So many things to catch up on. I'll start with an easy one, a linguistic point.
I mentioned earlier that I dislike expressing generalized greetings for "the holidays" and prefer to mention each specific festival as it arises. Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! Happy Hari Raya! Happy Buddha's Birthday! And on through the busy calendar. Based on my time in Malaysia, where members of the varied ethnic groups would all recognize the others' holidays, I don't worry about ethnic-profiling the people I'm greeting. It's Happy Chinese New Year to one and all at the appropriate time; Happy Fourth of July to all comers on that day, including (especially!) to Brits.
But now I learn that on this point, as on so many others, the superficially-American-seeming society of Australia has a different approach that has prompted me to re-examine my assumptions. To review a few I've mentioned before: Australia's mandatory-voting laws put America's widespread voter-suppression policies in a sharper and even less favorable light; its term limits for its counterpart to the Supreme Court avoid many of the distortions of our judicial gerontocracy; its combination of very high minimum wage, and a no-tipping culture, is part of an egalitarian, "thick middle class" feel to society that seems a quaint memory in America. And so on through a long list, notably including what they call "Medicare." It's what our Medicare would be, if it had no age limits.
And now the linguistic point. I wrote to some associates in Melbourne yesterday and got this robo-reply:
Thank you for your email. I am currently away on annual leave for the festive season and will be returning on Monday 7 January 2013.I shall respond to your email upon my return.
I shall consider adopting this practice myself. Retrospective wishes on the Festive Season just past, and early greetings on the one to come at the end of this year.
(Apparently I'm not the first one to notice this locution. Image from here.)
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James Fallows is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.