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Tony Grist

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Changes [Jun. 21st, 2005|09:16 am]
Tony Grist
This was my first trip out of England for ten years. A number of things surprised me.

When I was a kid you took it for granted that mainland Europe was dirty. You braced yourself for public toilets that were nothing but holes in the ground. You expected bidets. Now the standards on the Continent are as high if not higher than at home. The showers in all the hotels where we stayed were much more efficient than the showers in London. In Spain the public toilets are immaculate and smell like churches (really they do- I'm not making this up- I guess it's the disinfectant they use.) And the bidets have vanished.

The last hotel we stayed- in Lille- you could see a ghostly mark on the bathroom floor where the bidet had once stood. What's this about? Why have the French stopped making a big deal out of washing their genitals? Is it all down to globalization?

Talking about globalization, everyone everywhere pretty much speaks English. In the past they used to expect you to struggle with their language; now they take the initiative and struggle with yours.

And the supermarkets look just like our supermarkets and sell much the same products. And the golden arches have sprung up everywhere......

And here's something else. Bugs. An astonishing thing about Spain is that there aren't any. We went armed with all sorts of insect-repelling products- including a device that emits a high-pitched squeal which supposedly freaks mosquitos- and we just didn't need them. I got a couple of bites from walking in the woods after sunset (as all the trendy people do in Catalonia) but that was it. The hotel and town were insect-free zones. Then we come home and there are mosquitos and bluebottles all over.

Abroad is less foreign than it was. You can get CNN and the BBC on the hotel TV. You can buy the Daily Mail at the newsagents (and it's today's edition not yesterday's.) National borders have all but disappeared. You slow the vehicle down and most of the time they just wave you through. There's more fuss involved in going through the barriers at the start and finish of the (very excellent) toll roads.

It's no longer the world I was born into 54 years ago. I like it.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: cybersofa
2005-06-21 04:54 am (UTC)
I can't say I'm keen on the globalisation. Foreign-ness is one of the pleasures of going abroad for me. On a hot day you can smell you're in France as soon as you roll off the ferry, and were the town of Cherbourg to upgrade its drains to UK standards then it would make my holiday slightly less value for money.

Showers have been more common in Europe for longer than here, and they've long since got the point about thermostatic valves, which we can't seem to for some reason. The bidet is a mystery though. I wonder if it's the hygienic or the contraceptive application that's in decline. Hole-in-the-ground toilets can still be found in France if one looks hard enough. Conversely, street urinals are now up-and-coming in the UK.

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[User Picture]From: cataptromancer
2005-06-21 07:16 am (UTC)
Contraceptive application?

Clearly there is much I need to learn of the ways of bidets.
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[User Picture]From: cybersofa
2005-06-21 08:20 am (UTC)
Never having been either French or Catholic, I know of this only by hearsay, and from reading Lolita at an impressionable age. But apparently, yes.
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[User Picture]From: cataptromancer
2005-06-21 07:21 am (UTC)
The 'urilift' street urinal seems horribly sexist and not terribly private...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-22 12:46 am (UTC)
Barcelona smells powerfully of drains. I wonder if this is inevitable in a hot country or whether there's something they could do about it.

Of course globalization works both ways. As Europe becomes more Anglicised/Americanised so Britain becomes more Europeanised. I'm more than happy that I can now buy European foodstuffs in my local supermarket.
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[User Picture]From: cataptromancer
2005-06-21 07:15 am (UTC)
Are bidets signs of "dirty"? Not having encountered them all that much, I'm not sure what their symbolic value is.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-21 02:28 pm (UTC)
No, not "dirty"- just slightly bizarre and (to an English schoolboy in the 60s) kinda confusing.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-06-21 07:18 am (UTC)
Reading this has been very helpful. I've been envying people who see the world as a small place with many associations, but it sounds like there are anchors everywhere, even if only McDonalds and CNN.

I'm so glad you and Ailz had a good trip. It was fun reading about your travels.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-21 02:29 pm (UTC)
The world is growing smaller.

On the whole I think this is a good thing. The loss of local colour is more than balanced by our increased ability to talk to one another.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-06-21 02:01 pm (UTC)
I'm reading a book I think you would like.

It's Father Joe by Tony Hendra, who also went to your school (Cambridge) and is the author of Going Too Far, a clasic history of modern American satire, and was editor in chief of Spy and an original editor of National Lampoon...

This is a witty, fascinating, and true book--a memoir about his relationship with a Benedictine monk.

Here's a snippet--he is a wonderful writer. In this scene, he's been caught with a married woman--and at fourteen!--so the woman's husband brings him to meet with a Benedictine during a retreat. The boy is naturally scared to death. He's a Catholic during the 50s:

[Waiting for his interview in the refectory]:
Time for dinner. We trooped downstairs, my knees knocking as I prepared to confront Father Josef Varilau, Butcher of Quarr [monastery on the Isle of Wight]. But it was only the old monk again. The Benedictine Gruppenfuhrer had been further delayed--perhaps to give a recalcitrant postulant a lie detector test...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-21 02:34 pm (UTC)
That sounds interesting.

I ran into a Father Joe as a schoolboy once and I wondered for a moment whether Hendra's monk was the same guy. Unfortunately not. Mine ran a mission to East End prostitutes and is the only person I've ever come across who may have been a bona fide saint.

I'm on a Dickens kick. Having finished Bleak House I've now moved on to Little Dorrit.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-06-21 02:37 pm (UTC)
He swears this monk is a saint.

He sounds like one, too.

Did yours have a rubber face and knobby knees?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-21 03:19 pm (UTC)
No, the face was more cadaverous. He was a tiny little old man who threw himself about so much when he was preaching that one was afraid he'd fall out of the pulpit.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-21 11:59 pm (UTC)
Happy birthday.

The changes within western Europe over the past 50 years have made it almost unthinkable that France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy should ever to to war with one another again. I can't help but think that this is a good thing. I reckon I'd sacrifice a fair amount of local colour for the sake of peace.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-06-22 02:13 am (UTC)
I don't know if it's so much about giving up cultural differences as sharing them.

When I was a kid, people in Britain didn't drink wine. Maybe for a special occasion they'd get out a bottle of Mateus Rose or Blue Nun and it would be a big, big treat. Now every supermarket carries a wide range of wines from all over the world.

It's not just about Macdonalds and Starbucks setting up shop in Barcelona, it's also about me being able to buy Camenbert and Roquefort at the deli bar of the Oldham Tesco.
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