Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hans Plays With Lotte, Lotte Plays With Jane

"The Germans". This was the title of one of the so-few "Fawlty Towers" episodes. It was a title that needed no further explanation. Despite Basil's demands that the war was not to be mentioned, he, of course, succumbed to his own mania and climaxed with the famous silly walk and the finger for a moustache. The Germans. The war or some sense of the war still seems to pervade British attitudes towards the Germans; this and a series of steps that undermined the British claim to superiority, punctuated only too rarely by some British "victory", e.g. 1966. The German post-war economic miracle; German manufacturing and cars; German dominance of a Europe, the Brits were too haughty to join until it was too late; German football (despite 1966 and 5-1 in Munich); and, perhaps most importantly, Germans on holiday. Everywhere the Brit goes, he is reminded of German achievement and has only the sad memory of war with which to fight back.

The convenience of cliché holds that the Germans are arrogant; as if the same could not be said for the British. I once lived among Germans. They are not arrogant; selfish perhaps, rather unaware of things outside themselves, but arrogant? I don't think so. The Germans are also often portrayed as being rude. Again this is a fallacious categorisation; it is largely founded on a more direct style of speech that manifests itself in a general mode of behaviour. But it is not rudeness; no more so than the British can be rude, anyway.

Recently, there was a sort of lifestyle report about the Germans. One of its findings was that Germans are very conformist; going to Mallorca on holiday was one aspect thereof. There is a degree of truth in this. Individualism does not sit easily with Germans. I knew one German chap. Long-haired, he was dubbed the "space cowboy". Yet he worked in a very traditional industry, surrounded by very conformist colleagues. He himself liked to declare that his hair and his style of dress demonstrated his individualism. He clearly was "individual" in that he looked very different, but he still felt the need to state that he was being individual.

Many German males, from a young age, adopt a look of conformity; it can be noticed by the desperate desire to sprout facial hair even when this is of a "fluffy" variety (albeit that there is, according to "Blackadder", no word in German for fluffy). Yet Germans are far from being alone in the desire to conform. God knows, look along The Mile and you will find enough Brit conformity to fit Wembley Stadium; and indeed that would be where many of them might otherwise be found: the close crop, the tattoo, the arms in slightly gorilla or George W. Bush pose and varying degrees of bellydom. Nations and tribes are suffused by conformity; it just differs in its style. Yet the German male shares something in common with his British counterpart - size. It's that bellydom. The German word for big is "gross"; pronounced differently but it has travelled into English with ease, even if the English took the word from the French.

The Brits and the Germans share an awful lot; the English are, after all, basically Germans. But for all there is historical closeness, there is also historical difference and enmity. There is a touch of the I'm not racist but attitude towards the Germans. This translates as oh of course the war was a long time ago and I know some Germans are very nice but. And nowhere is this more in evidence than by the pools or in the hotels or bars of Mallorca.

I am amazed at some comments and questions one reads. People do ask - "what about the Germans?"; they do comment about the Germans at their hotel. Why on Earth are we so obsessed by this? And now we have the ultimate absurdity, that of compensation granted to a British holidaymaker because there were too many Germans and there was too much German language whilst he was in Greece.

"The Sun" and the German paper "Bild" have long engaged in jibes across the Channel. "Bild", responding to the compensation victory, has asked whether German holidaymakers can be recompensed if there are too many Englishmen. Apparently not, and it quotes a representative of one travel firm who says that the best solution is to avoid "well-known English holiday citadels". In Mallorca, it may come as no surprise that Magaluf takes pride of place. But where else does? Yep, sedate, nice, charming old Puerto Pollensa; even a place with a reputation for well-behaved English abroad does not escape the great Germano-British divide. I hope that Pollensa town hall isn't planning on a Ç-based marketing blitz to attract Hans and Helga from Hannover. It would be money ill-spent, now that the German press has branded the resort a no-go area for its citizens.

You know, maybe they should just ban all beach towels.

(N.B. "Bild" references are from "The Times".)

Chain - The "Men Behaving Badly" in-joke was when Tony asked Debs if she'd ever seen "Quadrophenia" with Sting playing the bell-boy. Debs said she hadn't. Leslie Ash starred in "Quadrophenia". And what's Quadrophenia's link with "The Bill"? Yesterday's title - John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, "Summer Nights". Today's title - where's this from?


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