As you can imagine, twenty cent coins in Europe abound. Even in the areas that are not officially the Eurozone, where the Euro is the official currency, twenty cent coins can be found. They can be found in Africa, too, because the Francophone areas of Africa lent towards the Euro as a sub-denomination instead of the dollar (as was the case when the Zimbabwean dollar fell to pieces).
Twenty cent coins aren’t anything special, then. So, when in my local supermarket the cashier handed me one, it should have dropped into my purse unnoticed. Only this one was shiny, a blikvanger as they say in Dutch, it was eye-catching. It interested me because here in Holland, any new coin usually means one of the newly minted Dutch coins with the head of the new king, Willem Alexander. He’s been maltreated by having his head divided to tell us who he is, but I doubt if it would make any difference to him. After all, he’s Dutch, and whilst a nice enough guy and all that, I’m pretty sure he’s as dim as the rest of them.
So, here I am, leaving Germany the day before the fun of the elections. But then, this is Germany, where elections are staid affairs, so missing one isn’t going to be the end of the world. What will be interesting will be to see if the AfD – the “Alternative für Deutschland” (Germany’s alternative) – increase their share of the vote. No, this isn’t how America does things: it’s not “if” but by how much they improve their share of the vote.
Britain is, and always will be a very odd place to live for anyone who is used to the way Europeans live. Storms in the English channel that stop the ferries running between Dover and Calais are always headlined as “Continent Cut Off”. The British point of view is nothing if not eccentric. Britain, that small island just off the northern coast of Europe, is something of an afterthought in the mind of the average European.
Now I have lived in Europe for the better part of my life, and if there is one thing that has been consistent to any of the countries I lived in – Denmark, Germany and latterly, the Netherlands – it is the lack of understanding about Britain’s place in Europe. Here in Europe, it is necessary to register one’s place of abode, and on no few occasions, that is to say, in each case of registering, I had been asked to show that I, as a Briton, had the correct papers to allow me to live and work in their country.
I pleaded that Britain was a member of the European Union.
The response was as consistent as it was confused: “Britain is not a member of the European Union” later this changed to “Britain isn’t in the Eurozone.” After all, any European country of any sensible size was a member of the Eurozone, the gathering of countries who use the Euro as their currency. Ergo: if you weren’t in the Eurozone, you weren’t in the European Union.
Britain has a healthy economy, and it has a healthy economy because the economic figures are healthy. It’s how Britain – and the British – do business. We all do it, we all look to the paperwork: we all look to the figures at some point in the reckoning. Even when buying a bar of chocolate there’s the evaluation of quality over price; and that goes for Aldi too, who have various kinds of chocolate for the unwilling spender.
Britain, however, is a very different place than Europe. It’s as if there’s a real divide between the European economies and Britain in as real a way as there are twenty miles of seawater between them. There are few enough Europeans who understand the British mind – and an economy is the result of a cultural mindset. The British, for all their intelligence, are stumped when it comes to European minds and the economies they create. And the Americans are even worse because they’re so deluded as to think what’s right for them is right for everybody.