Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The United Kingdom

(Virtual Tour 2009 - Around Europe without Leaving Your House)
From Sweden I’m hopping to… England! That beautiful island inhabited by people who have a very distinct sense of humor and tend to stick to their old traditions no matter what the rest of the world thinks.

At first I was going to choose a book written by a contemporary writer whose work would reflect the latest British style of living. In most likelihood this would have been something by Alexander McCall Smith – a very productive author, who is capable of telling his endless stories in a very attractive manner. But in the end I decided that it wouldn’t be fair – Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe and at the moment lives in Scotland - from what I’ve heard Scottish people would like to be independent, so probably they haven’t got anything to do with the rest of the UK?

Anyway, in one of the local bookshops I found a book that was written in 1900 and to my mind it was ideal. It is called ‘Three Men on the Bummel’ (aka Three Men on Wheels) and actually is the sequel to the famous Jerome K. Jerome's book called ‘Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)’. I’ve never read the latter, but after enjoying the humor I’ll certainly give it a go.

It’s really amazing how following three Englishmen on bikes in the German Black Forest you can find out so many interesting facts or opinions about both nations. For example I never knew why English people don’t speak any other languages (well, if you ask them if they do, they’ll say they speak a bit of French, but from my own experience it’s just some ‘catchy’ phrase that they can remember from school times – one can say ‘can you check my tires please’, another ‘what’s the time’). Jerome K. Jerome seems to agree with me – in his opinion a young Englishmen, who has just left school, could talk to a Frenchmen slowly and hardly, about gardeners or aunts. A brighter child might even be able to say something about the time or the weather; of course they could repeat several numbers or irregular verbs that they’ve learnt by heart, but we must admit that not many people would like to listen to their own irregular verbs repeated by a young Englishmen. I never thought I’d find so much support for my own theory in a 1900s book! I won’t tell you why the situation with languages is like that – if you’re really interested, read the book.

One more thing that slightly shocked me – this book was used for a long time as a school book in Germany. Why would they want to? Jerome K. Jerome’s story is full of commentary on German culture from the point of view of a British tourist – as you might imagine it’s not flattering! Here’s a short abstract that should give you an idea:

'In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box, and to regard with contempt the few uncivilised outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges. In course of time every German bird, one is confident, will have his proper place in a full chorus. This promiscuous and desultory warbling of his must, one feels, be irritating to the precise German mind; there is no method in it. The music-loving German will organise him.'

I laughed out loud. Trust me this book can help you overcome your winter depression!

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