Monday, 28 September 2009

More thoughts on the police – an update

A minor correction to my comments regarding police vehicles.

Of course the Italian government would never allow their police to drive around in German Audi’s. The police were, of course, in an Italian Alfa Romeo.

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Thursday, 28 May 2009

And by Brits I do mean all of us

Earlier this week I commented on the British habit of going to a beauty spot, parking up in the car and then not actually bothering to leave the car park.

At the time I wrote it at the back of my mind was a little voice going “Isn’t it more an English trait rather than a British trait”

Well, having been for a beautiful walk along the seafront at Ayr, southern Scotland, with the warmth of a strong late spring sun shining down I can confidently say the habit extends to the Scots too.

All along the seafront were cars parked up with people sitting in the front seats staring out to the sea.

It’s beautifully warm outside, there is a lovely gentle breeze, the sand is enticing, but no, we’ll sit in the car thank you very much!

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Sunday, 24 May 2009

British Bank (Car Park) Holidays

I didn’t think it actually happened, I thought it was just people exaggerating; I thought it was just a comic devise used to self-mock the Brits.

But today, I experienced the very peculiar habit of people driving to a beauty spot, parking up, getting out the camping chairs and having a cup of tea, in the car park, by their car.

Just 20 yards away was a little visitor’s centre with a tea room attached, but several couples were more than happy with their boot party.

The views from the visitors centre were stunning, with Hadrian’s wall climbing over the ridges into the distance, but they weren’t taking in these views. They were looking at the car park, and the ticket machine. They had their backs to the stunning scenery!

Perhaps it’s just me. Not having a driving licence I obviously haven’t got a drivers mind, I’m not focused on the car.

Or perhaps it was a troop that specialise in acting out the peculiar habits people joke about.

I hope its the latter, but I think it’s probably the former.

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Saturday, 14 March 2009

When Spanish Stereotypes let you down

It is a widely held belief that the Spanish eat late. The guide books all go on about being able to get a meal until gone midnight, that the kitchen never closes, and that only the tourists are eating at 8pm.

So far, in both Seville last year, and Granada this year, I have either managed to find a slight hole in this theory.

Last night I left it quite late to go out for dinner, aiming to eat about 9, only to discover that several of the restaurants had already packed up for the evening, and a couple of others were about to close.

Yes, when I was in Madrid a couple of years ago you could get a meal at gone midnight, but here is Andalucía in March that appears not to work.

Not to cast aspersions on the fine writes of the guide books, but could it be possible that some of the research was done in Madrid, without actually venturing out of the Capital.

But nobody would do that surely...

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Sunday, 21 December 2008

A country divided

I've been to Belgium on a couple of occasions now. To Brussels first, but then also to Antwerp (Flemish) and Liege (Walloon). In the past I hadn't really noticed any particular friction between the different language groups, and the stories I had seen in the press and on the TV about a nation tearing itself apart along linguistic lines, I thought were a little over exaggerated for effect.

Then today, in the Choco-Story I came across the open sore.

There were a large group of people walking round in matching jackets and bags, and for a while I thought they might be quite mature language students (in the same way that large groups of people wandering around London with matching bags and jackets are always students coming to the UK to study English.) However, on closer inspection (i.e. having one barge in front of me whilst I was trying to read a display board), they appeared to all be from the same company, possibly on a work outing.

I miss-timed getting down to the demonstration on making chocolate and arrived just a few seconds ahead of this group, so any chance of it being in English went out the window.

The presenter said that he would only present in one language and wanted a show of hands who wanted English, Dutch or French. Needless to say there were more hands up for Dutch and French than English, but it was difficult to say which one won.

Given that as I was arriving the presenter had just finished the previous talk which was in Dutch I think he decided he wanted a change and started to do the presentation in French. He was quite quickly interrupted by someone speaking in Dutch. I’m not quite certain what he was saying but there was a mention of Vlaams, Nederladich and Walloon. The guy speaking was one of the employee day trip group. A retort came back in French, from a colleague, which didn't sound like it was being delivered in a friendly manner. I think the presenter realised this and decided that he might be able to do it in two languages so started to repeat everything in both Dutch and French.

Now it’s possible that it was just a row between two colleagues who don’t see eye to eye, but at the same time it was noticeable that they were in two distinct groups – those speaking Dutch and those speaking French - on different sides of the room.

It’s always possible that it was a work bonding trip gone horribly wrong, it could be that the whole thing was being put on as some kind of massive company in joke

Or it could be that those news reports weren't so wrong. Could Belgium actually be pulling itself apart?

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Sunday, 3 August 2008

And this is the reason why everyone hates the Brits!

