19 April, 2015

First names and last names

Even in the informal, everyone-is-equal world of today, first names and last names are still used as indicators of status. This struck me most recently when flying home from Venice. The captain did the usual welcome announcement once we’d all boarded the plane. He referred to himself and his co-pilot by first name and surname, yet introduced the cabin crew by first name only. Why? I assume because pilots are considered more senior in rank, hence ‘better’ than cabin crew. But in fact these two professions are just different – it doesn't make any sense to compare seniority across the two.

The same applies to the health professions. Doctors are referred to by surname and nurses by first name. In the past, of course, nurses were also referred to by surname – back when everyone was known by their title and surname in the workplace. So why have things changed for nurses, but not for doctors? Again, I assume it is to do with perceived seniority. I remember my surprise when the doctor who was called to assist with the delivery of my first child introduced herself by her first name. Even after hours of labour, this struck me as unusual! When the midwives told me that this doctor was coming to assist, they described her as ‘lovely’. She was also young. Maybe that’s why she bucked the naming convention. Or maybe she was keen to establish a rapport with her patients quickly. Either way, this is not the norm.

Some of my elderly relatives lament the fact that it is now usual to call someone by their first name rather than their surname. One of them mentioned this in the context of being a patient in hospital. Now all patients are referred to by first name, whereas in the past they would have been referred to by title and surname. My elderly relative found it demeaning that someone sixty years her junior should address her by her first name.

So, in the past, surnames were the norm outside one's circle of family and friends. But nowadays first names are the norm, except in professions which are considered particularly prestigious or in some way special. It's interesting how these things change.

11 April, 2015

Easter weekend in Venice

We were lucky enough to spend the Easter weekend in Venice. My husband and I visited many years ago and, much more recently, our kids have been telling us how much they want to visit the city. So, we decided to indulge them (and us!).

Venice is still as beautiful as it was last time we visited. Its shabby air and dilapidated buildings are what make it so appealing -- to me at least. We spent a lot of time just wandering the streets, seeing what we came across, and that really is the best way to experience the city. You find yourself in awe and experiencing sensory overload. There is so much to take in, so much to see, that you end up wishing you had eyes in the back of your head!

One of the highlights for me was Ca' Rezzonico -- a palazzo built in the seventeenth century and eighteenth centuries, which boasts some beautiful frescoes. The rooms in the palace are presented as they would have been in the eighteenth century, with furnishings and artwork of the period. Another highlight was the Secrets Tour at the Palazzo Ducale, an hour-long guided itinerary taking you to hidden parts of the palace which aren't usually open to the public.

Venice was full of tourists -- much more so than when we visited fifteen or so years ago. Whether this was because it was Easter weekend or whether it is just that many more people are travelling now than then, I don't know. However, as is always the case, you only have to turn down a small side street to find yourself practically alone, since the vast majority of people seem to prefer sticking with the crowds on the main drags.

The kids particularly enjoyed the 'watery' aspect of Venice and loved the various vaporetto rides that we did. We took an Alilaguna boat from the airport to Venice and this was a real hit -- approaching Venice by boat ensures some fantastic views and also provides an understanding of the city and its canals. The kids were on the edge of their seats snapping photos out of the window.

A weekend really wasn't long enough to see and do everything in Venice. Maybe we'll return in another few years to complete the job!