When I grew up in Holland, England was across the sea horizon. So close that when my 6 foot 2 father walked into the sea at the beach with my younger sister on his shoulder, she screamed full of anxiety, “not to England father, not to England father!” That happened just after we were liberated from Germany and we could go to the beach again. In Holland, we loved England despite what we were taught in class about our 100-year bloody sea-wars with each other in the 17th and 18th centuries. These wars were mostly “commercial wars” about sea trade to the Far East for “spices,” and hegemony in the Americas and West-Indies. We lost New Amsterdam to the Brits who renamed it New York. That was bad, and I am still mad about that. But in 1945, England helped liberate us from the Germans. ” The Tommies,” as their soldiers were called, conquered many blonde Dutchies.
Everyone wanted to build a new Europe free from division and wars. The US helped rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan. Regional collaboration started between Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, “The Benelux”, launched by representatives of the three countries exiled in London in 1944, with a Secretariat in Brussels. At the Ministry of Economic Affairs in The Hague, I participated in those activities. It was mostly built on commercial interests. I adored Brussels for many reasons, foremost good French fries, mussels, delightful steak salade, white Mosel wine from Luxemburg. And the beautiful Grand Place with its many sidestreets where you can dine and wine was always like heaven.
My greatest fun was that we received a tax-free compensation for those Brussels meetings that I used to buy my liquor with back home in The Hague. That compensation always increased if the meetings lasted beyond 4.30 PM. So, even if there was nothing to discuss anything more, somebody always came up at the last moment with some urgent issue to resolve. And we went happily home with the extra bonus. Later, when I had a girlfriend living with me, it saved me from ruin because I had to pay for her telephone calls.
“The Coal and Steel Community” came to life in 1951, covering the Benelux, France, Italy, and Germany, which was the precursor of the European Economic Union (EEC), established in 1958. The UK wanted to be a member of the six-country union, but former President de Gaulle blocked its membership because he said it would be the Trojan Horse bringing in the USA to meddle in “Europe’s affairs.” The UK then joined with other European countries bordering the EEC to establish the competing EFTA (Economic Free Trade Association), among others with Ireland, Switzerland, and the Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. So from the outset, the EEC was a continental European affair. The UK became only a member in 1973 after La Douce France lifted her veto skirt. But it has always been a lukewarm relationship. And now it is out again. The good idea of unification after WW II became entangled in overly centralized governing by Brussels and uncontrollable borders with undesirable immigrants.
Churchill, by the way, wanted a federal Europe like the US, but it excluded the UK because that was a self-standing entity. The Brits wanted “self.” It took only 43 years, a blip in history.
It was basically a matter of English breakfast versus Continental breakfast. I love English breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, sliced baked potatoes, smoked mackerel, English tea, so good that we could not stop eating at the Heathrow airport Hilton and missed our flight. Also, because access to Heathrow airport is like a real bottleneck and continuously jammed. Conversely, a continental breakfast consists of espresso, a croissant with some jelly, and perhaps a little cookie. That’s all.
The French continental breakfast
Although I prefer my Douce France for dinner, I prefer my Perfide Albion for breakfast. With the British pound down for a while, I may just go and get it. I remember the dollar was high in 1984, and we stocked up on good English shoes, coats, and curios, and had a ball at Selfridges and Harrods. And we gauged on a succulent English lamb that had become ridiculously expensive because of the EEC.
A feast that warrants repetition thanks to Brexit. God Save The Queen.
I have traveled and lived in quite a few places and endured numerous cultural shocks. Looking back, I understand better why we humans from different places do not always understand each other and get annoyed with each others behavior. Living and traveling in other countries offers you a different perspective on life and is certainly enriching, but it is not always easy to absorb. Below follows an abridged list of my cultural shocks, but it is by no means exhaustive.
If you have your own list, please let me know, and I will publish them! It’s fun to know how we look at each other.
THE “WEST” AND SORT OF WEST
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks they are insane. Depending on which side of the Ocean, the rest is right.And everything looks and tastes the same and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules, unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once. Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. French fries, mussels and beer for breakfast (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. But females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa poompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road.
- Ireland: All Irish gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pick pockets left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss French unintelligible; Swiss German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows and turtles. Puts holes in its cheese to attract Americans. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and cheese fondue a bit longer causing an outbreak of fumes not liked by others, especially not your co-worker.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by the law.
- South-Africa: Visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill them.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and because of that it has been good at destroying all it had been given.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seems to work because it has a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and getting the Dhaka run if you don’t survive it (most of the time).
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis, or whatever. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese, and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. Only in the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city Java is a jewel. And on Bali they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Driving off the main roads you see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But paying the hotel bills was like hell.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wonders how long the good will last.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show but not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America. So good to be back, or is it?
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off for saying something about it.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home.
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100 year European wars and when it changed hands from England to Holland, the Dutch Governor did not know what left or right was because he drank too much rum. Since Independence everybody drives in the middle of the road, so I stay inside or take a cab. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. Fluent Dutch speaking Guyana (the only country outside Holland – apart from Flemish Belgium – that does): the greatest shock was that they are not Dutch at all, actually quite the opposite, and although pretty, women bite.
- Aruba: Nice but too much beach.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers only and iguana lovers.
- Jamaica: The place where I lost my Millennials and my tendons tore when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with Jamaicanitis.