Off-topic: Well done Greenwich Council

It’s easy to take to Twitter or a blog when something is getting you down (you know who you are…Southeastern Rail) so I thought I would buck the trend by noting when something has gone right. I left my house yesterday morning (bin day in our street) to be confronted by clothes, shoes and bags strewn across the pavement – someone doing a little light fly-tipping. I went back in and went onto the Greenwich Council website and reported it via the online form. The automatic email I got said they would deal within 3 working days, but within 10 minutes I had a reply from someone saying they would send out a van to clear it away. When I went back outside I realised that whoever was responsible for the mess had also nicked one of my wheelie bins. Back inside, to call Greenwich Council and order a new one. All sorted, and he was very apologetic that it would take 2 weeks to get it to me. Within 15 minutes all was sorted, and when I got home last night, they had come by and taken away the mess. Good on you Greenwich. All that and weekly bin collections as well :)

Blogguer dans une autre langue

Notre jour du blogging multilingue est là, et comme je suis encore une fois en voyage, j’ai invité mon collègue traducteur John d’écrire quelque-chose cette année. Voilà sa contribution, et vous trouverez aussi des autres contributions dans les commentaires des postes anterieurs.

I ddathlu’r Diwrnod Ewropeaidd ar gyfer Ieithoedd, rydym yn gobeithio bydd pobol o bob cwr Ewrop a thu hwnt yn cymryd rhan heddiw mewn yr ail Diwrnod Blogio Amlieithog. Fel Cymro, rhaid i mi ddechrau fy mlog i yn y Gymraeg. Ond mae’n rhaid cyfaddef nid ydywf wedi ysgrifennu llawer yn y Gymraeg esr gadael ysgol – digon o siarad wrth gwrs on dim llawer o ysgrifennu, felly ymddiheuraf nawr am unrhyw camgymeridadau. Yn ystod y deunaw blynedd diwethaf, rydw i wedi cael y cyfle i ddysgu sawl iaith yn y prifysgol a trwy fy ngwaith i fel cyfieithydd (yn gwiethio mewn i Saesneg a nid Cymraeg), ond pan roeddwn i yn byw ar y cyfandir, doedd dim teimlad yn debyg i gyrraedd adre a slipio nol mewn i’r Gymraeg a clywed yr hen iaith yn cael ei siarad o amgylch y dre. Gyda’r Cymraeg a’r Cymry mae fy nghalon wedi bod erioed.

Yo diría que mi gran aventura con el castellano comenzó cuando llegué a España por primera vez como estudiante Erasmus en los años noventa y, lamentablemente, dejé atrás a mi primera lengua extranjera, el francés. La lengua francesa llegó a ser la amante desdeñada por la que sigo sintiendo algo pero no sé exactamente qué: una mezcla de vergüenza, culpa y añoranza, por lo que fue y por lo que podría haber sido. Además, a través de mi historia con la lengua de Cervantes, Neruda, Almodóvar y Shakira, he conocido, flirteado y lo he pasado bien con el catalán y el portugués, pero siempre permanecí fiel a la lengua española, una lengua encantadora, con su jota, su erre y su zeta, tan parecidas a los sonidos de las letras ‘ch’ ‘r’ y ‘th’ en galés, pero capaces de producir palabras como juerga, corazón y zorro.

Moja relacja z językiem polskim przypomina natomiast zaaranżowane małżeństwo. Kiedy zacząłem pracować jako tłumacz w Komisji Europejskiej w kwietniu 2005, było to krótko po rozszerzeniu UE na wschód i zachęcano wszystkich tłumaczy w departamencie angielskim do uczenia się języków „nowych” krajów. Co za różnica, czy to język polski, czeski, słoweński czy węgierski? Wydawało mi się, że wszystkie są bardzo trudne. Mimo że nie potrafiłem zliczyć do pięciu, kiedy moje polskie koleżanki próbowały nauczyć mnie liczyć do dziesięciu – wymowa polska była niewiarygodnie trudna w prównaniu z językami romańskimi – za namową polskich kolegów i koleżanek, czy może raczej swatów i swatek, wybrałem polski. Moja relacja z językiem polskim to walka. Przypadki i deklinacja? To z pewnością potencjalne przyczyny rozwodu! Teraz mogę powiedzieć, że to co czuję to prawie miłość, nie wiem jednak czy to uczucie jest odwzajemnione. Język polski, podobnie jak Polki, które znam, jest bardzo wymagający! Mogę przynajmniej powiedzieć, że moja relacja z językiem polskim jest prostsza niż moja relacja z językiem litewskim – ta ostatnia to prawdziwy tragiczny romans! Ale to temat innego blogu.

