Wednesday, 23 December 2009



wishes all Followers and Readers a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS

and a Prosperous NEW YEAR!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Professional Foreigner Writes....

I'll start this guest post with a confession: My name is Rhino75 and I'm a professional foreigner. By that I mean that I'm one of those people who have lived outside their home country for so long that they no longer fit in properly anywhere. Ask me where I'm from and I won't miss a beat: "I'm British" I say in my best Home Counties accent. But when I'm actually back in the "old country" I fumble with small change, I'm confused by public transport and I don't recognize two-thirds of the people on the telly. Yet in France, my adopted country, I'm seen as the embodiment of all things British, a kind of unofficial spokesman. "What do people in *your* country think about this?" French friends ask me, while offering me another cup of French-style tea (weak, without milk). Or "We're planning a weekend in London, what do you recommend we see and do? And where should we stay?" Do I come clean and say "I've absolutely no idea"? Or "The last time I was in London, I spent almost the entire weekend in Dalston, with only a brief foray out to the White Swan in Stepney"? No, because they'd be disappointed. So I quite simply make it up. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining - being from a different country has provided me with a nice sideline in media punditry over here. But the truth of the matter is that, after 12 years, France is naturally more familiar to me than Britain is. When I bump into people in the street, my first instinct is to excuse myself in French. I know the names of most of the main politicians - in Britain, I recognize Brown and that's it - and all the tv stars. I can tell the difference between a 2 centime and a 5 centime coin with my eyes shut and can describe all the symptoms of my cat's asthma without getting a single noun gender wrong. I know the right wines to drink, the right gifts to take to dinner parties and can even decipher the alphabet soup of French bureaucracy. While the Britain I knew, the Britain I remember, no longer exists, not quite as it was anyway. The references are different, the goalposts have shifted, leaving me feeling hopelessly old fashioned. Someone asked me on a recent trip home how I feel when I return to Britain and I replied "Like David Niven" - and yet the country of my birth is the very thing that defines me, at least initially, to many people I meet. "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man," runs the old Jesuit motto. But does that count for national identity too, I wonder?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

To Haggis or Not to Haggis

I am what you could call an unfussy eater - I once even carried on eating those wormy Italian cherries, because I figured, oh well the little worms only ate cherry. The other day, though, I saw "Creamed Haggis" on a restaurant menu and thought -rather you than me.

Haggis is more than a dish- it's a right of passage. "Oh, in Scotland... have you had haggis then?" people ask automatically.

But before we go on, let's see what it actually involves, this is an original Scottish recipe:


1 sheep's stomach, cleaned and scalded, soaked overnight, turned inside out
heart and lungs of 1 lamb
450g beef or lamb trimmings, fat and lean
2 onions, chopped
225g oatmeal
1 tbsp salt & ground black pepper
1tsp ground dried coriander
water, enough to cook the haggis
stock from lung and trimmings

Well, what do you think?
Recently, the Lonely Planet Guide called haggis an extreme food together with other
revolting national dishes like worms and tarantula. (quote)

Since I 've lived here, my impression is that very few people actually enjoy haggis. It is much more about 'Are you man enough to try something that most people would find off-putting? Have you got what it takes to be one of us? Or are you the eternal tourist? A weakling, a softie who isn't up to the rough but ever so endearing ways of us here.'

A simple dish has been turned into an ideological milestone - a taboo, that you need to break in order to be accepted.

I think food should be enjoyable. If you like haggis, fine -no problem. If you don't, also fine - but don't turn it into a character judgment!

Have you tried it? Would you?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Would YOU describe yourself as politically correct??

I wouldn't.. it sounds too much like McCarthy mixed with a social worker from Haringay telling one you just committed a hate crime because you didn't eat up your Aloo Ghobi.

And yet, and yet... I have never laughed about a joke involving black people, women, or any form of disability. I couldn't possibly have sat through that Borat film...

I get quite irate when people make dismissive comments about other nations - in fact I am absolutely allergic to any type of nationalism. "Proud to be so and so"? Why? It is accidental.
Your country may not even care about you very much ( Gary McKinnon!) whilst you're being proud....

So I'd better face up to it :

I hate stereotyping, prejudice and judgmental attitudes.. I am therefore officially PC!

But hang on... do I have no prejudices then?

Do I not get a bit shifty when a group of young black men is walking towards me in town?

Do I not laugh hysterically when a gay friend does a malicious impression of a camp hairdresser?

What exactly is my attitude towards, say, a British hen party?

Oh dear oh dear .. all getting a bit murky here!

What's your take on Prejudice- Stereotype- Political Correctness?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Britain - All the Rage

I'm slightly apprehensive about this blog post. Will it result in hate mail? Furious comments? Total silence? We will see.
When I last lived in Britain, it seemed a gentle and tolerant country. People were textbook-polite, often friendly and helpful.

This is my second sojourn, and I have only been here 4 months. So maybe my impressions are wrong, or one-sided.

I would like to emphasize that in none of my examples have I been directly involved. I have no axe to grind. I see myself as a bystander in this country, not a particpant.

