issue 225 - November 1991
...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.
Why do peasant women in Bolivia wear bowler hats?
Is there a historical connection with British bowler hats?
The story I’ve heard is that they were dumped on the Bolivian market by a Manchester hatter who had over-produced. It happened in the mid-nineteenth century – a period when Britain was the main commercial power in Latin America. Dumping of manufactured clothing was quite common during this period – and had a very destructive effect on local economies. There are even stories of British-made ponchos flooding the Argentinian market! Thankfully, the Bolivian bowlers are mainly locally produced these days.
The ‘bowler’ hats worn by Bolivian women seem to have nothing to do with those worn by British businessmen. They are derived from Spanish peasant hats. The Bolivian brims, it is true, are narrower.
One theory is that they were derived from the round hats worn by the Spanish Conquistadores.
Who – or what – was Bretton Woods?
Bretton Woods is the place in New Hampshire, US, where the 1944 conference which founded the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank was held. Their main purpose was to make monetary relationships between member countries work more smoothly after the end of the Second World War. The Great Depression of the 1930s, which helped give rise to fascism, was intended never to happen again.
Where is the ‘parrot’s beak’?
I know of two – but I suspect there are many more. One is the southernmost point of Vietnam – and a very plausible beak it is too, as it dips into the South China Sea. Rather less impressive is the one in north-east Brazil. It’s just south of Belém and so called because of the shape formed by the boundaries of the state of Pará, Tocatins and Marnahão.
What is globalization?
It’s the system of production favoured by large companies these days. Products – for example Adidas sports gear or Amstrad computers – are not made in one country by a factory belonging to the named company. Instead different parts of production are contracted out to smaller local producers competing with each other on price.
It means that the companies of the rich world can use labour in the poor world with no commitment to investment, or to health-and-safety regulations. And if trade-union activity in a Third World country causes conditions to improve and costs to rise, the rich world company can simply pull out and put its work elsewhere, where wages may be lower and trade unions outlawed.
What is the only type of fruit you are not allowed to carry on public transport in Thailand – and why?
It’s called the Durian – also known as the ‘stinking fruit’. Which should answer the second part of your question. Not a misnomer, I am assured. It’s like strawberries and cream to the taste buds, but 100-year-old Camembert to the olfactories.
Where is Idi Amin now?
In calculating the Gross National Product no account is taken of the of the vegetables I grow on my allotment. Does the World Bank in calculating GNPs take account of the crops grown by Third World peasants on their plots of land? If not, why not?
Does anyone know what the 'Football War' was all about?
Can someone please explain the difference between GNP and GDP?
If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).