and regally mannered, the British are the distant relatives with whom we wanted to spend our summers…rather than our real step-family in ex-urban Phoenix.

Of course, the British expats we meet reinforce this belief:  the handsome, fit doctor volunteering with children for a year before dashing off to Cambridge.  “I like him…and my family would too!”

Sure, we know that Northerners are tarts, even the smart ones; but that’s just because we’re clever.  Including the cultural topography of England in our gossip–“Well you know, she’s from Manchester…I mean, who else would bring a mini and four-inch heels to Dhaka?”–makes us more important and interesting.  We feel connected to England in deep, meaningful ways.

Somehow our view of the British excludes the 30-something tattooed bloke whose raison d’être is partying with Thai bar girls while pursuing a lofty-titled career, like Dive Master or ESL Teacher.  He doesn’t fit with how we see our brethren across the pond, and certainly doesn’t watch the BBC like we do!

It also brushes over the “hoodie” types we’ve discovered exist, thanks to the recent riots. (Who knew there were poor, disenfranchised people living right near London!) They don’t have a political agenda, so their rioting is not to be taken seriously. (“So typical: Egyptian youth riot for freedom, Western youth riot for a pair of trainers.”)

The one card that trumps the BBC, though, is Al Jazeera (kind of like how the Egypt protests trump the London ones).  Currently the fancy of EAW hipsters, Al Jazeera is edgy and dangerous. You know your dad would disapprove if he caught you watching it.  “Dad, it’s not like I’m watching porn.”  “You might as well be,” as both are equally harmful to his little girl.  Watching Al Jazeera makes us feel a little subversive; somewhat naughty, because Al Jazeera is a balanced counterpoint to our Western-centric POV.

And if we EAWs know anything, it’s that all viewpoints are correct; and that non-Western viewpoints can be even more correct than our own. Sometimes we even co-opt local opinions that we secretly disagree with, just to prove we understand and represent the local people.  “I think I speak for the entire Fokhim Woman’s Collective when I propose…”

In light of the recent events in the Mid-East, Al Jazeera is also tres au courant.  And if you watch it in Arabic, your field cred is astronomical.  You’re fed a daily surplus of knowledge capital–the delta in reporting between the professional, independent English language al Jazeera and the decidedly slanted Arabic one.

Of course, if you’re watching cable news, that means you have a television.  And if you have a television, you’ve probably been an EAW for a while.  And if you’ve been an EAW for a while, you know there’s no topic more taboo than admitting you watch television.

EAWs would rather admit they have a VD (“Funny story, so I was in Namibia with Barb and Steve…”) than that they watched last week’s episode of “How I Met Your Mother.”

“Oh, I only turn it on occasionally.  Rarely, if ever.  Now where’s my remote?  And only for the news.  BBC mostly….sometimes Al Jazeera.”

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. JEAN permalink
    August 12, 2011 10:11 am

    Fritz, since when are you an expat aid worker? :-)

  2. August 12, 2011 10:50 am

    In my day (*cough*) it was all about the shortwave radio. BBC news on the radio.

  3. JAC permalink
    August 12, 2011 12:21 pm

    except that al jazeera was misspelled about three times — jaZEEra, not jaREEza. definitely diminishes your field cred.

    • August 12, 2011 2:58 pm

      thanks for catching it. correcting…. SgS

  4. August 13, 2011 1:18 pm

    Of course for effect, you can always refer to the BBC as “the Beeb”.
    Usage: “Did you see the footage about the drought on the beeb last night?”

  5. August 13, 2011 7:09 pm

    BBC radio (for the handcrank/solar powered radio) Al Jezeera when we are blessed with power for the TV.

  6. August 13, 2011 7:10 pm

    Duh, I spelled it wrong too! No offense #aljazeera

  7. Ewan permalink
    August 14, 2011 6:47 pm

    Love the tone on this piece. Use of ‘we’ and quotes gives it a raw edge. Serious field cred.

  8. August 15, 2011 6:28 am

    I listen to the BBC on radio, and Al Jazeera on my iPad application, which is just the thing for all those PDFs of working group minutes so I can justify it! No TV for me, at least not that I would admit to.

    • August 24, 2011 10:30 am

      Having an iPad implies having wireless internet, a serious blow to your field cred.

  9. jodie permalink
    August 19, 2011 4:46 pm

    Dumb post re ESL teacher….
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/19/taliban-hits-british-council-kabul

  10. Kelti permalink
    August 20, 2011 5:23 pm

    This may be true for American expats but not necessarily for others. I listened to Voice of America just as much as BBC and would have paid good $ to get CBC radio or any news at all about Canada….

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