Almost every day, I see the most rage-filled exchanges between drivers who feel cut-up, slighted, or are simply furious about other cars. They hoot their horns, shake their fists, shout abuse out of the window.

I hear busdrivers getting angry with passengers for the smallest offense (like presenting their ticket upside-down.)

I observe people in supermarkets deliberately blocking other shoppers' access to the shelf and then furiously hissing at them when they complain.

People are losing their rags. Violence seems contantly under the surface.

I hear about people being deliberately humiliated by their bosses at work, building up hate fantasies.

I read about gay people getting beaten up in town centres.

"You'd find that everywhere", I hear you say. Maybe. But Britain used to be different. Politer. Nicer. Gentler.

Some years ago, the then Prime Minister, John Major propagated "A nation at ease with itself". Is this still true?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Frogs - and Other Food Related Stereotypes

Food plays a decisive role when you first visit a country.

I remember when we moved to Holland, my parents were utterly bafflled when they were taken to an Indonesian restaurant there. Rijsttafel- one of the most delicious things ever to cross a border, freaked them. "How can they eat that?" my mother said. I don't think we ever went out a restaurant in Holland after that...

Ethnic sterotypes and prejudices are based on what a nation (conceivably) eats:

- France: Garlic and froglegs ("Frogs")
- Germany : Sausage and sauerkraut ("Krauts")
- Germans call Italians "Spaghetti Gobblers", and the French call the English"Les Rosbif"

Local food makes you query your relationship to the other country: "How can they eat THAT? There must be something wrong with them..."

So food defines nations – at least in the eye of the beholder. And it isn't neutral, there's always an element of "Says it all really" in the observation.

Have you had food experiences that made you re-define your attitude to a new country? That shocked or delighted you? - I'd love to hear them!

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Big Bacon

I did a little crowd-sourcing last week, and asked people (all of them British) what their favourite food was. Result: 80% said bacon, 15% chocolate, and 5% chips.

Bacon is crucial to British meals - there's bacon and eggs (and other things!) for breakfast, bacon sarnie for lunch, and there are fry-ups for later in the day.

479,000 tonnes are consumed per year.

Whilst bacon is eaten all over Europe, of course, I doubt whether you'd find a single French or Italian person, say, who'd list it as their fave.

Admit it, it's remarkable. Bacon flavoured crisps, popcorn... then there is the very popular 5000kcal "Bacon Explosion" (American in origin, but with a huge British following on Youtube -check it out!)

- and bacon has even entered the language -"bringing home the bacon", "saved may bacon" etc.

Another curious thing: Bacon lovers the world over eat mostly rashers, whereas Britons prefer thickly-cut back bacon, which looks a bit like a horizontally-sliced pig.

So why ARE the British so keen on their bacon? What inner craving is satisfied by eating bacon?

(Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

(P)Lucky Little Belgium!

Your favourite country in Europe?

Let me guess- France! No? Okay, Italy then. Fair enough. Both great.
My favourite country is actually Belgium. I can hear you giggle....

Why Belgium? Well I don't think I could ever truly truly love a country which doesn't put food right in the centre of its identity. (This isn't a food blog, but one way or another I will always come back to this topic.) And Belgian food really has it all.

Fom Salade Liegeoise, Pottekeis and Speculoos to Kwak beer which comes in its characteristic absurdly shaped glass, to Moules Frites, to cuberdons (fl. neuzekes) "un bonbon, un peu coquant, un peu fondant" (see image below and And there is waterzooi- which is actually a mixture of chicken and vegetables, although it sounds like a fish), and not to forget Belgian chocolates of course. (Belgians consume 8.3kg of the stuff per annum per person).

Belgium is multi-lingual (French, Flemish and a little German), truly multi-cultural (8% of the population are foreign-born), and seems totally chaotic when it comes to choosing a government.

Which brings one to the downside -Belgium has relatively high unemployment, and there is a nasty divide between Flanders and Wallonia - the latter commanding about 20% more productivity than the latter. And that in turn, causes tensions between the two groups.

But why should that necessarily be such a terrible thing? I think all European countries (no: countries the world over) live with strife, a certain amount of mutual prejudice, and competition. It's part of being a nation. They'll work it out. Eventually, they might even find a mutually suitable government.

Belgium sometimes feels very French, strolling down the old town of Liège for example. But turn a corner, and you would swear you're in Holland. Other towns have a distinctly romantic German Eifel atmosphere, with timbered houses and medieval little bridges.

Ah! Les MoulesFrites! Mosselen met friet!

So let's just hop on the Eurostar and visit Bruges, Ghent, Liège, Antwerp, Namur or Dinant - they all sound so evocative!

P.S. Don't worry- this won't be a geography blog. Interculturalism is a VERY big tent.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Many Countries.. all European

I have never been able to answer the question "Where are you from?" It seems a bit rude (and a bit stupid!) to say "dunno", so at least when talking to Americans, it seems quite acceptable to say "I'm from Europe".

That much I know. I may have gone to school in Holland, gone to university in Germany, but hang on, also in England... I may have Hungarian ancestors, be married to an Englishman.... but it all sounds too complicated, and let's face it - not that interesting. So saying "I am European" says it all, and as far as I'm concerned, says it best.