There’s a lot of hot air floating around the internet; much of it quite pungent, as if some-one had a egg sandwich too many. The good folks of twitter have smelt it and are looking around to see who dealt it. The culprit seems obvious.
In Britain, we take our politicians with a pinch of cynicism, which is something that seems to baffle Germans. I’m not sure if that’s because German politicians are actually more honest than their British counterparts, or because the quality of shyster in British politics has severely declined in recent years. Either way, I’m worried about Britain. All this noise about leaving Europe. I’m not going to go into why it would be a bad idea; may good journalists have laid out the arguments in print and online. I’m also not going to tell my compatriots who they should vote for at the coming European elections. It’s their vote to use as they see fit. But before you do go to the polls, there’s something I’ve noticed that I want to share with you.
After the first round of televised debates on Europe between Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Daily Mail ran this article. In it are profiles of the two men. Two things written about Nigel Farage caught my eye.
So Farage speaks English, which is a natural condition of an Englishman. It suggests he doesn’t speak any foreign languages, but isn’t explicit. It leaves you to assume that he doesn’t, while stating clearly that Nick Clegg speaks English, Dutch, German, Spanish and French (I wish I could speak that many languages.)
About feeling awkward when foreigners talk on trains: I’ve lived in many places across Britain and heard countless people say “I don’t like it when foreigners talk on the bus/train/in the street/in restaurants”. Whenever I asked them what bothered them about hearing a foreign language, the nub of the answer was always not knowing what’s being said and assuming that they should fear for their safety. This, in essence, is a fear of foreigners, or Xenophobia.
Nigel Farage is a Member of the European Parliament and spends much of his time in Brussels, or Strasbourg. I would have thought all those hours in the company of ‘foreigners’ would cure him of his awkwardness around foreigners and their languages.
His hobbies are very interesting: fishing, country sports, English pubs and organising tours of WWI battlefields.
Britain’s class system is broken into 3: working, middle and upper. Fishing appeals to both the working and middle classes. Country sports – that’s hunting to you and I – appeals to the middle and upper classes. English pubs: well, who doesn’t like a cosy pub with a roaring fire and a tasty beverage to blur the edges a bit? Something for everyone. WWI Battlefields: the glorification of Britain’s war past.
Read the list with your left brain disengaged and you immediately think “Englishman to the core!” An emotional reaction. Read it with your whole brain engaged and it somehow feels wrong – ok, most things written in the Daily Mail feel wrong – but these hobbies paint a picture of a kind of archetypal Englishman that never really existed, the kind of landowning aristocrat found in movies that appeal to what people think English is. I’ve lived on a country estate where the land was used for shooting (country sports) and fishing, and the people who owned it had more in common with the Queen than with ordinary folk, as did many of those who visited for this purpose.
Reading those two snippets made me feel that the man being presented to the British public is a composite of traits, designed to appeal as widely as possible. It feels like the work of a PR person and not a real human being. If Nigel Farage really is awkward when he hears foreign languages uttered, then you’re voting for a xenophobe. If this is indeed the work of a PR machine, then you’re voting for a fiction. I don’t know which it is, but then, I’m not voting for British MEP’s and I don’t have to live with the consequences of UKIP’s political boulder when it has finished gathering moss.