In recent pre-match rugby banter, French coach Marc Lievremont claimed that England was the most hated team in the Six Nations, emphasising the common understanding between the French team and “their Italian cousins”. Though he was admittedly just stoking the fire in the build up to a deciding match (a tactic that had little success), Lievremont had a point: the latinate links between French, Italian and Spanish and the resultant cultural ties are undeniable. In comparison, the English seem to inspire hostility across all of Europe. In particular, English tourists have a notoriously bad reputation, commonly viewed as sunburnt, rowdy lager louts, the likes of whom spawned phenomenons such as ´balconing´ (what must undoubtedly the epitome of stupidity). Considered to lack modesty, restraint and respect, ´Brits Abroad´ are infamous for causing general havoc and offence wherever they land.
I can empathise with this: I have never been a fan of intimidating groups of boisterous, boozed-up ´lads on tour´. However, having just returned from a short break in Barcelona, I have found myself coming out in defence of the English. The weekend was a shamelessly Brits Abroad holiday: on landing in Barcelona I was greeted by a friend who, despite the winter temperatures, was proudly sporting light pastel boardies and flip flops (“I´m on holiday!”). He took me directly to an English-heavy international bar just off Las Ramblas to introduce me to his friends - polite handshakes and awkward waves rather than the european double kiss. I soon was glugging the first of several pints of Heineken, from which the weekend drifted by in a tipsy haze of Irish pubs, sing-alongs to English pop songs and McDonalds (one of my friends managing to eat an impressive four cheeseburgers in one day).
However, although we undoubtedly indulged in stereotypical English pastimes, we were still a relatively polite, respectful rabble and as far as I know, we didn´t cause undue offence to anyone: valid proof that not all rowdy British tourists wear matching Magaluf 2011 T-shirts and cause a raucous. After spending five months intensively immersing myself in tapas, siestas and all-things-spanish, I have to confess that I relished this weekend of wholesome britishness. Whereas I usually jump at the opportunity to practice Spanish, when in Barcelona I eagerly retreated to an English bubble, reluctant to exchange even basic Spanish with barstaff. On reflection, although it sounds somewhat paradoxical, living on the continent has strengthened my English idiosyncracies. Granted, I have always been slightly obsessed by a good cup of tea, but now, living in a land commanded by the coffee culture, regular imports of English brews have become essential. Similarly, being a rugby fan in a country completely indifferent has not dampened my enthusiasm, but amplified it.
Living the European lifestyle, as much as I´m enjoying it, has magnified my attachment to the English. Replace national pride with a self-deprecating sense of humour, european argy-bargy with a staunch grin-and-bear-it attitude and over-the-top friendliness with reserved propriety... Even if beer-guzzling-Brits-on-tour didn´t have such notoriety, with so many character quirks is it any wonder that our European “cousin´s” don´t relate well to us?
On another note, I have written another article for Letango Tours. Ironically, it describes one of the biggest benefits of living on the continent: The Countdown to Spring.