Tarring with the same Brush

I’ve just spent a week in foreign parts and I’m more convinced than ever that differing nationalities bear traits that identify them.

Observation of such characteristics is one of the strategies I’ve adopted to assuage some of the more tedious aspects of long-haul travel. On the plane I’m happy enough, these days to adopt the upright, confined posture required to utilise the seat, to pay attention to the cabin crew, to watch the movies, to get up and do my exercises, to mutely wait in line for the unsavoury joys of the lavatory, to eat and drink everything that is offered and hope to sleep.

Off the plane however there is the long, zig-zagging queue in the pens for immigration control, the stinging bark of the customs officers [no-we didn’t know we needed to complete the back of the form] and the customary thrill of waiting to discover if your luggage arrived too.

At the rear of the queue an unseemly stampede erupted as one or two of the tapes marking the lanes became unhitched, prompting severe and hasty action on the part of the officials. The couple immediately behind us [whose nationality shall remain nameless but has a reputation for somewhat self-preserving acts on holiday] spotted a gap and ducked under a tape to skip to the front, upon which stern officials corrected the error and they were returned to their place.

After we’d all shuffled along for what seemed hours [although in reality probably only about 30 minutes], a family with very young children were relieved of the stresses of jollying along two tiny tots after an eight hour flight and were ‘fast-tracked’ through to the front.

At the hotel we entered a jolly mix of races from both sides of the Atlantic [and beyond]. There are loud, garrulous types whose principal ambition is to be best buddy with every member of staff, to feel special and take selfies with all of these new best friends. Their conversations with companions are held publicly in order for others to share. A man at the bar told someone the other side of us enquiring after his holiday he had no complaints and smiled nervously when I said complaints were more interesting.

Meanwhile a gentleman with a keen interest in filming everything panned around the bar, the customers, his tiny son, the entertainment, the beach and the diners with abandon, using his mobile phone as if welded to it.

Then there are we British; reserved. We are polite. We say please and thank you-and sorry. I imagine we are held by most other nationalities to be cold and unfriendly. Our sense of humour can be difficult to spot, acerbic, sarcastic and cynical as it is.

And then one night my conclusions were overturned when we met a charming young couple of New Yorkers who initiated conversation. They were interested, interesting and wonderful company. Mea culpa. One should never generalise…

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The Rock and the Hard Place

                Gibraltar is an absorbing place. If you are driving there, as we did, you must first negotiate one of the most unattractive parts of the Mediterranean coast of Spain, consisting mainly of a gigantic oil refinery at Algeciras, then deal with crossing the ‘border’-a matter of sitting in a vehicle queue for an extremely long time [even more so at present] and often in very high temperatures, followed by having to drive across an airport runway, which is at best an unnerving experience.

                Most people know Gibraltar to consist of one enormous great rock sitting on a peninsula which protrudes into the Mediterranean just before the rounded corner of Spanish coastline where the East meets the South. For some complicated, historic reason dating back to 1704 when it was captured by the Dutch and the British it actually belongs to the UK. Its area is only about two and a half square miles, but the population, which inhabits a crowded area at the foot of the rock, is 30,000.

                This population is remarkably mixed, for a UK territory, but consists of a vast number of Spanish, among others. Despite this Gibraltar retains a strong colonial flavour, sticking strongly to what used to be British traditions, cuisine and customs-more ‘British’ than the British. As you stroll along the shopping streets you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported to Exeter High Street or Swindon town centre-with a few flourishes of Whitehall from the odd palace or mansion house flanked by plumed guards and a forest of flags, plus red telephone and post boxes.  All this is peppered with Ye Olde British pubs plugging pints, Sunday roast with all the trimmings and fish and chips whatever the weather.

                There is a cable car to get you up to the top of the rock, where you will have to dodge the marauding Barbary apes in order to catch what is a breathtaking view- the distant African shores and the sparkling Med dotted with myriad oil tankers. While you are taking it all in the bandit monkey gang will be mugging you for everything you have whilst spitting, baring their teeth and even biting in a most delinquent manner should you dare to remonstrate.

                All this renders Gibraltar a small gold mine in terms of tourism, but still more, it is the online gambling hub of the world and offers cheap fags, booze and petrol as well as being the gateway to Africa. So little wonder the Spanish would like it to belong to them.

                I fail to understand why countries should continue to own small bits of other countries far away, when the reasons for their ownership are so entrenched in the distant past. Spain itself owns Ceuta, a small bit of land sticking on the end of Morocco. The UK insists on hanging on to The Falklands. Yes, we all know it’s all about resources, and the inhabitants don’t want the change, but the handover can be over a period of time, as with Hong Kong, to give everyone a chance to adjust.

                Colonialism should be firmly set in the past. These days we ought to know better, oughtn’t we?