11 December 2011

Nastiness and bullying: England special

Readers of this chapter are warned that it’s obviously based on generalisation. Which means, those with a tendency to hide beneath the fig leaf of “but we’re not all like that” can save themselves the trouble. And the same with the trite cloak of “but this happens in other countries too”. Yes. Of course. But nowhere near as bad.

I thought long and hard of ways to water down what I’m about to type. But quite simply, denial doesn’t take you far.

And so here it is: England has long turned into the nastiest, most malicious (as well as the angriest) place to be in. This is true on so many levels that it’s actually extremely difficult to knock together a coherent and orderly argument.

And almost every time I wonder about the underlying causes beneath each specific streak of nastiness and bullying, I’m afraid what pops up are the words “tabloids” and “press” and the increasingly poisonous job they’ve been carrying out.

09 December 2011

Football culture


There is no question whatsoever that football is Italy’s national obsession. Unlike the other countries covered by this blog, in Italy no other sport comes anywhere close to football both in terms of popularity, passion and impact on national culture.

And so, for instance, you find that rugby may be growing in popularity a bit (especially in the North-East of the country), volleyball is probably more widely played than anywhere else in Western Europe, and cycling is also quite an institution around the Alps.

None of them, however, can compete with football, not even one bit.

To start with, Italy boasts three daily newspapers almost exclusively dedicated to football (all other sports are relegated to the back pages). The most famous of all is La Gazzetta dello Sport, a paper traditionally printed on pink paper and a true national icon.

Within days of visiting Italy, you’ll clock that 99.9% of all bars in the country will have a fine selection of local newspapers freely available for their customers to peruse while sipping on coffee and stuffing their gob with a croissant – and La Gazzetta dello Sport is no doubt the most popular rag on display.

20 November 2011

Picking up the lingo

This chapter is obviously extremely relative, in the sense that how difficult a language feels depends on a load of factors such as the age when you start learning it (or are first exposed to it), your mother tongue or, even, whether you're cut out at all for that sort of stuff.

However, here's a few points you may find equally useful and disheartening - especially if you're an English speaker.


Learning German is a fucking nightmare. There. I've said it and I stand by it. Like good old Mark Twain once wrote: "Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp", which is not quite as poignant as another one of his observations: "In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language."

Spot on.

Quite simply, German is not a language that you can start learning a bit, and then hope to get by and build up as you go along. Unlike, say, neo-latin languages or English, storing vocabulary and attempting to buid sentences around words you (think you) know is likely to backfire spectacularly. In other words, until you master a considerable level, you may find it very difficult to get your message across (apart from simple set phrases, of course), which in turn will make you feel like a retard.

There is a list of about 75 reasons why, aside from languages using different alphabets like Russian, German is possibly the most frustrating, twisted, hostile and complicated European language to learn.

And yet, somehow, there's a category of native English speakers who like to pontificate that "English and German have a lot in common", which is one of the most superficial and laziest statements you could possibly hear when languages are discussed.

13 November 2011

A nice stroll?

Where's the cycle lane?

I have a lot of respect for the way the Germans go about things; their efficiency, practicality, organisation, as well as their all-round no nonsense approach to a lot of things.

That said, however, there is one aspect of everyday life in Germany that lets them down big time. Something, I must admit, that they are conducting in the most imbecilic fashion imaginable.

I’m talking about their bogus cycle lanes, or the way bicycles in general are such a pain in the arse all over German cities. Whoever thought up the system should be slapped in the face with a rotten fish.

Quite simply, strolling around any German town can be a very stressful experience.

24 October 2011

Food twitches


Say what you like about English or British grub, but it is my firm belief that the Brits have probably the most outward-looking and open-minded approach to food in general.

While it is common to spot people in other countries poking fun or sneering at what is deemed "inferior foreign food", you won't find the same attitude in the UK, especially amongst newer generations (the old days of nans slagging off "that foreign muck" are hopefully over, hopefully...).

Of course, no-one's arguing that British cuisine is as varied, inviting and world-renowned as many others, but it is a fact that people outside the UK are often guilty of spectacular bias whenever their brain attempts to process the notion of cuisine north of the channel.

"Fish & chips", I hear you say...

22 October 2011

Twitches and traits

Teufelsbruck, Großer Hamburg

One of the first things you’ll notice if working or spending time with German people on their home turf is their near-obsession with opening windows “to get some fresh air”.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. And the same terrifying thought crossed my mind too: “perhaps I may have BO and perhaps that’s what’s driving them all to that!”. At the end of the day, how many non-fresh-smelling people that you know are aware of the biggest cardinal sin of all (i.e. inflicting BO upon innocent victims)?

However, relief came when I heard other non-Germans also remarking about it (not the BO, but the serial window-opening).

In other words, no matter if it’s pissing it down, or the temperature is minus, or there’s gale force ten outside, within five minutes any of your fellow workmates will race to fling open the window “to get some fresh air”. Often they even do it as they walk into an empty room or environment that smells completely neutral or clean - which is why such behaviour reeks of compulsion to me...

16 October 2011

Social conservatism


If there's one country in the Western world where historical events can be directly linked to current cultural attitudes, then that place has to be Italy.

This is particulalry most striking when you look at how other places have managed to pull well away from their darkest days (see, for instance, Germany and Spain below). When you look at culture and society in Italy, instead, I'm afraid you can clearly detect the whiff of where a certain far-right ideology stemmed from.

Let's start with homophobia.

Italy is miles behind even when compared to what the UK used to be like in the caveman days of Section 28 and Margaret Thatcher. Just to give you an idea, last week's newspapers reported that the first university LGBT society in the whole country, something that has been run of the mill for years anywhere in Europe, was finally being set up at a campus in Rome - in the year 2011.