Saturday, 19 August 2017

Brits Abroad

Montenegro. Beautiful, but occasionally troubling if you are British.

It’s tough being a Brit abroad. Rules we hold dear are flouted in every other part of the world. Our British upbringing makes society function at home, but leaves us floundering and furious abroad.

And we can’t SAY anything, because we’re too polite. We hold onto our rage and vent it later in a strongly worded whinge.

Don’t mention the smell

I used to work in a dog-friendly office. One day a terrible smell engulfed our desks. We endured it for half an hour, afraid to mention it in case it exposed someone’s secret shame. We did this right up until someone discovered a dog turd on the carpet.

‘Oh thank God!’ we all said. ‘I was starting to feel ill, but I didn’t like to say…’

Inflatable anxiety

It quite clearly says..!

Day one at our resort in Montenegro and a grandma arrived at the pool with small children and an inflatable pizza slice. I stiffened. A notice quite clearly stated that inflatables were not allowed. No one said anything for a while. Then a shocked British child whispered to his Dad.

‘I know!’ he said. ‘Inflatables are not allowed!’

I knew that, like me, he wouldn’t be able to relax until the rule-breaking floater had been removed. It should not have mattered to me. I was not using the pool. It’s just a British obsession with fairness that torments me. If others are refraining from floating pizza fun, how can this be allowed?

Queue decency outraged

It got worse. We went on a boat trip to a blue cave, and then a gorgeous beach. As the time approached for the boat to pick us up, my family formed the front of an orderly queue on the quayside. I twitched with nerves as others ambled in front of us, and fought down horror as the boat arrived and they all surged to the gangway ahead of us.

The scene of the outrage.

As I reached the front, a boatman’s arm came down across the entrance. The boat was full.

I stared at the people already on the boat. Did they know they were terrible people, that civilization itself was in danger of collapse?

‘Mate?!’ said my older son. He was born abroad but brought up by Brits.

The boatman shrugged. ‘Another boat is coming.’

‘Oh yeah,’ said my younger son, who is familiar with this part of the world. ‘Queuing is literally not a thing. You’ve got to go for it.’

Right, I thought. At least I’m at the head of the queue this time. I mean, the boatman’s arm came down in front of me. That makes me first, right?

But as the second boat approached, the queue turned into a human swarm in which numerical order –  moral order! – was abandoned. I did my best to push with the best of them this time, but somehow my British DNA would not allow it. I stepped on board last.

Perhaps driven by shame, someone shunted up to let me sit down. Only my sunglasses saved the rabble from a glare that told of the depths of degradation to which these people had sunk.

At least I had retained the moral high ground. Either that, or I was really rubbish at this. I hope I am never involved in the scrabble for a lifeboat.

As we sailed back in a golden sunset, I realised that there was no aggression or malice in my fellow passengers’ behaviour. I had seen civilization give way to savagery. They had just got on a boat.

British babies, playing together, are taught to take turns. If they don’t, they are met with outrage, as if they had thrown the contents of their nappy in someone’s face. That’s why it is so hard to abandon this rule in later life.

Brit’s revenge

A small comfort to us Brits abroad is the chance for a good moan. I have always loved discovering other cultures, but I am not above snottiness when it comes to tea. As I sipped yet another inadequate brew in Montenegro, I burst out,

‘I know now why foreigners don’t put milk in their tea. It’s because their milk’s disgusting.’

Best tantrum ever

We have a British family to thank for one of most entertaining tantrums I have ever seen.

One evening a small boy trailed along a beachside strip of restaurants, fairground rides, bars and entertainments. He was wailing,

‘LET me! You’ve got to LET me! Not tomorrow! Now! You’ve got to let me NOW!’

His bafflement and grief hung on the balmy air. His parents walked ahead in stoical silence – perhaps defeated, perhaps just too polite to say anything.

The moment led to a holiday catchphrase. ‘You’ve got to LET me!’ we moaned at each other whenever the need arose.

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