Europe is (not) a Foreign Country (but they do some things differently there)

Observations from a week in the heart of the European Superstate Project Beast Europe

I’ve recently spent a week in Brussels for Drawnalism (the business I co-own with Matthew Buck doing live graphic recording at events, amongst other things); firstly for a Operational Research conference for Medecins Sans Frontiers and then for Interreg’s annual conference. And it’s been great – eating moules frites, drinking Belgian beer, and seeing the sights (in between proper work, of course). In light of certain up-coming events in the UK political scene, I thought I’d add a few of my thoughts and observations about life in this apparently hellish domain…

The Atomium, Brussels

The Atomium, Brussels

Roads

I don’t drive but, like many Brits, I had the Green Cross Code drummed into me (by Darth Vader, no less) from an early age, so I still find cars driving on the right disconcerting. From trying to get into the wrong side of a taxi (oops – drivers side!) to simply crossing the road,  I still  instinctively look to my right, then remember to look left, then right; until my head starts spinning like some demented owl in a pet shop.

As for the crossings themselves, I just can’t get used to cars being allowed to cross a pedestrian crossing whilst there’s someone walking on in it – this being a strict no-no in Britain. The flip-side to this is that the traffic is very considerate – cars frequently stop for you merely on the off-chance you might be thinking of crossing. Which is nice.

And bikes. Bicycles are everywhere, not least because there are bike lanes everywhere. And bike parks. And bike shelters. And all the other stuff we don’t have in Britain.

Language

I’ve often thought that one area that the UK has failed to capitalise on in Europe is our one big USP. English. English is the lingua franca of Europe. Everyone you meet seems to be able to speak at least two or three languages – English usually being one of them (this being handy with my barely-schoolboy-level knowledge of French).

Sure, it’s that “off-shore, slang-free” version of English, but it’s still English – and far better than I could manage if the tables were reversed. I’ve lost track of the events in Europe I’ve worked at where the participants hail from a variety of different nations, but shared one common language (i.e. English). Even in France.

Sovereignty

The other night, I ate in what must be the most Belgian restaurant I’ve been to yet. Beer, mussels and fries (in cones) on the menu, Jacques Brel on the soundtrack, Tintin and Magritte on the walls. And jelly-babies shaped like the Manneken Pis with the bill.

Manneken Pis Jelly-babies

Manneken Pis Jelly-babies

I’ve never understood why the idea of national identity is always such an issue for the Brits. We’re all European now, but this doesn’t change our national identity.

Go around Europe – are the French any less French, the Italians less Italian? At Drawnalism, a substantial amount of our business is done in and with Europe, and as such, we travel widely around the EU and beyond. And, do you know what? It works.

The borders across much of Europe are now more-or-less theoretical. Business, culture, people flow freely, and this is a good thing. Sure, it’s not perfect, but this is why we should be in there, rolling up our sleeves and getting involved; making alliances, building bridges and fixing the things that aren’t working as well as they could.

Brexit would undoubtedly have a significant impact on all of this, not only for us here at Drawnalism. We won’t just lose out financially, but, as a nation, we’ll lose out culturally, socially, emotionally. The little things that make us different are exactly the things that bring us together as a society.

 

Note: this is a slightly edited version of a post I wrote for our Drawnalism blog. No jelly-babies were harmed during the writing of this post.

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