Everywhere the Queen visits, as the old adage goes, smells of new paint. Of course this is probably apocryphal. As we all know, lizard monsters from the planet Zarg can’t smell. However, the general truth of the statement still stands, there are people that must believe that the world is solely occupied by well manicured, incredibly helpful people, whose only role in life is to hold open doors and introduce them to other equally well presented types. I have been pondering this peculiar world view recently, especially since Nürnberg again welcomed the great, the good and the ugly to the annual Toy fair held at the Nürnberg Messe Halle. Over the last few days the cities hotels, restaurants and bars have suddenly been packed with the sound of English speaking business types regaling their compatriots with tales of durable plastics, ingeniously designed boardgames and the latest advances in dolls that pee themselves. Toys, it turns out, are big business and not just for those at the toy fair. Within the city, the aforementioned hotels, bars and restaurants stand to make a killing. Expense accounts are being charged harder than General Custer at Little Big Horn.
Although I know I’m really not a local, I still feel like one and what is good for the city is fine by me. Yet, I still have my reservations. It’s hard not to generalise, but it seems that many of the times I’ve come into contact with my countrymen attending the Toy fair I’ve been left with the feeling that most of them are unadulterated ass hats. I hate to generalise, but I can only go by my own experiences. They are either entirely oblivious to the world around or simply wilfully ignorant of their own behaviour. I can only imagine that this comes from the constant travelling from place to place. With only a few days to acclimatise and little connection to the area, why would you take the time to worry how you are perceived by people you might never see again.
The reason I have a problem with it is that most, if not all the ex-pat community make a concerted effort at some level of integration. We might not all be perfect German speakers, but most understand the culture to some degree. All it takes is one bad experience with a pissed up business person for all this effort to go to waste. You might consider this an overreaction, but having worked in the service industry for most of my professional life, you always remember the bad customers. Knowing the simple cultural idiosyncrasies such as tipping can at least show a level of decency, especially if you’re working on the company dime.
I will admit that my own experiences with drunken “professionals” has severely tainted my own view. In my first year here I suffered through an anniversary dinner with my girlfriend as a crowd of increasingly drunken would be POGS salesmen proceeded to embarrass themselves and myself by association. Their loud conversation was already drawing disapproving looks from many of the tables around me, but it was when they proceeded to loudly discuss the physical merits of their waitress that I began to seriously consider physical violence. Even if she didn’t understand the whole of the conversation, the tone of voice would have been enough to suggest the topic. It is to my eternal shame that I didn’t say something, I should have.
Perhaps it’s unfair to single out those working at the toy fair, especially as I’ve seen equally worse from people simply engaged on a short business trip. My personal favourite, if I can use that term, would be when I walked into my local to the familiar strains of the Dads Army theme tune. A little confused as to why they would have that on, I asked the equally bemused barmen who responded that a visiting businessman had requested it. Although anyone who’s watched any amount of that particular series would find it hard to describe it as offensive, it does take an extraordinary lack of self awareness not to see why that particular theme song might not be considered entirely appropriate.
What makes the whole thing all the more galling is that many businesses bend over backwards to accommodate these people. To show such a lack of class by imagining that no one would understand what they were saying or to simply not even consider the implications or nuances of a TV show alludes to a very particular type of imperial British superiority that still exists today. We do what we want because Johnny Foreigner is ignorant or not worth considering. I still hear stories about the exploits of England fans here in 2006 and can only shake my head in disbelief when I’m told about the time a large group decided to sing “ten German bombers” at the Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof. That particularly shameful story can hardly fill many hearts with national pride.
In the end, mine is but one opinion and it would be a long stretch for me to suggest that all the British ex-pats of Germany felt the same way. I hope they do though.