Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Because there’s little ‘clear blue water’ between the parties, British politics is frequently dismissed as boring. Not a problem here. Sometimes there’s the Atlantic between the government and the opposition and sometimes the Pacific. And nowhere more so than on the question of how to deal with the ETA terrorist group that everyone agrees is at its lowest ebb, thanks mainly to [very belated] post 9/11 assistance from Spain’s French neighbour. The government intends to try to negotiate them out of existence, whereas the opposition feels this betrays those murdered over 40 years and merely invites ETA to again play the games they have in the past. British readers will be aware of the precedents from Northern Ireland. Worryingly, the President may actually have the Good Friday Agreement in mind as a model.

I took a bottle of wine back to the supermarket yesterday. To say that things were dealt with swiftly and with good grace would be something of an overstatement. But I least I didn’t have a fight. Which reminds me, I have to go back to the bank today as it’s not possible to give instructions and sign the mountains of paper on the same day. And as for a simple phone call to move money between accounts, well…..

It’s remarkable how engrained cultural norms are. After five years, I can just about live with the fact that no one here makes any attempt to give way to anyone else until fractionally before they bump into them; or that no one indulges in the Pleases and Thank-yous of the over-polite Brits. But I still find it hard to accept that – in a country noted for its slow pace of life - none of my neighbours in our narrow cul-de-sac can wait for me to complete a 3-point turn before racing past me. No wonder the Jesuits used to say – and may well still say – ‘Give us a child for the first five years as he’s ours for life’.

Down into Portugal last night, for a Chinese meal. I guessed there might be problems when I saw the starters included Batatas Fritas. Or chips/french fries to you and me. The duck was off and they’d never heard of ginger, the bedrock of Chinese cuisine as far as I’m concerned. Finally[and dejectedly], I went with the fried chicken - only to find that it came with both rice and chips. I was reminded of an observation that the defining characteristic of Portuguese cooking is carbohydrate overload. We won’t be going back, even though the chicken itself was quite good.

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