Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Britain: the spoiled toddler of Europe

We got home in the early hours of this morning from a brilliant holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes. Everywhere we went, my Australian self and my British husband did not have to trouble ourselves with knowing a word of Greek, apart from "Yamas!" when the beers arrived. 

Waiters, bar tenders, hotel receptionists, hotel cleaners, the woman in the mini market, people urging us to have fish pedicures and walk through a giant lion's mouth to enter a club in Faliraki, the guys who take the money for the sunloungers on the beaches, the cheerful car hire bloke - they all spoke good English. Better than good. Way better than anything I could burp out in Greek. And then you'd see them talk to other people and effortlessly swing from Greek to French to German to Italian and back to English for the monolingual people.

Because that is what Brits (and Australians and Americans...) have come to expect - that everyone will speak English. 

I couldn't sneer at the Greek waiter who said "Lovely jubbly!" as he took our order at a beachside taverna, even though I find Jamie Oliver chronically irritating. After all, he took the time to learn a popular English catchphrase for our benefit. If I was waiting on tables in London and that waiter turned up, I wouldn't be able to muster a single Greek catchphrase to welcome him. I could manage some schoolgirl German, maybe some French and Italian babble that would make me sound like a reject from 'Allo, 'Allo, but I'd be flattering myself if I thought I could hold entire conversations with our nearby neighbours in their own language.

But the cliche of the British tourist expecting to be pandered to, coddled and pampered like an obnoxious toddler is true. You do see British holidaymakers talking loudly and slowly, creating halitosis mirages in the faces of bemused Europeans. It's embarrassing (and I'm only British by presumption and association when I travel with my husband) but it's a microcosm of how Britain expects to be treated by the European Union.  

And we have been treated very well as members of the EU. We are not compelled to have multilingual road signs. Our driving distances are measured in miles, not metric. We can order a pint rather than 568 millilitres of beer. We have kept the pound as our currency rather than adopting the euro. We are not part of the Schengen zone. We have the power to deport Europeans for reasons of security and if they are a burden on the welfare system. We would have had even more rights in terms of deporting EU citizens under the deal David Cameron negotiated before the referendum - if we'd voted to stay in the EU. Ironically, he did a better job of negotiating with the EU than any of the lazy, low-information charlatans who have turned up to Brussels since the referendum still expecting special treatment.

It is pitiful to see Brexiters whine about the EU being mean to them when all they are doing is enforcing what it means to leave the EU. The four freedoms are indivisible - if you voted to leave the EU, you literally voted to give up those freedoms. You can poke your bottom lip out and wobble it all you like, but that is what you did. At least have the courage and awareness to own your shit.

If we do end up leaving the EU on October 31, we don't yet know the level of chaos that will ensue. Only a masochist would want things to go badly. But there are some things that will become more difficult, things that many of us haven't even considered. There are no cheaper, smoother alternatives for British companies who benefit from supply chains through Europe - and this is not just for exporting to the EU. Anyone with a map of the world can see that the port of Antwerp offers an easy route to Africa, for example. 

There is a world of crap facing the travel industry too. Trust me, I report on it for a living. Bus drivers who drive in Europe will need EU-approved certificates of professional competence as UK certificates would become invalid in a no-deal Brexit. Insolvency protection for UK retailers selling to EU customers and vice versa will become way more complicated, such as those who sell travel products. UK travel companies will need to take out insolvency protection for each EU market into which they sell. EU-based tour operators will need to be ATOL members. UK travel agents will need proof that non-UK organisations they work with comply with separate UK regulations.

But supply chains and ease of working for bus drivers and insolvency protection for the travel industry and Antwerp - that's all boring, right? If anyone read the paragraph above in its entirety, I'd be stunned. Here's the link to a story I wrote on it if you can be arsed.

No matter what I write, there are still plenty of people who are fetishising any possible hardships, spouting tedious bumper sticker slogans about how we survived two world wars and we just need to invoke the Blitz spirit. Except WWII ended 74 years ago. People who have never fired a shot in defence of anything are carrying on as if they were there, underneath Luftwaffe bombs and enduring rationing. It was a bloody awful time. 

We survived? My arse, we did. We didn't have to do anything because most of us weren't yet born or we were too young to really remember - and for that we should be grateful for the generations before us. But in the online peanut galleries, it is the Brexiters who are claiming a monopoly on respecting the sacrifices of our largely long-dead soldiers. That's bullshit.

The desire in particular to see young people suffer post-Brexit is particularly vile. When did people stop wanting the next generation to have a better, easier life?  My grandfather, who saw the horrors of WWII up close in Papua New Guinea and Japan, was always grateful that his son and daughter and my sister and I did not have to go to war. He did not want us to see what he saw and he did not want our young adulthoods blighted by war and suffering because he was decent and rational.

And as the days grind on, ever closer to October 31, it's obvious Boris Johnson, our wretched joke of a prime minister, has nothing to offer. He has no real desire or ability to negotiate anything with the EU. All he has is meaningless arse-waffle about "believing" and "getting on with it" and "clean breaks". It's the Brexiters who are all about the feelz, even when the attempts by the government to negotiate a deal that won't damage the economy collide with reality and dissipate into a fine powder of delusion.  

This country is behaving like a spoiled toddler. I hope we're not the poorer for it. If the Brexiters prove me wrong, fine. So be it. But spare me the WWII analogies - they're historically ignorant and you're embarrassing yourself like a prime minister who runs away from a bunch of middle-aged protestors in Luxembourg.


Photography by Eyesplash/Flickr

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