Wednesday, 15 January 2014
If there is one thing Britons are proud of, and one thing that seems to encapsulate "the British way of life" it is the ability to form a queue. If I had a pound for each time someone (usually a recently arrived expat) told me "The Germans have never learned to queue", I'd be very rich indeed. It's also something every foreigner feels obliged to admire.
In fact, it isn't just the Germans who don't form an orderly queue. Europeans tend not to. Or have you ever seen a queue in Italy -or, say Finland? No. The now defunct Soviet Union would be the only other queuing contestant.
And that's what queuing smacks of to me - deprivation, wartime, rationing, dark times. Queuing says. "I know my place, I am a number and I know it." It says: "I'll do as I'm told. I'm obedient and subservient, I don't make a fuss even if I have to stand in the rain for hours."
Harsh words, I know, for such a beloved institution. But I've always found it quite off-putting. When I first lived in Oxford, I took photos of the endless snaking bus queues that would merge into the next bus queue... of people standing there - motionless, patient, obedient. I found it unnatural and a source of mirth.
Also - not forming a queue does not mean other nations just push and shove their way to the front, elbowing and if necessary head-butting others aside. Not so. When you look closely, queues are mostly a waste of space, and it is much more economical to form small gathering (say in a shop). People have a good eye for judging when they arrived and who came after them. There is no free-for-all. Quite the contrary, it often makes for polite exchanges "Were you before or after me?- No please, go ahead , I've got time." Or there are enquiries whether it's possible to go first - and so on. This is a very Continental type of small talk which contrary to British expectations isn't at all aggressive or anarchic.
It's how social life generally works in my books, by consensus and negotiation -not via a rigid, pre-ordained structure which is sacrosant. I was therefore pleased to see that in London - probably through lack of space - the endless snaky bus queues don't seem to exist anymore. People also negotiate access more freely. Progress indeed - at least that's how I see it
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Following the news during the last few weeks, you could certainly be forgiven to think so. Once we'd got used to the fact that sipping "Glu-wein" on one of the many many German Christmas markets now scattered all over the UK ( I believe there's even one in Belfast) is now the thing to do, the next hammer blow was falling. Apparently "Stollen" is now more popular in Britain than the once ubiquitous mince pie. Food for thought, indeed.
Apologies to my Atheist readers but have never heard "stollen" referred to other than "Christ-Stollen". (Stollen on its own meaning a mineshaft.) But is the abbreviated version also an indication of culinary shortcomings? Christstollen is a yeasty sort of cake with plenty of dried fruit and (regionally )a dollop of marzipan in it. At its best it tastes like wonderful Italian panettone, at its worst, it could double up as a self-defense tool.
Plus, I saw a picture of a British Christmas tree. Had the description not included its origin, I would have assumed it was the real continental thing. Tastefully decked out with traditional wooden ornaments (rocking horse, trumpet, drum) and real candles, I was thoroughly perplexed. What about the plastic tree that would open up like an umbrella? What about the multi-coloured fairy lights that blink omnichromatically in 3-second intervals so that your eyesight becomes disturbed? What about the pink fluffy tinsel?
And apparently it's not just the Christmas spirit that makes Britons borrow heavily from their Continental neighbours. An article in The Guardian suggested that on top of those Christmas Markets, The UK could also benefit from a less centralised, more federal governmental structure. You can read the article here
Whatever next I wonder. No more bare legs on January evenings out? Winter coats instead of fleeces? Mixer taps in a bathroom which is no longer carpeted? It's all beginning to sound very scary.....