Games without frontiers, wars without tears.jpg

Games without frontiers, wars without tears

AS YOU are reading this, at least half of the world’s population is holding its breath, in eager anticipation of the final showdown of you-know-what. It appears that the English expeditionary forces in Germany, numbering close to 100,000 men at any one time, are continuing the improving behavioural pattern previously displayed during the 1998 and 2002 tournaments. The mayor of Nuremberg even went as far as changing into casual clothes following one of the early group matches to join in the England festivities, saying that the universally feared bad boys of world football would be welcomed back with open arms at any time.

So, have manners and comportment really changed? I fear not. For the particular event in question, it is rather a case of authorities having mounted one of the most sophisticated and successful security operations ever. The two-pronged threat of terrorism and hooliganism has led to not only the suspension of the Schengen Agreement reintroducing border controls, but has also changed the face of policing and crowd management.

For the first time ever, British bobbies, in full uniform, have been patrolling German streets, equipped with full powers of arrest. Undercover intelligence officers infiltrated crowds and quickly identified those overstepping the mark. Besides, thousands of banning orders have ensured that the real troublemakers never got a chance to unsheathe their weapons abroad in the first place. Instead, there have been punch-ups at such genteel venues as Lords cricket ground and Royal Ascot.

Previous surveys have already declared Britain the most violent country in the ‘civilised world’, and now Readers Digest has weighed in with calling Her Majesty’s subjects some of the rudest on the planet. The magazine sent out journalists to 35 countries, asking people to perform a variety of tests, which included, among others, dropping papers in a busy street and seeing how long it took for someone to help gather them up again. They also noted how often a door was held open for them and whether shop assistants said “thank you” after making a sale.

Following over 2,000 such ‘tests’ worldwide, New York, not previously famed for its politeness, emerged as the friendliest city. Former Mayor, Ed Koch, explains the Big Apple’s change in outlook as a post 9/11 phenomenon. Since that disastrous day, New Yorkers are apparently more caring, because they understand the shortness of life.

Courtesy was also found to be high on the agenda in Zurich, Toronto, São Paulo and Zagreb in Croatia, where passers-by fell over themselves to pick up dropped papers. Shop assistants in Stockholm were deemed the most appreciative, quite the opposite to their counterparts in Mumbai, India.

One of the rudest cities in Europe is apparently Bucharest in Romania. There, a woman refused to hold open a door, sneering, “I am not a doorman, it’s not my job to hold doors”. In Brazil, on the other hand, even thieves showed good manners. Traders selling stolen goods on a black market thanked researchers posing as buyers, later running off during a police raid.

Unfortunately, Londoners did nothing to enhance Britain’s reputation for old-fashioned politeness and courtesy, the capital finishing near the bottom of the survey, level with Lisbon, but just ahead of Paris. What is it about the French that makes them so universally reviled?

More than 6,000 people from all over the world, taking part in a poll organised by the travel website, WAYN, voted Britain’s nearest neighbour to be the most unfriendly, ungenerous and boring nation of them all, relegating Germany to second place in each category. It cannot be that the French are simply misunderstood because they make little or no effort to communicate in any other language than their own. Their head of state even walked out of a European Union press conference when scheduled to be held in English!

Many blame arrogance and pretentiousness for the poor opinion others have of France’s citizens. But there are other factors, too. When silly or self-absorbed (I don’t know which) enough to go to their European “friends” to ask for a character assessment, hoping perceptions had changed, the French received the following damming verdicts: the British view the French as stubborn, chauvinistic and mollycoddled by the state, while the Germans see them as frivolous; the Dutch find them unreliable and too talkative, the Spanish dismiss them as rude and vain, while the Swedes label them immoral and dirty. The Portuguese dislike their conceit and the Greeks condemn them as plain stupid.

If there are any French readers of this column out there, could you please explain to me why your fellows have acquired such a bad reputation? I mean, anyone can commit the odd faux pas, such as voting in great numbers for the extreme right, and enduring severe race riots while fielding and cheering on a national football team composed almost exclusively of the so lambasted minority. What happened to “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”?

Personally, I don’t have anything against the French. My earliest memories concern the most beautiful girls I had ever seen at that point, albeit sporting the most unsightly long bushels of hair under their armpits. Later, frequent holidays on the Côte d’Azur resulted in many a friendship. In fact, the over zealous and sometimes downright sadistic police apart, I have nothing but fond memories of La Belle France. Mind you, I did speak their language.

In conclusion: I will go against popular opinion and say “I like France, the country, the food, and its weird people and way of life, as long as they don’t happen to stand in the way of my team’s success on Sunday night!