This is My Cornwall

Saudi Arabians are a very polite people. They smile a lot, especially when they greet you in the mornings. The reason for this, I found out, is not because of some genetic predisposition towards bonhomie, nor is it because they are just glad to be alive, having lived for centuries in a climate that is daily trying its best to kill them. Having a sunny disposition in a sunny climate is not as easy as we might think. I know, when you are strolling along Blackpool beach leaning into rain that is coming down at a 45 degree angle, the wind whipping through your bones like a turbo charged x-ray, holding an increasingly sodden bag of chips that now resembles a mush of grey tapioca that even the gulls turn their beaks up at, I can understand why a ‘sunny climate’ might seem attractive and something to be grateful for. However, daily temperatures that allow the frying of eggs on a car bonnet, while simultaneously welding unprotected human orifices tight (should you be so foolish to be out in the noonday sun) are no smiling matter. A winter in Cornwall is almost as uninhabitable as a summer in Saudi Arabia. And yet they smile.

Can you imagine meeting Denzil Penberthy in Commercial Square in Camborne on a damp February afternoon when the sky is slate grey, its near to freezing and you are drowning in mizzle with every breath you take? Imagine that every gust is blowing the empty tins of Special Brew in a clanking eddy around the fountain? Would he be catching your eye with a dazzling smile, saying “wishing you good morning, a morning full of flowers” to which the response is “wishing you a morning full of light”. Well, that’s what the Arabic greeting is. With a smile.

Of course there are very few flowers in the desert, but there is light, lots of it. Enough to burn a retina into a bloody pulp. The smiling is not a result of reality, it is not that their mornings really are a bed of roses nor a shimmering light. Allah alone knows how they coped before Ray-bans. The smiling is due to an injunction within Islam. ‘Allaah The Almighty created mankind with an innate inclination to love those who are friendly. A person who meets others with a smile drives away their anxiety and troubles and spreads tranquility and comfort. This is because smiling is a commendable characteristic, and the one who smiles is complimented‘.

That’s nice.

Now I’m all for smiling at folk. Perhaps that’s what we need when stanking up Redruth hill to the Chemists to stock up on Antacids, Anusol and Incontinence pads. We need a reminder during a gale that a ‘smile drives away anxiety and spreads tranquility and comfort’. The Council should put up posters to encourage us to be cheery towards each other despite the sense of impending doom every time the price of a pasty increases. A simple message would do it. A poster simply with the smiley emoticon, underneath in a comic font: “Smile, you Bastards, it don’t bleddy cost much”, should be put up in the doctors’ surgery waiting room, the job centre and the pound shop window.

But I’m afraid that just will not do in Cornwall. We don’t readily respond to cheeriness because we think the bonhomie is masking something ominous. We think, in response to a smile and cheery nod, “What’s that silly bugger want? Money?” An inner voice cries ‘he’s after something, but he ain’t fooling me’. We don’t voice that of course, we are far more likely to answer with just a grunt that sounds like a pig snuffling for turnip roots, or we might say ‘right on’ or ‘you?’ (pronounced yeeeeew). The typical upbeat ‘Good day to you sir, isn’t life wonderful’ greeting in Cornwall goes something like:


“Ess, you?”

“Right on”.

In Saudi Arabia, the phraseology of greeting invokes sunlight, flowers, the smell of jasmine and rose petals. It wishes the bounties of heaven to be bestowed upon you and you family. Your camel is to be blessed and your goat made fecund. One phrase literally means “May the Ram of Heaven insert his penis of Peace into the Ewe of Family and thereby inject the seed of tranquility and love”. All of that in a simple bidding of “morning”.


In Cornwall, it is as if each word used in greeting would drain the bank balance, as if each word has its price, and the pain of spending money is keenly felt in Cornwall. Words are free, they don’t cost much in reality so perhaps we could use more of them? Yet, there is a tendency to shorten words as if every syllable comes with a cost, as if each tiny letter arrives with an invoice. The three syllable ‘Di-rect-ly’ is shortened to the two syllable ‘Drek-ly’, thats a massive 33% saving right there! The word itself is a shortened form of “That will be done as soon as possible” or “I will attend to that immediately”. Both of which are, of course, stretching the truth to the degree that it snaps. They mean the opposite.

Consider the utterance ‘Gisson‘. Now that saves another massive amount of verbiage as it replaces such phrases as “Really? You do surprise me with that information. I ought to check because the veracity of that is questionable” or just ‘Gisson‘. If the person is feeling like spending just a little bit more, they might tack on “wiv ‘ee” to the Gisson. That would be for emphasis, meaning they really are doubting the truth value of your assertion.

“I see Philps’ ‘ave put up the price of a standard steak again”


The truth value of the assertion is slightly doubted as the receiver of the bad news has not been to Philp’s for a while and is out of the loop of pasty price rises. Mind, if he had yesterday been into Philp’s and had a pasty lunch without being too surpised at the price, he might say in disbelief:

“Gisson wiv’ee” indicating that the news bearer was taking the piss.

Don’t mention the price of a cream tea though, there’d be ‘ell up.

Saudi’s spend their words like they spend their oil dollars. Effusively, luxuriously and colourfully. The verbiage expended at a regular Saudi office meeting resembles an oil well spouting a thick black stream of sticky crude a hundred feet into the air. And it has to be noted, it is with the same amount of opacity. There is no necessary relationship between the amount of words used and the action that flows from them. Hours are spent just talking, about what I have no idea. It is even worse when they use Arabic, which to the untuned west country ear sounds like they are permanently gagging on camel dung. A Cornish business meeting lasts no longer than a pint of Spingo in the heyday of Helston’s market day in comparison:

“Alright? Wasson?”

“We got to agree the price rise of the standard steak”

“50 pence?”

“Right on”

“Proper, then that’s agreed…pint anyone…the Blue Anchor’s just opened”

“Did anyone consult Denzil though?”

And with that, the business meeting would end and they’d stank off through the mizzle to the pub.

Proper bleddy job.

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

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