English – German Friendship
We recently went on a trip back to Europe and my old “Fatherland” Germany.
First we stayed with very good old friends in Düsseldorf. The main topic of political conversation besides the refugee crisis in Europe and especially in Germany was the Brexit. My friend, an ex high-school English teacher, heads the English-German friendship society in this biggest federal state in Germany. Her feelings about the Brexit can best be described as sadness and disbelief.
What so many Germans had worked for after WWII, a united and peaceful Europe, and what Europe got the Nobel Peace Price for only a few years back was discarded by the British voter. In WWI the worst the German propaganda could come up with was calling the English a nation of petty little shopkeepers. And the shopkeepers might even be right that the Brexit might not lead to an economic disaster and some might even be financially better off. And Europe is definitely imperfect and a work in progress. What I however fear for is the idea of a peaceful Europe with open borders. The British gave this a serious blow.
One really has to wonder if this wasn’t the intention of the British all along. The English “Yes Minister” TV series already suspected it a long time ago with it’s sketch “Why Britain joined the European Union“.
One good reason for Brexit
I follow politics not only in New Zealand but Britain, the USA, Germany and the wider world. We all deal with more or less the same issues and problems. I was very interested in the Brexit debate and had thought that I heard all the arguments. The more surprised I was to hear one single coherent argument for Brexit I hadn’t come across before. We were on the train from Düsseldorf to Berlin in a very lively conversation with a young German woman who spoke excellent English when a man from across the aisle joined in. I could hear that he was English and he told us that he had lived and worked in Germany for quite some time. When I asked him about Brexit I was surprised to hear that he had actually voted for it. And he gave me his reason I could not argue with.
He said that the British politicians and bureaucracy had been bad, inefficient and rotten for a very long time. They had got away with it by always blaming everything going wrong on Bruxelles. So he voted for Brexit to finally take that excuse away. So the British politicians have to take responsibility and be accountable for their own actions.
One beautiful old institution in anglophile Hamburg is it’s iconic Anglo-German Club.
It is a traditional English club, where the (male) club members rule and ladies are admitted into the club rooms only in the evenings. However since I last visited over three years ago a minor revolution has happened. Members don’t have to wear a tie any longer and ladies are allowed on to the beautiful terrace during the day.
A very good friend had suggested and arranged the club as a venue for a dinner party celebrating a significant birthday. We had an appointment during lunchtime to organise the event. It was one of this year’s hot September days with the temperature at 30 degrees. I was just wearing a kaki safari shirt. A (female) friend was already waiting for us on the terrace. The lady at the reception insisted that I took a jacket she offered, which I did not even have to wear but just put over the chair next to me. There is obviously still a jacket rule, which in true British constitutional tradition on hot summer days is stretched to suit. One might call it ridiculous or charming depending on one’s point of view.
In the event I greeted the – I’m sure mostly republican – guests who were hopefully a little impressed by the various prominent pictures of our majesty and ended with the traditional toast to THE QUEEN. They all joined in in good humour. My wife as a rational person not being able to defend the monarchy found it a bit ridiculous. I told her that I was happy for her to start the revolution. She as a natural born New Zealander had never unlike myself actually sworn an oath of allegiance to our Queen and her heirs.
Being British in the (ex) Colonies
On our way back we stayed for three days in Hong Kong a place I never had visited before.
We had the good fortune to meet with an expat New Zealand friend who has lived there for over 15 years and is now married to a very cosmopolitan professional Hong Kong Chinese lady. They invited us into their home and were able to give us some of the information and history your normal tourist does not get.
It was the weekend of China’s national day celebrated with big fireworks over Victoria Harbour just outside our hotel window. Our hosts told us that only about half the Hong Kong Chinese found the mainland Chinese national day remembering Mao coming to power a cause to celebrate. Even after almost twenty years since Hong Kong returned to China still a special territory under special rules many don’t feel very close to their mainland ‘communist’ brethren. This was confirmed in conversations with some of the hotel staff asking them if they watched the fireworks. Their reply was that they saw it only because they were working that night but otherwise didn’t celebrate ‘their’ national day.
Another interesting piece of information was about all the amazing infrastructure. The new airport, wonderful bridges and tunnels and the train system. We were told that these were the legacy of the colonial rule. The British had obviously decided that before they left they would empty the coffers and spend all the money on these big projects to leave the treasury bare for when the Chinese took over.
When we left for home we had a not unusual little hiccup at the security check-in. Even if we had come via Hong Kong before this time nail scissors and a metal toothpick out of my vanity bag were deemed unsafe and were to be confiscated. However a friendly security officer pointed to the rules and suggested, as we still had time, to check the items in as luggage and got me back quickly to the airline counter.
Even if I thought this to be ridiculous coming back through security I thanked him for his friendly assistance . His reply was that he was British.
He could have fooled me looking exactly like any other person of (Hong Kong) Chinese ethnicity.
All these different experiences leave me puzzled about what it means Being British.