Gary Littman

OWNER OF THE LANGUAGE HOUSE

Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Do you (have) anything else to share with us, Mr Gary Asshole Liteman?

Today’s blog is brought to you by last week’s blog and the words polarise and cat vomit.

My last piece, a satire (at least for some), titled Cheese-eating surrender monkeys... pardon my French polarised readers; and I mean polarised in its purest sense. 

We are talking North Pole and South Pole. Black and white. Sunshine and shitstorms.

Some praised it: Well-written, witty, informative, thesis-like and educative.

Clearly, it boiled the blood of others. The writer (that’s me) was described as an asshole, connard, French-basher, troll, blissfully ignorant, insulting, superficial… One contributor, who I will refer to as the Rottweiler (RW) said my blog photo was so repulsive that it made his cat vomit. (Messy for you my friend).

There was even a mention of Nazis and Jews which one again proves Godwin’s Law, as well as legal threats, counter threats and personal threats.

It all took place on a rather bland looking discussion group called Bilingual Professionals (French and English) which lives inside the professional network LinkedIn and boasts 36,895 members.

Moments after posting the article it was evident I was not welcome. A group member who I will call the Gatekeeper (GK) responded:

I think Garry Littman is in the wrong group… this group is for bilingual professionals.

A little later GK made it clear my papers were not in order.

I read your piece and I am thoroughly not impressed by the style, just know that humour is only valid when shared & agreed and I do neither as it is an insult to my language and my culture. I see no need to go further in the discussion.

But the GK did see the need to go further, becoming a ‘Top Contributor’. By the time the ‘discussion’ began to finally die a weary death three days and 90 comments later, a slightly ragged GK posted:

 I'm tired and bored with the whole futile discussion. Good night everyone and do learn to stop at some point as some are being really hooked and cannot let go arguing pointlessly. Thank you.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I went to bed on night one with a terrible panic that I had written something extremely hurtful.

I made a final head-on-the-pillow check on the discussion thread and found this comment:

I loved it - so witty and informative! Would have like to chat with you over a cup of coffee but just left Geneva a month ago.

And another:

I'd say one needs very advanced English reading comprehension for this piece. It's meant to be satirical. The writer basically is taking the piss (as the Brits say) at the people who use the expressions.

Relief! I slept soundly.

Day two: The negative comments continued to flow (and positive ones also). The GK was then joined by the Alpha Poster (AP), a turbo-charged Top Contributor. In some cases a Top Contributor is a person who is somewhat addicted to commenting on LinkedIn and other platforms. They need to be armed with a good general knowledge, a way with words, tonnes of self-belief, a strong opinion on almost everything, a thick skin, the ability to goad on (enthuse) their supporters and degrade and insult their adversaries, and finally loads of free time to beat their keyboards.

The discussion was now a battle to the written death.

The AP was in fine form accusing one poster who defended my piece as being anti-French.

After a few more critical posts the RW, flecks of foam on his workplace keyboard, posted this:

Do you anything else to share with us, Mr Gary Asshole Liteman?

The RW followed up his charming invitation a few hours later with a post detailing how my 'repulsive photo' on the blog had made his cat vomit.

(NB: His comments and several others were removed after it was pointed out they were defamatory).

I tried, for a second time, to close the debate, not before having a poke at the RW’s asshole comment.

Thank you for your charming invitation to respond. Personally, I prefer the spelling ‘arsehole’ to ‘asshole’ and you managed to spell both my names incorrectly… Let me say once again that the objective was not to upset people. I apologise (once again) to those who felt offended. My passion is language and how it twists and turns through history. The article was meant to be satire and I felt it demonstrated quite clearly that the same or similar insults were traded by both the English and the French… Thank you to those who enjoyed my piece and were brave enough to say so. Hopefully we can have some kind of closure.

It was far too conciliatory. Closure became a wide open door for the RW and AP and several others imbued (inspired) by the online disinhibition effect better known as the GIFT theory.

AP responded:

Well, Mr.Glitter, vous jetez peut-être de la poudre aux yeux des ignorants qui auront le malheur de suivre vos cours mais si votre savoir linguistique est au niveau de votre ignorance historique, je gage qu'ils ne feront guère de progrès. As for being 'a journalist' as you call yourself, please don't offend an honorable profession after offending the French, you should know that journalism is about to report facts and truth and not to throw insults and write fictions, Mr. Litter. No French bashing? Let me laugh... France is a small country (but a great nation) and would probably be happy to be let in peace. But for some reason, a lot of people who aren't French (nobody's perfect) spend a lot of time to try to offend the Frenchies. Why's that? I think they are jealous, envious of the famous qualité de la vie, the culture, the elegance, the philosophy (add all the clichés you want here… French bashing promotes France more than it attacks it… Guess what? I don't think anyone here will buy your courses and at the end, you gave us a good opportunity to correct some common misconceptions. It's always a good thing to diminish ignorance and prejudice.
And the quote of the day will be from Michel Audiard : ' Les c. , ça ose tout; c'est même à ça qu'on les reconnaît." Sans vouloir offenser.

 And on it went for the next two days. As one of the brave defenders of my piece posted:

Mon Dieu, je crois halluciner !!!

So what can we learn from all of this:          

  1. Satire: It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, bilingual or not. ‘Light and funny’ for some is ‘plain deviant vulgarity’ for others.
  2. Being bilingual doesn’t mean you have a bilingual understanding of humour.
  3. Some people have thinner skins than others.
  4. Some readers never get past the title. And I admit the title and teaser were a bit provocative.
  5. Terms like cheese-eating surrender monkeys (which comes from The Simpsons) obviously anger some people no matter what context they are used in.
  6. Discussion groups can be territorial. A group has its identity, its personalities and the presence of an outsider may not welcome.
  7. ‘Normal behaviour’ changes radically depending on whether you are off-line and on-line. The GIFT theory is alive and well.  It is absolutely mind-boggling (amazing) that a professional with their name and company description in the public eye would so aggressively and enthusiastically abuse and vilify others.

 Finally, I plan to post this piece back on the Bilingual Professionals group. Let’s see if it makes it…

 

 

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