Talking about Europe in the UK

Sat here at an event about the European Regional Development Fund in London, almost a month into the new job, and looking at my Twitter feed, it occurs to me that there are so many people in the UK who are working on letting people know about opportunities in Europe. Some are very local, some national, some sector specific, some very general. I wonder, though, whether they all know about each other. I had a call from someone in the European Movement the other day who wanted to find out what a Europe Direct Centre was. So I thought it could be an idea to get them all together in one place, get them to talk to each other, maybe develop new partnerships. Any thoughts?

Ageing across Europe

You may not know this, but 2012 will be the European Year of Active Ageing.  The official title, in the way of these things, is European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations, which is not only clunky, but hits one of my syntactical bugbears, the difference between “between” and “among”. I think there is more than one generation around at the moment. No matter…

We are hosting a series of events at the party conferences on what European Years can achieve and Age UK are talking part. So a recent publication of theirs, Grey Matters – A Survey of Ageism Across Europe, came to may attention. It’s worth a look. Some of the things that leapt out at me were:

  • the UK has the earliest perception of all EU countries of when old age starts, thinking being over 59 makes you old. Of all European Social Survey countries, only Turkey had an earlier perceived start of old age at 55. The average was 62, and in Greece, you’re not considered old until you’re over 68!
  • people in the UK don’t seem particularly worried about preference being given to people in their 20s, hovering about 50%. The least worried about this are the Norwegians and the most, perhaps counter-intuitively are the Finns.
  • The UK has one of the highest rates of belief that ageism is a serious problem and one of the lowest rates of believing that it does not exist. Turkey (where, you will remember, you are considered old after 55) is the only country where the levels of people thinking ageism doesn’t exist outnumbered those thinking it was a serious problem.

It’s a good issue for a European Year, I think, where there’s a lot of European involvement in lots of different ways, and there are strong voices in the UK that are working to achieve the same aims, so I hope it will be a good campaign next year. My greatest hope is that the “intergenerational solidarity” issue doesn’t get lost behind active ageing. Breaking down attitudes about “young people” and “old people” is a key element to tackling ageism, either at work or in society.

The intern experience

We sometimes have work experience interns working in the office here. I know there is a lot of talk about interns, but I think that the European Commission manages it quite well. Outside the graduate intern scheme, which is open to all and paid, we are allowed to take short-term unpaid interns. However, their time here is limited to 3 months and they have to be registered students who can demonstrate that the internship is going to help them in their studies. We have had several who worked just a few hours a week alongside their studies, but for them it was valuable workplace experience. Our latest was Cristina Leon Barbadillo , who has written a guest post on her experiences here over the last month:

Within all that the international aspects of law have to offer, especially after having studied EU Law, I knew that, despite the possible limitation of sticking to a particular area (the EU), it was of greater interest to me than any other. I believe in the EU, in how much it benefits its members and also helps other areas, of how unity is always a better option.

 We sometimes don’t understand the functioning of things, of institutions in this case or, even if we think we do, it’s not until we get to see them from the inside that we properly get to know how they work and how much they do. I certainly wanted to be, in whichever way possible, part of the EU’s institutions, and combining such participation with living in a city that makes me feel at home, seemed like the perfect chance.

