Via Glenn I learned that there is a great deal of debate over the failure of the “women and children first” rule to apply to the crash of the Costa Concordia. It would appear that the consensus opinion is that either: (a) this is evidence of the coarsening of society in the hundred years since the wreck of the Titanic, or (b) this is evidence of the “victory” of the women’s right movement to overcome not just the barriers of sexism, but also its protections.
I would like to suggest a third reason, but one that is no less troubling in its implications: the chaos came about because it was an Italian ship.
Last night I had dinner with some Canadian friends who also live here in Germany. They had just returned from a ski weekend and we shared the same observation. It is on crowded Alpine slopes where one learns first-hand of the vast differences in how various nationalities approach the concept of order.
Formed by the collision of the European and Mediterranean tectonic plates, this mountain range is a metaphoric division of two very different cultures. It is on this boundary where the residents of those two cultures meet on holiday weekends.
The British queue even if it’s a queue of one. Should an interloper attempt to cut the lift line, the English response is to politely inform the intruder that there is a queue. Germans also queue, but they aren’t polite to the interloper. They crossly inform intruders, in German, that they are in the wrong. The occasional American skiing the Alps tends to start off polite like the Brit, however, should the line-cutter not oblige, is apt to forcefully enforce the queue. All three nationalities, along with Scandinavians, Dutch, Austrians, Swiss, and the rare Canuck, share the same basic recognition that those already in the queue have higher priority, and will therefore “wait their turn.”
Italians, especially southern Italians, do not respect this concept on the slopes. Those already ahead of them when they arrive at the lift are an obstacle to be overcome, not to be waited out. Pushing, elbows, and skiing across the top of your own skis are all permitted according to Italian rules.
You see this on the roads too. On the autobahns of Germany, the right lane is where you drive unless you are passing, after which you return immediately to the right. It is this adherance to order that makes it possible for trucks travelling 100 kilometers per hour to co-exist with cars moving twice as fast. On Italy’s autostrada, two lanes is just a suggestion. Three cars abreast is not uncommon, as a faster car coming upon two slower travellers, passes his way forward, often on the right.
Spaniards are like this too. French are far more Italian than they are German. And Greeks? Well, I can’t say, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Greeks skiing–probably because they can’t afford to.
Gross generalizations? Sure. There are rule-breaking Germans and orderly Italians. (The latter perhaps because they hail from the northen part of Italy that until 1919 was Austria.) But the stereotypes are true enough to give you a sense of a country’s culture.
In German restaurants after the waitress has brought you your meal, she will return to ask, “Alles in ordnung?” Instead of asking if she can get you anything else, she wonders, “Is everything in order?” Order is everything. Certainly, Germans take it to an extreme, as I complained last week. But German order is preferable to Italian anarchy–at least in small doses.
To those who view this weekend’s catastrophe as evidence of the end of civility, I say, cheer up. Had it been a German or British ship that went down in the North Sea, I submit that the scene would have been far more reminiscent of the Titanic’s “women and children first” rule, than the chaos of the Costa Concordia.
On the other hand, the Concorida gives witness to the unbridgeable divide in Europe. The Continent is two cultures separated by a common currency. Economic chaos is the inevitable result. And women and children may end up being the first thrown overboard.
Theodore Dalrymple: “Greeks aren’t Germans.” True dat. And neither are they Irish or Italian. The EU, both in population and in physical size, approximates that of the United States. Don’t let that fool you. Cultural differences (akin to that scary “stereotype” thing some label as bigoted) are real. And they are far greater than the East Coast-West Coast, North-South, urban-rural, black-white divides that you find in the United States. Don’t let the common currency fool you; Europe is a concept not a country. This is the European Disunion. The “E.D.” Make all the erectile dysfunction jokes you like.
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