It never ceases to amaze me how different the perceptions of the East & the West are……& in this case, the stark contrast in the interpretation of the RAT ……..
According to the Chinese Zodiac, this is the Year of the Rat (after Feb 7, 2008). Surprisingly, this small animal is associated with hard work, courage, enterprise & even romance. In fact, ancient Chinese would not be caught dead going on board a ship or living in a town that was devoid of rats! It was considered a very bad omen … (common logic, I say – since nature has its own way of sensing catastrophes or troubles). Given that the RAT is the first animal in a cycle of 12 Zodiac Animals, it also signifies new opportunities & a period of renewal for the Chinese.
In the West however, the RAT is perceived in a rather different manner. Just flip into any dictionary (in my case Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language) & you might find the RAT is portrayed in a less than complimentary light……
In slang, if you called someone “You RAT!” – you could be referring to him / her as a scoundrel; or even an informer depending on what context you choose. Worse still, he could be someone who betrayed you, your party or your associates especially in times of trouble. Alternately, you could use it as a verb to colour your speech i.e. “He ratted on you!” meaning he squealed on you or he betrayed you or use it as an exclamation “Oh, RATS!” to express a certain degree of displeasure….
….Needless to say, when you “smell a rat….” you really mean to say you suspect or surmise a treachery…. And in this modern age that we are said to be so caught up in a “rat race” chasing riches & wealth that it’d come as no surprise if you end up ‘ratty’ i.e. irritable or snappish! …….
Clearly, the ‘rat’ is not quite so glorified in the West as it is in the East……. after all, the Western Zodiac does not even have room for the “long tailed rodents of the family Muridae, of the genus Rattus and related genera, distinguished from the mouse by being larger”! Rats even end up getting lured to the river to be killed in fairy tales i.e. the Pied Piper & we haven’t even started to touch on the role of the rat in diseases such as the Plague.
But, the East might have its way after all, as Hollywood’s been promoting a cutesy image for the RAT with the onset of films like Ratatouille in which the ‘leading’ rat is portrayed to be adorable, smart & possessing a talent for cooking it seems. Not forgetting Little Stuart & MICKEY too …. but then again, they’re MICE … aren’t they? Did you also know that in Russia there is a surge in RAT sales for pet shops there? All thanks to the popularity of Chinese Astrology amongst some Russians. That’s all good, as long as these people don’t throw the rats out in the streets after the novelty wears off. Or else….you might just end up having a huge RATTY problem. …… after all the RAT represents fertility to the Orientals too, no? Well, at least the PEST CONTROL people will come out winners in this!
HAPPY RAT YEAR everyone!!!!!