Wednesday, 20 June 2007

The Foreign Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe called Wales -- Welsh Blogosphere: Part I

Pictured above, image capture of the Welsh blog 'Blamerbell Briefs', recent winner of the prestigious "The Centre de Formation des Journalistes (CFJ) and CNN" -- "CFJ/CNN European award for the best student news blog"

Llongyfarchiadau / Congratulations to Ciaran!

Blamerbell Briefs aka Ciaran Jenkins -- Cardiff School of Journalism, Media & Cultural Studies

CFJ/CNN writes: "Ciaran's blog has become one of the most popular blog in the region of Cardiff. Politicians intervene on it, Medias respect it and the author is pretty amazed by his success which he would not have envisaged a few months back."

Blamerbell Briefs is the Welsh blog mentioned above, which is exemplary of the fine blogo-glossolalia being generated by the tiny Celtic nation of Wales.

Most of our readers are Welsh, but increasingly we get emails from folks in America and Australia or Canada.

If you've wandered into virtual Wales from Canada or Australia or the U.S. and you're trying to make sense of this quirky territory in the Internet, perhaps we can be of some help:

Rather than begin our introduction to the Welsh blogosphere by listing and criticizing specific blogs, let's instead establish some general ideas.

1) Wales is a European 'Small Nation' , which is bilingual English/Welsh. Welsh is a minority language with a few special protections in Wales and Europe (more are needed).

As you might think, it's easy to be a BIG FISH in a small pond with anything related to the culture of so-called 'Small Nations'. Relatively few folks in Wales have discovered the blogging world, if you compare Wales to India or China or North America.

Consequently, if you start a blog in Wales, you can more quickly distinguish yourself, than if you start a blog in New York City or in Bombay.

Here's an analogy: If you open an Thai Cuisine take-away (fast-food restaurant) in a remote Welsh village which has never had a restaurant that wasn't also a mews (horse stable) converted to a pub (beer garden or tavern), then you're going to be instantly famous in that village, and in that Welsh region.

[And the Welsh villagers are probably going to be amazed about Thai food (found on every street in Toronto, L.A., Miami or New York) since they are nuts about Indian and Pakistani food in the UK!]

So it goes with Wales. Start a Sci-Fi blog in California and everyone yawns. But start a Sci-Fi Blog in Wales, and you're one of the first!

2) Also, Wales is a country which has been deeply divided by language -- everyone speaks English, and about 20% of the folks also speak Welsh 'Cymraeg' as their first language.

People who speak Welsh are constantly on guard against the encroachment of English on their language. The Welsh have good reason to feel this way, since England as a country has had at times, what some might call 'arrogant' ways of forcing their English language on others, especially during their Imperial military / colonial history.

So if you wander into a Welsh-speaking blog and speak English, you might get blanked or ignored, since these folks built their blogs intentionally to support their minority language.

Some Welsh-speakers might even be rude and nasty to you, because they have a lot of pent up anger about English encroaching on their native language. Try to ignore the nasties.

3) The Internet is generally a tolerant, generous and welcoming place. This is mostly true for the Blogosphere of Wales, as well, but not always.

Some of the reasons you might experience intolerance in Wales, are that Wales has had this highly politicized issue of nationhood with England/Britain, and internal controversies about language.

There are also areas of Wales, where folks suffered great economic deprivation, and this has effected their knowledge, atttudes and reaction to outsiders.

There are also divisions within Wales of race, religion, economic status and educational status, just as there are in pockets of hatred and paranoia in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and North America.

Traditionally, folks in Britain (including Wales) tended to be more obsessed with 'class consciousness', a concept foreign to many in North America.

Quick Class Tanslator:

American "Middle Class" = British "Working Class"
American "Upper Middle Class" = British "Middle Class"
American "Pain-in-the-ass-rich-jerks" = British "Peerage"
American "a soft, privileged rich-boy whiner like George Bush" = British "Royals" (no offense to the Royals)

Attitudes, which folks from metropolitan areas of North America might associate with the parochial and exclusionary attitudes of 'Small Town mentality' and 'social incest', can sometimes prevail in Welsh circles, and even lap up onto the sophisticated shores of Cymru's blogosphere.

How does this effect the curious foreigner who is cruising the net, and fancies learning something about Wales, maybe even considering moving to Wales, doing business in Wales, or taking a vacation in Wales?

Assume you know nothing about the politics of Wales, and assume you will get it wrong if you try. Wales appears about as bizarre as the rest of Britain when it comes to parties and alliances, (at least in the minds of most Americans, used to the monolithic simplicity of two-party politics).

On the other hand, Wales and most of Britain is child's play compared to the fluidity of political groupings in the labyrinthine jungle called French or Italian politics.

Don't make the silly mistake of assuming that Wales is a 'part of England.' This will get you a lot of angry responses, since the question of nationhood for Wales is wrapped up in this ancient identity thing, summarized by some local historians this way:

"We're Welsh, which means first of, that we're NOT English."

To the outsider this can be confusing, since the geographical distance from Essex (East England) to Cardiff (capital city of Wales) is shorter than the geographical distance from Long Island to New Jersey, but humor the British, they can get very emotional about this national identity issue, at times.

There's even a party which advocates that England separate from the Union of Great Britain, which might seem physically impossible to the outsider!

I suggest that you do a little research and discover from say, Wikipedia, some of the quick, basic ideas about Wales and her long and complicated history and culture.

What you will discover is that, for a small nation, Wales is anything but 'small!' This tiny country is just bursting with vitality and near-geniuses! Most of the Welsh are extremely well-educated and well-read, and travel a lot.

As a people they are bright and warm and friendly, and they can be very entertaining, as well.

Be prepared to meet some of the most bizarre and eccentric people, and some of the most ordinary and lovely folks on the planet, in Wales.

About Welsh language and cliches: Welsh is an ancient and beautiful (some would even say 'magical') modern European language; If you don't understand something, or if someone says something, feel free to ask them to translate. You'll be glad you did!

For general stuff about Wales and other Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, Manx, Breton) visit the Celtic Cafe.

Two places to begin finding Welsh blogs are here:



Gyda bob hwyl i bawb, Mark

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© 2007 Mark Leslie Woods

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