Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not so special after all

Because I'm British, well English- that even more Anglo-Saxon super-section of former white imperial overlords - (and with bad teeth, according to the more recent American overlords who sneer at us because they're still jealous,) OK - well, because I am English with all those centuries-old certainties, it's always a shock when I find myself sinking to the level of  the smaller peoples of the world.

For example: French troops in Mali - and suddenly on the TV there are Africans speaking perfect French - ordinary ones! (Ordinary Africans.) Where did that come from? (Of course, when you don't speak any French, any French sounds perfect.)  It's quite a smack to be reminded, of course, the French were in Africa too. And how odd that some Africans speak Portuguese- It  doesn't seem quite right. I never heard about any of that growing up. For a moment I feel as aggrieved as a Serb squaring up to the Greeks who lord it over the Balkans with all their statues and temples and stuff. Or an Albanian student unable to sit still in class because he had just seen the portrait of an Albanian poet  hung lower than the picture of a Serbian one.

It t was in a Serbian grocery in fact, long ago, the moment when it  hit me how much like everybody else we are. It was back before plastic bags when everything was still wrapped in newspaper or whatever came to hand. This time it was a page from an elementary school exercise book: careful sentences in Serbian, the top one, "President Tito VISITS Africa." (It was obviously verbs that day) Back then Tito gazed at us from every post office wall, shop, restaurant, bus station, and flyblown cafe but I was suddenly reminded of my young school days, and "Princess Elizabeth visits Canada!" And what did we young school children have to do? Make a scrap book from the pictures in the newspaper! Princess at the rodeo, doing a square dance! Cheered by jubilant Canadians! That was our geography lesson.

And another thing: just the other day I heard some correspondent talking about the Americans repairing a bridge the Russians had built in Afghanistan. And he casually mentioned all the roads, the hospitals and clinics for women  they had built too. Ah, but of course, they would have had a picture of Lenin or Stalin staring down on those poor Afghanis - not a smiling Queen Elizabeth or a pensive Obama.

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