My Native Land

Thank you for setting me straight about acting awards. From watching television the last few weeks I had gained the impression that they awarded each other monthly.

You were curious about my native land. I have read enough of your science fiction on Earth to know that most people assume that alien planets will consist of one giant country, or will have a highly centralized world government. With the exception of one race of creatures barely within communication range, this is not true anywhere that we know about. Homeland, like Earth, has many nations with a variety of languages and cultures. The difference is, as I mentioned in a previous letter, that Earth is in an adolescent phase of ideological conflict which we on Homeland left behind us a long time ago.

My native land is a medium-sized, land-locked country on the western end of the Lake. Our government is one of the few constitutional monarchies remaining on Homeland. The full legal name is the Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne. Before you conjure up images of knights and swords, remember that any number of countries on Earth are kingdoms (such as Belgium, Holland, England, Denmark and Sweden) and that Luxemburg is a grand duchy. Thorgelfayne is a very modern place with an excellent infrastructure, a high standard of living, a superior university system and a world-wide reputation for precision manufacturing, efficiency and cleanliness. In the neighboring United Republic of Fjarn, they have an expression: “Living like God in Thorgelfayne.” The equivalent expression in English is “living like kings.” Thorgelfaynese have won more Technical Prizes (similar to the Nobel Prize) for engineering and scientific research than any other nationality.

I just now recall that you had asked what a Technical Prize is. My apologies for such a late explanation.

My patriotic pride aside, Thorgelfayne is a beautiful country. It has the cold and forbiddingly rugged mountains in the south, fertile farmland in the midsection, and the long subtropical Lake coast in the north. Thorgelfayne and its half-dozen nearest neighbors are lumped together as the Westlake States, much as you have the Balkan states or the Scandinavian countries. In fact, Thorgelfayne is a member of the Westlake Alliance of States, an economic union of smaller countries who must huddle together to compete effectively with the giant economies of larger nations, such as Fjarn. Our population is a scant twenty million, and we have (aside from resident foreigners and regional differences) no minority ethnic groups. By contrast, the United Republic of Fjarn has a population of two hundred fifty million, three major languages (including, of course, Fjarnian) and a bewildering array of ethnic groups. With size comes variety, you know.

From my description, you have probably gathered that Thorgelfayne is located about halfway between the South Pole and the coast, and at the opposite end of the Lake from the Rivers, which go to the ocean. You may be interested to know that the Thorgelfaynese words for north and south are forms of the archaic words for coast and center. Southward travel from Thorgelfayne is in the direction of the center of the continent, whereas northward travel is in the direction of the coast. East and west are forms of the archaic words for left and right. This is because travel towards the east is to the left, as viewed by an observer facing the south pole. I hope I am not boring you with this, but the derivation of words fascinates me. This means that the name of the Westlake Alliance of States could be translated more literally as the Alliance of States on the Right Side of the Lake!

In order for such a small country to be economically viable, we must base our industry on something other than natural resources. Your Switzerland is an example. The major factors in Thorgelfayne’s economy are computer design and manufacturing, information processing and education. Our university system is so good that many Homelander nations contract with our government for space for promising students. This means that our university system actually provides us with income. So far as I know, this situation is unique. Thorgelfaynese pride themselves on their education and have a world-wide reputation for wisdom.

I grew up in a small town on the Lake, as you know, but since I was a promising student in Lower School, I went to Hapdorn for my college education. By a slim margin, Hapdorn is the largest city in Thorgelfayne and possesses no fewer than four major universities of world-wide reputation. A Zerpicker once enrolled at Snodgrass University, in the first, last, and only interstellar academic exchange! Of course it is with great pride that I also claim Snodgrass University as my alma mater, although that name generally elicits either hilarity or puzzlement from Humans. (I don’t know why.)

Snodgrass University has a large Earth Studies department, in which I was enrolled. All of the twelve major languages of Earth are taught, and are accompanied by in-depth culture studies. It should be apparent that I chose the English-speaking cultures of your planet as my field of specialty. The first two years consisted in the theory and history of anthropology; mainly introductory courses. Then there were two years of intensive theoretical studies coupled with extensive training in language and customs; a grueling course, since English is difficult to learn for anyone who speaks Thorgelfaynese as a native language. It’s not that English is a particularly complex language (it isn’t); it’s just that English usage and grammar is quite alien to the Thorgelfaynese mind, since our language is structured differently. (Just like the structure of the Japanese language is quite difficult to anyone who speaks only English.) Then we had to master those nasty consonant groupings which at one time had me wondering if English was pronounceable by any Homelander with a normal mouth! Then we had to turn our efforts towards eradicating our accent, which in my case is mainly a process of eliminating the sing-song lilt we Thorgelfaynese tend to impose on foreign languages. You should hear a Thorgelfaynese speaking Fjarnian! It puts them in stitches every time.

Then, of course, came a field trip to Earth during my last year at the university. No one gets a degree without a practicum! (On all of Homeland, only Thorgelfayne is wealthy enough to pose such a requirement for a university degree. This is the reason for Thorgelfayne’s scientific leadership, and for the high number of foreign students on its soil.) We went on a survival mission: we were dropped off at scattered locations and required to live off the land for three months. Then our wrist watch monitoring devices led our proctors to us and we were picked up. I had been dropped off in Ohio with a counterfeit Green Card and immediately went about getting a job at an all-night convenience food store. Since convenience food store employees are quite often recently arrived foreigners, my appearance, my Thorgelfaynese accent and apparently eccentric behavior did little to arouse suspicion; except for one occasion when my neighbors complained to the landlord about my weird music and strange-smelling food! Because I was able to spend the three months without serious incident, I was awarded Special Honors. That was a few years ago. Now of course my school days are over, and I am here on a serious long-range research project.

My three months on Earth helped me to appreciate the modern conveniences and comforts of Thorgelfayne and of civilization in general. The main things I miss about Thorgelfayne are the super highways and smooth functioning mass transit system, the quiet airports (Thorgelfayne does not possess its own spaceport), and the responsive and efficient government bureaucracy. Earth as a whole is no longer considered a hardship post, though some portions of it still are, but it certainly is no garden of roses. Every time I get caught in a traffic jam or wrapped up in some government bureaucratic snafu, I remember Thorgelfayne with growing affection.