A European Union?
We met on a train – very “Brief Encounters”. Turns out she is from Switzerland but of German and French parents. The train was travelling through Poland, en route to Moscow. It was a long trip so I’d taken a stroll. She was nursing a coffee, nose in a book, but there was something in how she held herself, and more than passing beauty, which attracted me, so I tentatively introduced myself and asked if I could join her. I must have been projecting a “winning personality” smile because she returned it brightly and said “Sure, I was actually getting bored with this book. It is a German crime thriller, but it reads more like an economics textbook”. So, third language English but probably better than mine, which was drawn largelyfrom the outlying urban sprawls of Chapel Allerton in Leeds.
“Merci Madamemoiselle” I responded, to show willingness to work in another tongue, and my German was practically non existant. She ignored this gambit – a bit haughtily, I felt – and continued in English. “Are you going all the way to Moscow?” I told her that I was and that I had a meeting to attend with a number, a small number, of like minds to progress a research project we were partners in. “It is a bit covert and hush-hush, but in a very progressive way” I ended, cryptically.
“Ah, that is good, it so pleases me when teams are created across the continent. I think Europe should work very much harder to include Britain in her operations.” Was this French humour or German didactiveness? I really wasn’t sure but I laughed out loud. “Why is that funny? I truly mean what I say, we have got to be far more…” she paused briefly “…PRO-active in involving you British in our wonderful, MULTI-national and MULTI-cultural community”. Then she too lost her straight face and started laughing, probably at the sight of my bemusement.
“You British, you think that because you are a few miles away from the French coast you are not a part of us. Why, you even arrange a, how do you call it, a “referendum” to ask yourselves if you want to stay “in” Europe. As if, by voting No you could untie yourselves and float away wherever you please. Sometimes I think that you are very stupide.” She dwelt upon the last syllable to emphasise it and so showed that she was indeed more French than German. But, of course she was by birth Swiss and, overwhelmingly, European – as I found over the hours that passed thereafter, chatting and watching the mixed, easterning European landscape flash by.
At one point my combative spirit threw up a thought. I had at once to utter it: “But Swizerland are not members of the EU. You have never joined so you cannot blame us – at least we’ve tried it”.
“Non!You have always been half hearted and you are always complaining. In Swizerland, we know that we are a, you know, an integral part of Europe. You know we are happy to pay our fees to let us trade in the European Union but, yes, we also put a great value on our independence. And the fees we pay, you know, they are quite extortionate – but we get them back through our banks. The same as you British only we dont complain, we just get on with our lives.”
Again she had put me – us – in our place and I lapsed back into contemplative mode. I got to thinking of countries as being an irrelevance, borders as being meaningless. My companion, she was such a complex mix of loyalties, influences and passions. To call her European was the only workable adjective.
And now we had Moskva to look forward to….
June 5th, 2016