Merde in europe, p.25
Merde in Europe, p.25Stephen Clarke
(Elodie: FYI, Jake has also written some lyrics to Beethoven’s tune, but I don’t think his will be adopted by the EU, either, because he rhymes ‘joy’ with ‘sex toy’ and has replaced ‘Götterfunken’ with something unmentionable.
Oh, and is it true that the EU wants France to change that line in the Marseillaise about ‘impure blood’, because of its racist overtones? Merde alors!)
15 ‘No alcohol sales during the week, says Brussels’
In 2005 the British press went into a delirium tremens about ‘secret EU plans’ to ban the sale of alcohol from Monday to Friday, and to hand the alcohol trade over to state-run monopolies.
The origin of these scare stories was a working paper submitted to the European Commission suggesting ways of reducing alcoholism, drink-driving, alcohol consumption during pregnancy and binge-drinking (Elodie: That is what you call ‘drinking à l’anglaise’).
The EU has both a committee and a forum on alcohol, so it is obviously an issue that concerns them, and they probably get together for lots of cocktail parties to discuss it. But they’re not planning to ban anything, even though they have identified alcohol as the cause of 25% of the deaths of European males aged between 15 and 29.
So I personally am going to give up binge-drinking until I’m 30, when it apparently gets statistically less dangerous.
16 ‘EU will force cows to wear nappies’
This is all about nitrate pollution. As we all know, animals poo. But if large concentrations of them do so in a small area, and if that poo is not collected up, to be spread out more evenly as fertiliser, it can leak into the soil and rivers, causing algae blooms on beaches and polluting drinking water.
(Elodie: I know you don’t really care about this, because you drink bottled water, but lots of people do care. Honestly.)
In 2014 a Bavarian farmer announced that he was fitting his cows with nappies because, he said, the EU bans nitrate pollution in alpine pastures. The British press seized on this as another example of EU lunacy, either not realising or ignoring the fact that it was that rare thing, a Bavarian joke.
The EU does have a Nitrates Directive dating back to 1991, which states that reservoirs used for drinking-water extraction may not contain more than 50mg per litre of nitrates. But the EU doesn’t tell member states how to achieve that limit, and the words ‘nappy’ or ‘diaper’ – and their various translations – do not appear anywhere in the Directive.
(Elodie: In case you want to reduce algae blooms on Brittany’s beaches, the Breton for nappy is trezh.)
17 ‘English Channel to be renamed “Anglo-French Pond”’
This relates to the Waterloo/Trafalgar story in item 6 above. As most French people are coming to realise, almost all British geographical names have been invented to annoy France. Either they refer to some historic humiliation or they’re impossible to pronounce (Gloucester, Leicester, Bournemouth, etc).
The ‘English Channel’ seems to have been named to remind the French whose navy has traditionally been the more efficient of the two. The fact that France is much more neutral and tries to call the stretch of water dividing us ‘La Manche’ (the sleeve) hasn’t convinced the British at all. We don’t name places after bits of clothing. We do it the other way round (eg cardigan, balaclava, jodhpurs, Panama hat, Chelsea football shirt).
Anyway, this news story cropped up after a French economist identified a cross-Channel trading area between southern England and northern France and dubbed it ‘la zone Trans-Manche’.
British journalists seem to have asked what the hell a ‘cross-sleeve zone’ was, and simply invented something more provocative than the truth.
18 ‘Great British banger to be outlawed by Brussels’
We Brits know that our chocolate isn’t really chocolate, that our bread was until recently more like slices of lino, and that our sausages are full of kaoc’h. But we don’t care. We invented several of the world’s most famous chocolate bars and its most complete breakfast, and that’s what counts.
So when Brussels decides to regulate the meat content of sausages, to ban manufacturers from counting fat as meat and generally improve the quality of sausages, we are quite naturally outraged.
What actually happened here was that the EU tried to outlaw the use of ‘mechanically separated meat’ in sausages. This is the leftover scraps of flesh clinging to skin, bones, hooves, etc, after the useful cuts have been extracted from the animal carcass.
Fortunately, though, British manufacturers have since managed to get some of these barely edible scraps redefined as ‘de-sinewed meat’, so they can continue using them in sausages.
Vive le banger!
19 ‘British toilets to be replaced by “euro-loos”’
As we all know, the flushing toilet is one of Britain’s great contributions to world culture, alongside Shakespeare, the sandwich and driving on the sensible side of the road. The verb ‘to crap’ even comes from the name of the inventor of the flushing toilet, Thomas Crapper.
So it was easy for the British press to kick up a shitstorm when the EU proposed to interfere with the Great British flush.
In fact, though, this was simply the EU’s attempt to reduce the amount of water used by toilets. It involved a purely voluntary eco-labelling scheme for toilet manufacturers, based on the realisation that about 30% of a household’s drinking water goes down a toilet, most of it unnecessarily.
