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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2008 - 15:05:09

Will we end up bland and boring?
By Linda S, Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 8, 2008, 00:45

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At times I feel we�re almost being legislated out of existence by nanny governments under the pretext of keeping us safe. At the same time globalization and the information age has blurred our national identities, while satellite television insidiously moulds our cultural mores. What does this mean for individual freedom? How does this growing trend affect our identity?

There are those who believe we�ve never had it so good. I�m not one of them. As someone who grew up in London during the 1970s, I know what freedom is all about. It was a time when individuals were encouraged to discover themselves and eccentricity far from being shunned was celebrated. It was an age of discovery.

Ordinary people began to travel and interact with different cultures. They discovered a colorful world made up of different ethnicities and nationalities clad in a multitude of garbs, imbued with their own traditions and proud of their unique music, cuisines and way of life. I reveled in those innate differences, which made life interesting and exciting.

But over the decades there�s been a shift. With the advent of globalization young people, in particular, now dress in the same way, carry the same mobile phones, I-Pods and Blackberries, watch the same movies, visit the same websites and often cherish similar aspirations whether they live in Dublin, Dubai , Delhi or Dallas.

National stereotypes have been eroded, too. Some might think this is a good thing but it provokes sadness in me. Take Greece, for instance. When I first visited Athens in 1972, it was populated by carefree, laid-back people who worked to live with a capital �L� even though many suffered economic hardships. They were naturally warm and hospitable. They often invited strangers to their homes for a meal; their large hearts taking precedence over their slim wallets. Fast forward to today, and we find a more beautiful city, an infinitely more prosperous city but also a far more serious city, where traditional lamb is off the menu in favor of take-aways and youth are required to measure up to international standards whatever they are.

Stereotypical Paris has changed, too, and its ambience is about to be revolutionized with the introduction of strict no smoking regulations that are spreading around Europe like a pestilence. No more the image of a sophisticated French man or woman stopping off at a caf� en route to the office with a petit caf� in one hand and a Gitanes in the other. No more the complex cigar ritual in a Michelin star restaurant that inevitably followed that perfect meal. The French are to be sanitized; naturally, for their own good. Some may live longer but the question is will they live happier?

In Britain, the blandness is more pervasive than anywhere else. This is the country of cloned high streets lined with international chains, fast food outlets and mega stores. Artisans have long been edged out. Small boutiques have closed their doors. Repairmen are a dwindling species. When something breaks, don�t fix it. Throw it away. My a�ha moment was during a visit to the cathedral town of Gloucester following a long sojourn in Dubai. I was amazed to note that almost everyone wore the same uniform -- a dull colored anorak. I was reminded of China circa 1970. Only the bicycles were missing. It�s a place of great wealth and opportunity, yet a high percentage of Britons are depressed, addicted or regularly inebriated. They also top Europe�s most obese. A new report by an international watchdog, Privacy International, indicates Britain is an endemic surveillance society with the worst European record for the protection of privacy.

Big brother is alive and well in Britain but, given the state of society, he isn�t doing a very good job. There is a record number or prisoners and the jails are filled to overflowing. It�s lucky they are building more because people who drive while talking on their mobile (even hands-free) now risk incurring two-year prison terms. You can just imagine the conversation. �What are you in for, mate?� �Armed robbery and assault..and you?� �Er! My mother called while I was driving down the M4.� No wonder a record number of Britons are quitting their homeland permanently in search of greener pastures. The government wants to reintroduce British values to the society but can anyone remember what these are?

Last week, I watched an old Egyptian movie, circa 1950s, starring Kemal El-Shinawi who after a falling out with his wife, Kemal�s character leaves for the airport where his wife and son run through open gates across the tarmac to the plane just in time for a loving reunion. No security checks. No foot X-rays. No invasive questions. It was a film that reminded me of a time when systems were kinder.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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