Gerry’s News Digest 183: A wrong word, Millennials, a car story, a bike story (12th February, 2016)
Hi, this is Gerry. And welcome to my News Digest for Friday 12th February 2016. On today’s show I’ve got a new story about the Millennials . If you remember, I talked about them in my News Digest 167. After that something significant happened in the British car industry last month. What British car industry? And if you don’t have a car, what about a bike? A romantic story of a man on a bike to finish with today. But first, I realised that I used an English word incorrectly during my last recording: I was thinking like a German Swiss!
After my last recording of Gerry’s Diary, when I was talking about a British family in a Swiss restaurant, Peter, my sound engineer, said that he didn’t understand something that I said. I was talking about why some British people these days like to get up in a restaurant and pay the bill  at the till  rather than at the table. One reason for this behaviour, I suggested, might be to avoid arguments. I talked about how British people argue about what I called “invitations”. What I meant is that if we go out to eat with friends there’s often a polite little argument about who’s going to pay. It’s unusual, you see, in the UK for a bill to be split ; certainly, most waiters won’t do it for you. So it’s polite when somebody offers to pay, to object , even if in the end everybody knows it’s just an empty gesture . Anyway, I used the word “invite” to mean “offer to pay”, but that’s not really English. It confused Peter, because for him an invitation is about going somewhere. I can invite you to my house, or I can invite you out to a restaurant. This implies, of course, that I’m going to pay. In Switzerland, however, I got used to people saying “I’d like to invite you” or “I’m inviting you” when we were already in the restaurant. And what these people meant was “I’d like to pay” or “Let me pay for this”. I also got used to the fact that it wasn’t usual to argue with somebody at this point. Just say thanks. You might say that a Swiss offer to pay is not made lightly . It’s not to be doubted. Interestingly, my wife, who also knows Swiss ways very well, didn’t notice I was using the word “invite” in this Swiss sort of way, but Peter did. So I thought I’d better let you know!
I’m a baby-boomer . My daughter and her partner, who’ve both worked in the finance sector in London, are Generation X, they tell me – the generation that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Hard-working, individualistic, materially ambitious . But they now have to deal with the Millennials, the next generation. This, they tell me, is quite a problem, because the youngsters joining the workforce today have rather different ideas about life and work. A recent series on the BBC tried to explain how companies are adapting. Richard Branson, the boss and owner of the Virgin group of companies, explained that his company organised a “corporate day” recently. On this day everybody had to come to work formally dressed, address each other as Mr this or Ms that, and they were subjected to  the traditional discipline of an old-fashioned company. It was a big shock, and a “horrible experience” according to Richard Branson. He did it to show his people how a lot of the rest of the world still operates. It was a way to encourage them to stay with Virgin where, he says, they try to make work a pleasurable experience, a place where people can fulfil their potential .
The Millennials like to be taken seriously. They’ve had a lifetime of positive feedback from their families and today’s education system. They like to have a sense of purpose. So, modern companies, especially in the hi-tech or social media sectors, put a lot of effort into involving their employees in the life of the company, into talking with them about the company’s values and so on. This sounds OK in the good times, but what happens when things aren’t going so well? As a baby-boomer, I suppose I was willing to do a deal with an employer. I wouldn’t ask for too much perhaps. I’d be loyal but I expected some loyalty in exchange – job security was important. Generation X were/are less likely to give  or expect loyalty perhaps. I’m not sure about the Millennials and their employers.
A national news story here this month that had a local connection was about our motor industry. Anglesey, where I live, is a rural island with very little industry, and certainly no car factories, but it was on a local beach here that an automotive engineer first sketched out  in the sand his ideas for a vehicle that was to become an icon for many. The vehicle was the Land Rover, now called the Defender, the designer was a man called Maurice Wilkes. The Land Rover was inspired by the Jeeps that the Americans used during the Second World War, but it outlived them. Over two million indestructible  but bone-shaking  Land Rovers were built in England over 68 years. The Land Rover had four-wheel drive, an aluminium body fitted to a robust chassis and an engine that anybody could learn to maintain and repair. Amazingly, it’s thought that about 70% of those two million are still running. You can find them all over the world.
Over the years the ownership of the Land Rover company changed hands. It’s now part of the Indian Tata group, and this January they built the last model, number 2,016,933. The Land Rover Defender no longer meets modern European standards  for things like emissions, fuel efficiency and so on.
The British motor industry is thriving , by the way. This may come as a surprise. Last time I was in Switzerland I was talking to a friend who thought all the British car companies had gone bust . It’s true that none of the big companies are British-owned any longer, and Germany remains by far the biggest manufacturer of cars in the EU, but Nissan, Honda and Toyota make cars in Britain; Ford and General Motors still have big factories here; BMW are successful with both Rolls Royce and the Mini; VW make Bentleys; Tata has made huge investments in Jaguar and Rover; the Chinese are building the iconic London black cabs ; and then there are most of the Formula 1 cars and other racing and sports cars; without forgetting buses, coaches and lorries. 80% of the vehicles produced in the UK go for export.
