When we were kids we’d occasionally get perplexed about how people could live upside down in Australia and not fall off the planet.
Having two European guests, Anton and Srdjan, take root in your home town, courtesy of a Youth in Action Grant, makes you realise that up-side-down-ness isn’t about gravity at all but much more about how you drink, eat, navigate local traffic and your own national identity within the wider European maelstrom of identities.
Hosting European guests has many pleasures to it – showing them your favourite pub topping the list of course – but the most entertaining one is looking at them looking at us and finding out that it’s a perpetual source of amusement for them.
The most obvious example is of course the fact that we Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, compared with most of the rest of the world. There are a lot of early visit gags about the lads sitting in the wrong car seat and pretending to drive with imaginary steering wheels and hammering imaginary brake pedals in pseudo emergency stops. No-one’s hurt though and there’s no damage down.
English beer is also a source of wonder and bemusement. Not only does it have no head to it but it also tastes of bread according to Anton. Or is something that would be fed to the pigs in the summer, if you lived in Srdjan’s home town. The idea that we drink this stuff at all leaves the boys incredulous.
Things get more complicated when we talk about what constitutes typical English food. The road the boys live on is awash with Chinese, Greek, Turkish, Italian and Indian takeaways and when we point out that the most popular meal in the country is Tandoori Chicken, this too provokes a lot of head scratching, puzzled looks and eventual boredom when we discuss some of the consequences of being an ex-colonial power.
Perhaps our up-side-down-ness is something that we should recognise and enjoy more frequently. It would allow us to challenge all sorts of international orthodoxies like McDonalds, Starbucks and NATO for instance. We could cheerfully opt out of some of the tackier sides of modern day living with the reason that we’re an upside down kind of nation and still haven’t fallen off the planet despite the gravitational pull of the large multinational conglomerates.
There are lots of benefits to being funded by the EU: and realising that you live most of your life upside down is probably one of the best.