Swedish writer and former foreign correspondent Herman Lindqvist once claimed that there is a time difference of about three hours in Europe – not between east and west, but between north and south.
An astronomical impossibility as this may seem, it is still a fully observable cutural phenomenon. For while the Portuguese have their breakfast, the Swedes have their lunch. While the Norwegians have their breakfast, the Italians sleep. And while the Finns put on their pajamas, the Spaniards work, and work, and work, and eventually party a bit into the night.
I should not be surprised, then, to discover how the SMS messages that the European Union’s rotating Presidency countries send out to Brussels correspondents, about various media-related issues, suddenly started arriving about three hours later than usual once the Portuguese took the helm in July. While text messages were strictly confined to office hours – Germanic office hours, that is – during the preceding Finnish and German presidencies, it happens every now and then that messages drop late at night from the Portuguese. Once I got a message about some statement or another as I was going to bed. And today I had an invitation to a “Presidency IGC debriefing” time stamped at 19:41 – on a Sunday evening, that is.
Meanwhile, Scandinavian companies ooze vitriloc remarks about laziness and mañana culture as their calls to Mediterranian business go unanswered due to siesta. Only to have similar accusations cast after them about lazy pampered welfare state sluggards when their counterparts in Southern Europe try in vain to reach them to do business when it’s only eight o’clock in the evening.
A few moments each day, they actually do all work at the same time. Which is when the Britons let their English lion maul the new EU Reform Treaty for being a stealth Constitution that will covertly wring the ruling scepter out of old proud Britannia’s hands – where only Sun and Daily Mail editors still see it held, by the way – while the French pound their fists and demand that Britain starts taking its responsibility and pay its member fees in full, rather than chicken out from their obligations, so that the new Eastern European member states’ farmers can enjoy subsidies that will enable them, too, to sit on their hands and watch their fields become overgrown, just like their Western colleagues, while cereal prices smash through the ceiling and skyrocket further out into the universe for lack of supply to meet the demand.
Maybe it’s just as well after all that they’re all kept apart a little.
(Note to Swedish readers: This blog post is partly written in an homage style to the late great Torsten Ehrenmark.)