At the present time our news media are full of stories of people moving from East to West: from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and so on to Europe. These travellers are trying to escape, to find a place of safety, to find a better life for themselves and their families. Reading a magazine story the other day I was reminded that when I was a young man, there were a lot of Europeans travelling in the opposite direction. The “hippy trail ” of the 1960s and 70s was the overland route from Western Europe through Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. Authentic Afghan coats in those days were the “must-have” fashion item. I had a number of friends who headed off  this way, using public transport or, if they were lucky, VW camper vans. Their trips lasted months or years even. I always thought that the travel was only one-way – just Europeans heading east – but, of course, trade is never one-way. Young Europeans went east to obtain wisdom, culture, spiritual enlightenment - or so they hoped - but there were always young Asians travelling West to obtain wealth, education, culture and new ideas - or so they hoped. One of my best friends in Switzerland had travelled overland in those days all the way from Malaysia to make his fortune  in Europe. And the magazine story I read the other day was about another such reverse journey. In 1975 a young Swedish woman, Charlotte von Schedvin, from an aristocratic Swedish family, was visiting India – a bit of a hippy, I would guess. She’d done the overland trip. One day she met a young sketch artist in Delhi, one of those artists who’ll do a quick portrait for you. While the artist was working he began to ask Charlotte questions about herself. Her answers reminded him of a prediction his mother had made from his horoscope. “You’ll marry a woman from a faraway country, born under the sign of Taurus ,” she’d told him, “She’ll be musical, and her family will own a jungle.” Charlotte was Swedish, a Taurean, and musical. “Does your family own a jungle?” the young man asked. “Well, we’ve got a forest,” she replied. The couple were attracted to one another. The artist invited Charlotte to visit his village. They fell in love. She met his family, and they got married following a local ceremony. But then the time came for Charlotte to go home. Her Indian husband was still as penniless  as before but they agreed that he would follow, as soon as he could afford to. He would never, he quickly decided, have enough money to fly, so he decided to cycle. And that’s what he did: he cycled all the way from India through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and so on, all the way to Europe. No problems with visas, or regional wars at that time. It took him about four months until he made it to  Vienna, and from there he took a train to Gothenburg. What do you think happened then? It wasn’t easy, I’m sure. Charlotte’s family weren’t too impressed by him. But in the end they were married again, this time following Swedish law. And the best thing of all, is that they’re still married today. Mr and Mrs Mahanandia are now in their 60s, and are still together. Mr Mahanandia says he still doesn't understand why people think it was a big deal  to cycle to Europe. "I did what I had to,” he says, “I had no money but I had to meet her. I was cycling for love, but I never loved cycling."
And on that romantic note, just ahead of Saint Valentine’s Day, it’s the end of another show. Don’t forget the vocabulary trainer on the PodClub app. And remember if you’ve got anything to say about any of my topics, write to me via the website: www.podclub.ch. Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. My next News Digest will be on 11th March. Until then, take care!
 NB Also sometimes known as Generation Y
 bill: (British English) a piece of paper from a business telling you how you have to pay for goods or services that you have bought (The Americans call it a check.)
 till: a machine to record money coming in and out of a business and hold cash (a cash register)
 to split: to divide
 to object: to say that you are against something such as a plan, a proposal, etc.
 an empty gesture: something you do to communicate an intention but without any real meaning
 lightly: here: not seriously (NB In this context we have a double negative, so it means that the offer is made seriously.)
 baby-boomer: somebody born shortly after the end of the 2nd World War when there was a big increase in the birth rate
 materially ambitious: wanting to have a lot of money and other things
 to be subjected to something: to have to endure/tolerate/put up with something (usually something unpleasant)
 to fulfil (your) potential: to achieve what (you) are capable of, to maximise your achievement
 to be likely to give: will probably give
 to sketch out: here: to make a rough plan or drawing of something
 indestructible: unbreakable, everlasting
 bone-shaking: here: very uncomfortable (to ride in) because of poor suspension and uncomfortable seats
 to meet a standard: to satisfy a norm (to pass a test)
 to thrive: to flourish, to do very well, to be healthy
 to go bust: to go bankrupt
 cab: taxi
 trail: path, way, route
 to head off: to depart, to go away
 to make (your) fortune: to earn money and be successful
 Taurus: the astrological sign from April 19th to May 20th
 penniless: very, very poor
 to make it to (somewhere): to finally arrive (somewhere) after some difficulty
 a big deal: something very impressive