Saturday, 16 March 2013

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

by Alexander McCall Smith

Just like in the previous book, the Sunday Philosophy Club never meets, but I’m beginning to warm to Isabel Dalhousie. Maybe this is because she started to acquire some sort of third dimension.

The title is rather misleading: the novel talks a lot about friends and friendship, much less about lovers, and almost nothing about chocolate. Which is a shame.

Other cultures had much more elaborate forms for the recognition and cultivation of friendship. In South America, she had read, two men becoming friends might undergo a form of baptism ceremony over a tree trunk, symbolically becoming godchildren of the tree and therefore, in a sense, brothers to each other. That was strange, and we were just too busy to arrange ceremonies of that sort; meeting for coffee was easier. And in Germany, where form is preserved, there would be linguistic milestones in the development of friendship, with the change to the familiar du address. Of course one should not too quickly start to use the first names of friends in Germany; in some quarters a good few years might be required. Isabel smiled as she remembered being told by a professor from Freiburg of how, after several years of knowing a colleague, they were still on formal terms. Then, one evening, when the colleague had invited him to his house to watch an important football match on television, in a moment of great excitement he had shouted out ‘Oh look, Reinhard, Germany has scored a goal!’ and had immediately clasped a hand to his mouth, embarrassed by the solecism. He had called his colleague by his first name, and they had known one another for only a few years! Fortunately, the visitor had taken a generous view of this lapse, and they had agreed to move to first-name terms there and then, drinking a toast to friendship, as is appropriate in such circumstances.
Isabel had been intrigued. ‘But what happens,’ she asked, ‘if two colleagues agree to address one another as du and then they fall out over something? Does one revert to the old formal usage and go back to sie?’
Her friend had pondered this for a while. ‘There has been such a situation,’ he said. ‘I gather that it occurred in Bonn, amongst professors of theology. They had to go back to the formal means of address. It caused a great many ripples and is still talked about. In Bonn.’

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