Culture shock

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An amphitheatre last week.

We forget, you know. We Brits forget that we didn't invent civilisation. We forget that Johnny Foreigner might have something to offer us when it comes to matters cultural.

This time last week, I sat in an amphitheatre built almost two-and-a-half-thousand years ago. While the Ancient Greeks (who were in charge of Sicily at the time) sat and watched plays and poetry recitals with Europe's largest active volcano as a picturesque backdrop, the equally ancient yet illiterate Britons were still living in huts, daubing themselves with woad. Politically correct cultural relativism notwithstanding, I know where I stand in the poetry vs woad debate.

Even today, as you walk through the streets of Taormina, things feel very different to back in Blighty: there is no litter; there is no chewing gum polka-dotting the pavements (presumably because everyone still smokes); even on Friday and Saturday nights, there are no drunken louts and loutesses yelling their heads off and vomiting—people simply go for a walk down the main street, windowshopping; the coffee is superb (although the tea, it has to be said, is dire); the food is proper food; people are courteous and friendly (although I did wonder whether they don't go a bit over the top with all their male-on-male kissing); the shop-fronts have retained their individuality, and have not degraded into the standard, British corporate monoculture; there are no in-your-face street hawkers (apart from the occasional flower-seller); there are no advertising hoardings; there are no broken paving stones; everyone seems relaxed and totally unstressed. Yes, you think to yourself, this is all very civilised. Maybe there might be something in the continental lifestyle after all. Maybe, just maybe, we Brits might be able to learn something from our European cousins.

And then you go back to your hotel, and you look down at the bidet, and you think to yourself, Those dirty, dirty bastards!