'Abroad' used to be different didn't it? No I'm not pining for the past here, I mean different as in not the same as it is at home. Of course, if you go far enough it still is different, but I tend to get seriously bored after a couple of hours in a plane, so most of my holidays tend to be in Europe.
Also, I can never understand why people would want to go to somewhere like Mexico for a seaside holiday. If all you want is sunshine and concrete why not go to Spain? Nothing wrong with Spain of course, it's just a pity that they've buggered up most of the coast.
Anyway, I can remember the first time I went to France (a long time ago I admit) how different everything seemed. The people, the buildings, the food, the cars and so on, all distinctly french. The cars in particular I recall. Now long forgotten, the Simca Aronde and the Panhard Dyna were common sights and the famous Citroen HY van with its corrugated panels was the vehicle of choice for every tradesman in France.
A drive in a French car meant getting into some strange vehicle with a white steering wheel and squashy seats. You needed a phrasebook to turn on the heater. Nowadays a french car is just another eurobox, just like at home, but with the steering wheel on the other side.
It's the same now in most of Europe of course. If you rent a car in France now it probably won't even be French.
And what about the switches? I love little labels on dashboards saying things like 'manuell', and I can see a case for proper labels on the controls in British cars too. I know we've had symbols for years now and the commercial advantages for cars sold in many different markets are obvious. But the old system (labels saying ignition, wipers, oil pressure etc.) had several advantages. No need to get the handbook out when a strange light comes on, and no peering around the dash looking for an elusive fog lamp switch. No accidentally setting the cruise control to 115mph, or nearly crashing into a bus whilst trying to get Radio 4 on some integrated sound system with more controls than Apollo 13.
It's not just cars of course. A friend recently described a village in Spain as being just so Spanish. (Well, I thought to myself, it's in Spain so it's not going to be Dutch is it?) But her point of course is that too much of Spain (like most places,) is just like everywhere else. A Holiday Inn in Barcelona is much like a Holiday Inn in Birmingham except for the view. Actually no, the view will be the same a car park full of Renaults.
But one thing remains that is genuinely different, and that of course is the language. And it's here where us Brits truly stand out. Most Europeans can visit the country next door and understand what's going on. Far too many of us however would struggle to buy a cup of coffee.
Now as a business, we buy quite a bit of our stock from the Continent, (Well we have to don't we, no-one actually makes anything over here any more,) and as a result we often chat to, and occasionally meet, Belgians, Germans, Italians etc. and the interesting thing is that all our business discussions are conducted in English. The Continentals (and people all over the world in fact) appear proud to display their linguistic prowess whereas we seem proud to display the opposite.
This may be something to do with our Colonial heritage I suppose, but it is more likely to be another side effect of our 'progressive' education system.
I am the first to admit that my own linguistic abilities are limited to schoolboy German and a few key phrases in French and Italian, (you know Two beers please and My friend will pay.) But it might be to our collective advantage if we were a bit more embarrassed by our ignorance.
Which brings me to another problem which is vexing me today. We need some more staff. Degrees in particle physics are not required, but we would like someone literate, (cars are getting more complicated you know). And here I am reading application forms from people who can't spell 'mechanic'.
Do you work in education? Perhaps you occupy a senior post and have some influence?
You need to get your finger out.
*NB. Before I needlessly alienate our many customers in the teaching profession, I should point out that I have the greatest admiration for frontline teachers who perform a thankless task with little or no support. Our chaotic education system and the disgraceful standards of behaviour our society appears to tolerate are no fault of theirs.
In my humble opinion many of these problems can be attributed to the misguided policies of our sanctimonious, self-serving, second-rate politicians - so there.