Before finally dropping off to sleep last night I overheard the guy in the room next door on his phone to friends (I would assume) back in the UK. He was, by his accent, from Manchester, but the views he espoused were similar to those I have seen from a number of Brits abroad.

He felt the area around Interlaken was not a very friendly place as they spoke German at you and that when he tried to make them speak English they would get rude.

Now, forgive me if I am wrong here, but Interlaken is in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and therefore the language they will naturally greet anyone (who they don’t know the nationality of) will be in German.

Of course the easiest way to deal with these natives who don’t realise “we beat them in the war” (small note of historical accuracy, Switzerland was neutral throughout both World Wars, but don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good rant) is to speak LOUDLY and S L O W L Y to them as everyone can understand English the louder and slower you speak it. It’s a known fact that in their everyday dealings the rest of the world speaks English, it’s only when tourists are nearby that they swap into their “funny lingo”

I won’t even go into the casual racism that he then descended into in describing the other tourists in the region, other than to point out that Interlaken has an international appeal and visitors from most parts of the globe, as well as a resident population drawn from a wide variety of nationalities.

His final closing comments were “I don’t know why they don’t like the Brits, We won the war, we gave them our language, what more do they want”.

It could always have been an elaborate hoax or wind-up down the phone to a friend, but the way in which it was delivered, and the tone in the voice, suggested that these were his actual views as if he was warning friends to avoid this bit of Switzerland.

I’m sure he is also exasperated when the annual surveys come out and rank the British as one of the least liked groups of tourists around.

Personally, I’m surprised that we don’t come top.

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Thursday, 31 July 2008

Bang goes the stereotype

The image of the Swiss is that of a quiet, contemplative, clean and perhaps a little insular nation. You would never imagine rampaging hoards running around the streets, smashed out of their skulls on larger and setting of fireworks everywhere.

The stereotype holds for the vast majority of the population for 363 days of the year.

Then you hit National Day, or more importantly in today’s instance, the Eve of National day, and the second type of Swiss arrive.

Walking back through town this evening I was convinced I was in the UK on a rowdy Guy Fawkes night, only they hadn’t seen the horrible public safety films at school about setting off fireworks! Not a major Swiss city.

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It’s always so clean

I’ve always thought that Switzerland is clean and tidy, but I hadn’t really realised how much.

A lot of people, myself included, would put the UK down as being quite grubby and dirty in places with lots of graffiti and urban decay. However, when compared to Poland, and in lots of cases certainly to Berlin if not other parts of Germany, The UK itself is tidy. Yes there is graffiti, and there is rubbish around the place. But in most instances it is cleared up within hours or at worst a couple of days. The most noticeable thing in the UK, which has changed a lot in the last few years, is the absence of dog-mess. Across Poland and in Berlin it was evident in a number of places.

Consequently, sitting on the train from Zurich I was struck by the total lack of graffiti, the absence of rubbish (not even cigarette ends) everywhere.

I found myself carefully eating a pretzel over the bag just in case a grain of salt should fall off and despoil the streets.

And, perhaps that is the problem. I’m kind of used to clean-ish streets at home, but it doesn’t matter if you accidentally drop a bit of salt, or a crumb of bread. Switzerland feels just a little too much like it’s still wrapped in the plastic it was delivered in. Like a collectable car, worth so much more monetary wise still sealed in its perfect original packaging, but lacking the human emotion of one that’s been played with and enjoyed.

I love Switzerland, but maybe they could just relax a little.

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Friday, 25 July 2008

European Harmony, We all agree the Germans are obsessional

Whilst waiting at Gdansk station I was able to earwig a conversation that was going on between two friends.

Based on the accents, she appeared to be Polish, and he was probably French. Together they were chatting away in their shared mutual language of English (it’s a hard life being a fluent speaker of the worlds Lingua Franca).

They were discussing the inevitable delay on his train out of Gdansk (his was even more delayed than mine). She was saying the effectively anything less than 15 minutes late was on time, and that they only normally announced delays to trains once it had passed this time, but you should only worry if your train hasn’t arrived within an hour of its scheduled time.

He mused on the decline of the French railways and how their trains were always running late, and then he mentioned the Germans.

They both agreed that the Germans were obsessional with time keeping, to the point of madness, and that Germans would go nuts if their train is more than a minute late.

Having been on a German train that was running late I am happy to say that the Germans don’t go mad, they like their English counterparts, just grumble about how bad the service is, and it never used to be like this.

But it was interesting to see that even in this time of European Union and Harmony the old divisions are still there. The Poles, French and Brits united in a conviction that the Germans are obsessed with time keeping. Now where did I leave my umbrella and cricket bat, it must be time for a cup of tea!

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