 Shortly after enquiring about the possibility of doing an internship at the European Commission’s Representation in the UK and sending my CV, I received a positive reply, offering me to be a trainee at the office for five weeks. I felt (and still feel) incredibly lucky for the chance I was given. It was time to see the EU internally, to have some work experience and to help me have a clearer idea of where I wanted to take my future career.

 I arrived to London in mid-August, a city that I know well and which never disappoints me. My first day at the office was my initial contact with the European Commission: meeting new people, getting used to being in an office, understanding the dynamics of it, finding out where everything was… I hadn’t truly known what to expect, but it turned out to be a fantastic first day. Everyone made me feel welcome, and they would keep on doing so throughout my time here.

One of the things I’ve most appreciated and enjoyed has been the variety of activities I’ve been involved in, having worked with other departments besides Media. I prepared a presentation for the Head of Media, I followed the news closely every day, analysed meetings and current affairs situations, helped with the organisation for the Thames Festival and the upcoming European Day of Languages, as well as, of course, the more personal aspects of every day life at the office, meeting new colleagues, being with a ‘usual crowd’ at lunchtime.

 The Thames Festival took place this past weekend, on the 10th and 11th September. Being at this event for the first time, having the chance to participate with the EC Representation, was a wonderful opportunity. There were people challenging their friends and families to our EU knowledge quiz, others taking publications to truly inform themselves on the importance of the EU and, of course, many children who I’m sure had a fantastic time. Despite the supposed unpopularity of the EU in the UK, I was quite surprised by (and pleased to see) the number of people our stall attracted and the interest shown by our visitors.

Over the past few days, people have been asking me about my departure and whether I was looking forward to going back home and getting on with my course after five weeks here. As much as I do miss my family, my friends, my homeland after all, everyone at the European Commission office in London has made me feel like I fitted in, they have treated me incredibly well and have sent me really interesting tasks, leaving me with the sensation that I was being taken seriously despite just being a student about to go onto her third year at university.

I don’t know where my future will take me, whether I’ll be lucky enough to return to this office but, at least, I will have been grateful for my magnificent time here and for all that I have learned. What I am sure of, however, is that, somehow, I would very much like to contribute to the evolution of the EU. Whether it is within the EU institutions or not, I would highly recommend anyone to gain some work experience during their studies. If, however, you are interested in the European Union, the EC Representation in the UK office in London would be an excellent place to start and where you will definitely feel welcome at all times.

Heading out to the country

I spent several days last week out of the office, which is going to be the great bit about the new job (getting out there and meeting real people, that is, rather than not being in the office…!)

I started in Durham, speaking at an event on Europe in My Region, hosted by the Europe Direct there. It was very interesting talking to people who are actually implementing programmes using EU funds, mainly from the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund, though also the Science and Research Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. The problems seem to be (unsurprisingly) finding the match funding, especially as potential government programmes that could provide match funding have different entry criteria. One woman even raised a problem I had never heard – that big companies were having trouble accessing ERDF funds. In all the years I’ve worked with EU funding programmes, I have never heard any complaint about big companies!

The next day I was in Leeds visiting our Europe Direct Centre there, as I am now responsible for the overall management of the Europe Direct Centres in the UK. It was a real eye-opener. I have been in touch with them quite a bit as they’re very up on the whole social media thing. But I was really impressed with how integrated they are with the general Leeds Library Service and how they have managed to create a lot of demand for their services, through roadshows in branch libraries, connections with schools and getting out and about at public events. I also met the guy dealing with volunteering at the City Council and the head of the Volunteer Centre Leeds, as they have done loads of work around the European Year of Volunteering. It’s good news that they are hoping to be in London for the European Year of Volunteering Tour later in the year.

The final stop on my trip was Coventry, to speak at an event on Zero Waste. Do you have any idea how interesting waste policy is? And how important? The event went from the political/administrative, like Caroline Spelman and to a much lesser extent me, the people dealing with it, such as Biffa, EOn and Severn Trent Water and then zero waste campaigners. I went to the workshop on local authorities and it was impressive how passionate people get about their local waste policy. A real learning process – and I’ll be much more careful with my household waste as a result!