An EU study estimated that by reducing the size of cisterns and introducing the double-speed flush system, Europe could save more than a billion cubic metres of water per year.
(Elodie: To put it in a way you might understand, that’s about 10 million swimming pools.)
The British press, though, jumped on the opportunity to defend one of our proudest institutions, which has even entered the French language – some older people in France still call toilets ‘les WC’.
(Elodie: You might be interested to know that in English we already had a rhyme encouraging people to save water: ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.’ I can get Jake to translate it into French, if you want.)
20 ‘EU wants to measure how badly workers smell’
We Brits seem to have a real hang-up about our armpits. Why else do we continually go on about French women not shaving there (false) and French people not taking frequent baths (true – they take showers instead, much more hygienic)?
So back in 1996, when Britain’s male workers had little more to make them fragrant than two deodorants called Brut and Old Spice, the press kicked up a massive stink about the news that the EU was looking into the smells inside buildings. This came about because the Commission commissioned (sorry, can’t think of another word) a study into energy efficiency, which looked into double glazing and similar insulation techniques.
A by-product of these techniques was, of course, the creation of a hermetically sealed environment and therefore a higher concentration of smells inside houses, as well as in shops, offices and factories. Deodorant therefore became an environmental issue.
The good news is that this silly rumour has become obsolete. Since 1996, Englishmen have evolved, and young British males now devote approximately half their waking hours to buffing their skin, having bodily hair removed and getting body art, so these days a little story about the need to smell nice wouldn’t bother them at all.
21 ‘New Brussels law: worn-out sex toys must be given back to retailers’
This is a very creative bit of over-interpretation, and for once it’s based on reality. In fact, only the ‘must’ in the headline is wrong. It should read ‘may’.
According to the EU’s Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Directive (or WEEE – surely that was an acronym that they could have saved for the toilet-flush directive?), owners of broken or unwanted electrical devices can return them to the retailers for recycling. The idea is, of course, that their motor usually contains toxic materials and should not therefore be put in household dustbins.
22 ‘EU wants all condoms to be of uniform size – small’
We all know that any mention of crushing a penis (for non-recreational purposes) instinctively gets men wincing and crossing their legs. It is also a scientific fact that the male readers of British tabloids have the world’s largest penises. So this news story about shrinking condoms was a double whammy. It was also totally false.
It was inspired by the EU’s recommendations that condoms need quality control, which no one in their right mind would disagree with. The true story is quite fun, because the European Standardisation Committee devised some really wacky experiments to test condom quality.
These included the ‘rolled water test’, in which a condom is filled with water and then rolled on absorbent paper to check for leaks; the ‘European electric test’, in which a condom is filled with a salt solution and then tested for high or low electrical resistance (Elodie: Sorry, I don’t get it: why would you electrocute a condom?); and the ‘air burst test’, which simply involves inflating a condom till it bursts – and if it doesn’t inflate, it’s obviously got a hole anyway.
Surely the British newspapers could have reported the true story for once, and had great fun describing scientists doing all these goofy things to condoms?
(Elodie: If you use this story, it might also be useful to take the opportunity to tell people that there’s no need to do these tests yourself before putting on the condom.)
23 ‘EU bureaucrats decree that Britain is not an island’
This relates to item 17 above. When that French economist identified a trading area encompassing northern France and southeast England, someone in the EU drew up a map that united the two coastal regions in the aforementioned ‘zone Trans-Manche’. This naturally caused primeval jingoistic instincts to kick in. France was claiming that Britain was on the continent; the EU wanted to make Kent part of France, etc, etc.
At the same time, these fears were stoked up by an EU study of the problems facing small island communities. The preamble to the study said that it would not include islands that contained the capital of an EU nation. Obvious really, because you can’t define England and Ireland as ‘small island communities’ and say they have the same economic problems as, say, a village on a lump of rock just off the Breton coast.
But the British press seized on this, alleging that the EU wanted to rob Britain of its island status. The contrary is, of course, the case. Most Brussels bureaucrats are glad that we’re on an island, cut off from them by the sea.
(Elodie: FYI, re Kent being part of France. Apparently, due to global warming, climate conditions in southeast England are becoming more like those in northern France, while France is heating up, meaning that soon champagne-style wines made in Kent and Sussex will probably be better than those actually made in France. This is why French champagne companies are buying up land in southern England. If Britain leaves the EU, we might be free to ignore European law and call this British fizz ‘English Champagne’. Just thought you might like to pass this news on to your French patriot friends.)
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Epub ISBN: 9781473537651
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Copyright © Stephen Clarke, 2016
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First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Century
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Stephen Clarke, Merde in Europe
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