in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Saturday, April 05, 2008

On hospitals, hostages and hospitality (the hostman always brings lice)

It’s quite clear to most owners why dogs are man’s best friend. But try finishing this sentence: cats are man’s best… well? What, exactly? Whatever pleasure they might bring, like male nipples and poetry, it’s not really clear what cats are for. It’s not even clear that cats are ‘for us’ at all. In fact, I’d say the weight of evidence suggests that they’re against us. It’s one thing to wonder why we live with cats; it’s another to realise that we don’t own them, that they’re not our friends. Cats are just small big cats, and big cats are highly evolved killers. You think I’m wrong? Ask yourself, if cats were as big as golden Labs, would you leave one with the kids? Charlie the Wonder Lion? Aslan aside, you’d have to say it’s a dangerous proposition. The point is not to piss off cat fanciers (too late I’m sure) or even to say that there’s nothing good about ‘em. I like cats, just like I like my nipples, and even poetry. Well, some. But what I want to get across is this: you’re not ‘friends with’ the cat. You don’t ‘own’ the cat. You ‘host’ the cat. Cats aren’t man’s best friend, they’re man’s best parasite.

My good lady and I are hosting a cat at the moment. It works out pretty well for all parties. He’s undemonstrative, aloof and on the take. And we feed him milk. It’s a pretty simple equation: we’ve lost our staffie, and are so desperate for animal affection that we’ll even settle for the flick and whiskers of Bitchcakes – that’s what we call him. How would you characterise our relationship? Well, he takes, we give. He takes some more, we give some more. I’ve you’ve ever had friends in socialist youth groups you’d know the score. It’s all about caring and sharing: they care, you share. But the cat is a welcome parasite, because he’s a good one. And a good parasite, as anyone knows, is one who doesn’t kill the host. And, I flatter myself, we’re good hosts.

What does it mean to be a good host? People who work in pubs, restaurants and hotels are often fond of telling you ‘I work in hospitality’, but this is misleading. You pay them money, they serve you food or drink. You pay a little more, and the same thing happens, with the notable addition that the people are nice to you and call you ‘sir’. Give ‘em a tip and they’ll be your best friend in the whole world, perhaps even lick your arsehole. But don’t be fooled, it’s not ‘cos they like you: it’s a business transaction, they’re professionals, and you’re paying them money. Not only that, but if things aren’t to ‘sirs’ liking, then ‘sir’ can complain. So it’s not like they’ve even got a choice. They’re paid to bring you your date putting with aplomb, or else it’s the sack, simple as that. So this isn’t real hospitality.

Real hospitality involves sacrifice, expenditure. You inconvenience yourself for others. If you have a dinner party, you don’t call the guests ‘sir’, but nor do you accept their money or let them do the dishes. In most cases, it would be insulting if you insisted on doing either. This tells you a lot about hospitality, and a more than a little about ‘sir’: a word that actually means ‘fuck you’. So that’s hospitality. It always involves a little bit of harm – people put themselves out for you, they sacrifice their time and expend a portion of their limited energy and resources to give you something, and to give it to you in their space. As a successful parasite, all the guest has to do is not kill the host, bring a token gift at the beginning and a say ‘thank you’ at the end. Really, a ‘guest’ is just a parasite that you know is coming, says ‘please and ‘thank you’, and leaves before you have to excrete or expel them. And so, Bitchcakes, who knows how to do all these things in his own bitchy way, is not only ‘man’s best parasite’, he’s also a model guest.

Now if it’s common for a household to host a cat or a dinner party, then it’s usual for cities to host festivals or major sporting events. Melbourne has played host in this way a number of times, successfully – the guests are welcomed at the beginning and farewelled at the end, and in the interim, no-one gets killed and the inconvenience borne by the host is recompensed by the entertainment-value of the guests. Hello, ha-ha, bye-bye, ta-da – well hosted!

There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘House guests are a bit like fish – after a while, they start to stink.’ I can’t help but think that it’s one of the few Chinese sayings that the Tibetans would be happy to say they’ve taken on board. The Chinese government appears to have been doing a little bit of cunning linguistics themselves. They’ve refreshed our shoddy memories. For example, did you know that ‘Tibet is not a country’? Or that ‘hostile’ and ‘host’ come from the same Latin root? Or that ‘host’ can also mean ‘army’? Or that hospital is 72.72% of hospitality? The Chinese government have done a pretty good job of reminding us, and the Tibetans, of all these things. Maybe when he arrives K.Rudd can lay down some Mandarin and add a bit of Aussie expertise: only among Australian surfers is ‘hostage’ considered an appropriate situation for a dinner party (along with beerage and sausage). Or that the word ‘corkage’ was coined by a surfer…

How can the Chinese be playing host when they don’t understand the meaning of hospitality themselves? Rule number one: you must be invited. Rule number two, if you are invited, don’t kill the host…. and is it possible to even be a host if you’re in the process of killing one? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – they weren’t even ‘invited’ in the first place. Hospitality? We only got as far as hospital, remember? But seriously, if you were Bitchcakes, or, I dunno, the Australian Olympic Team, would you go and stay in the house of an entity like that? And what would be your reasoning if you did? ‘Oh don’t worry, the cats (the size of golden Labs) they only attack monks, not athletes.’ That seems to be the Australian Olympic team’s explanation so far… that and gold medals… But I keep asking myself: how would man’s best parasite act? To wit: what would bitchcakes do? I’ll tell you. Bitchcakes would boycott.

1 comment:

gracejones3058 said...

apparently they have that same fish/houseguest saying in serbian as well

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.