So just why are the Irish obsessed with chewing gum?

Conversation starters from around the world

John Dyer By John Dyer

Cast members Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor at the April premiere of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" at the Directors Guild of America theater in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a film starring British actors Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, opened last month to tepid reviews.

IMDB’s copy writer summarized the movie with the usual wistfulness reserved for a promotional blurb: “A fisheries expert is approached by a consultant to help realize a sheik’s vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert and embarks on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible possible.”

Sound unlikely? You bet it is.

That hasn’t stopped British tourists from inundating Yemen’s Ministry of Tourism with calls, as The Telegraph reports. British anglers want to know how they, too, might journey to the Arabia Peninsula, don waders and cast their lines in search of the prized fish. Problem is, there are few if any salmon in Yemen. The country’s climate isn’t suited to the cold-water species. The movie, after all, is based on Paul Torday’s comic novel. It’s fiction. That means, um, the author made the story up.

“One negative is that salmon fishing isn’t actually that popular in Yemen, but there are excellent sea fishing opportunities in the country,” Benjamin Carey, the tourism ministry’s spokesman in the United Kingdom, told the newspaper.

As for the other negatives? The American and British governments and the European Union advise against traveling to Yemen, citing Al Qaeda activity, civil unrest and other dangers. It’s hard to fish when you’re dodging bullets, after all.

Carey gave that his best spin, telling The Telegraph “some places are very hospitable but I wouldn’t advise people to go to certain places at this time.”

Éire gummed up no more?

Look down at almost any street in the United States, and you’ll see black spots littering the ground, the dirty remnants of discarded chewing gum. We accept it. In Ireland, they abhor it.

On Wednesday, the country’s public broadcaster RTE reported that authorities in the Emerald Isle had cut litter from chewing gum by nearly 60 percent through a series of educational campaigns. Environmental Minister Phil Hogan hailed the decrease, but he wasn’t resting on his laurels. Indeed, Hogan announced a new $12.6 million awareness campaign and said he wouldn’t rule out a gum tax to curb the proliferation of dropped gum, if necessary.

The Irish have been trying to tackle what we might call The Gum Question for quite some time. Last year, The Belfast Telegraph reported that a team of Irish researchers had made a revolutionary breakthrough that might finally, finally put an end to gum pollution once and for all. The paper explains the researchers’ genius:

It has the same “chewability” as traditional gum and you can even blow a bubble with it. However, after 45 minutes it dissolves in the chewer’s mouth and breaks up into small pieces which can be safely swallowed.

Sounds great, right? The newspaper says the invention could save the Irish hundreds of thousands of Euros in costs related to scraping gum off the ground.

It doesn’t stop there. Ireland is also reportedly the first country in the European Union that is going to try a recently approved English gum that isn’t sticky. That’s right. Non-stick gum! The Mayo News explains why the Irish are so eager:

The gum, called Rev7, can be removed readily from clothes, using soap and water – and, significantly for Ireland, from the streets.

Chewing gum is the single largest component in the food-litter category, and the second largest component of overall litter, after cigarettes. In one month, Dublin City Council removed an estimated 180,000 pieces of embedded gum from Grafton Street, while across the country around 500 tonnes end up dumped on the streets. Yuck.

Artist Ben Wilson uses discarded chewing gum for his canvas in London in February. (Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)

Unless the Irish take a tip from London artist Ben Wilson and start using old chewing gum for art (see photo), a word to the wise: In Ireland, be a good guest and avoid gum entirely.

Zimbabwe vice

Embarrassed men caught with prostitutes often concoct excuses. In Zimbabwe last year, men began claiming they were being raped by women, allegedly witches who used stimulants to force them to have sex, then harvested their semen for rituals. This after 31 used condoms were found in a car being driven by three women.

Outlandish as it sounds, many Zimbabweans bought into it.  Men stopped hitchhiking in cars driven by women, causing this rant about the sad state of young women in Zimbabwe. Authorities even brought charges against the three women. Press in other parts of the world did their duty with a straight face: ” while the first accounts…were generally met with incredulity, men who spoke to the BBC say that they are now taking the issue very seriously.” And the same dispatch went on to quote one counselor to the men who brought the initial charges as saying: men “need to deal with denial which comes from a deeply rooted mistaken belief that men are immune to being victimised and that they should be able to fight back if they are truly a real man.” That’s from the  BBC last November. 

The Herald explains the origins of the case:

According to the State, on various occasions the women would use different tricks to lure men before spraying them with unknown chemicals. The court heard how the women would take their victims to secluded places where they would force them to take a concoction to stimulate sexual desire. It is alleged the women would take turns to have sexual intercourse with the victims before leaving them unconscious. At least 17 men, including a soldier and policemen, were allegedly sexually abused.

AllAfrica.com explained the public outcry that erupted when news of the scheme went public:

When the trio’s arrest was made public it was followed by a rush of men expressing fear of being attacked. Fears were given extra impetus by widespread speculation that the sex workers were collecting semen for witchcraft.

Then, on Thursday, Zimbabwean prosecutors dropped assault charges against the three prostitutes. Seems they didn’t have evidence supporting the case, either about the assaults or the witchery.

Of course, while defending themselves against assault charges, the poor women admitted they were only engaging in sex for money. So they still face prostitution charges. And it looks like they will still have 88-year-old Robert Mugabe running for office later this year.