I work for an international transport company, which means having to deal with European countries and companies - specifically, France, Spain and Italy. As no one in the UK can be assed to even learn a foreign language, my brief is to communicate, by written word and verbally, with various and sundry of these countries. Many moons ago, when I was young and foolish and teaching middle school Spanish and French, I used to fight a losing battle trying to get my students to realise that learning a foreign language was more than just conjugating the odd verb. It was actually communicating, using that language to impart to others an idea, a wish, a desire, a command. It was also learning about the culture of that particular country - not just its history and geography, but the mindset of the people: how they function, how they view things as different to how we view things. Learning a foreign language is a lesson in life, especially if you have occasion to visit, live or work in a particular country where English isn't spoken as the first language.
Now, at this point, having done this for more than 20 years, I can honestly say that speaking a foreign language is really and truly like being a diplomat. A diplomat's job is primarily to promote the interests of his home country abroad in a particular other one. So, in my job, I'm trying to sell my company's image, ethos and ideas abroad to Spaniards, French and Italians - it's also trying to haggle acceptable prices out of the curs, especially now that the pound's bottomed out. So all my hard-earned university education and summers spent learning Spanish, Italian and French on my back from various amourous males at a time when an American girlfriend was a commodity paid off ... it bloody got me a British husband, didn't it?
And that's the point. Try explaining to a Brit that a Spaniard wouldn't do things the way a Brit would. Or a Frenchman wouldn't do things the way an Italian would. Don't even mention the French to a Brit! That's fatal. If parts of the US are still fighting the Civil War, the Brits and the French are still at the Hundred Years' War! And these people are aiming for a United States of Europe?! But seriously, as much as I despair of life on this sceptred isle, I'm a sucker for the Continent, especially all things Mediterranean.
The first place I set foot in Europe was Spain, then France and Italy. And I'm not even talking about the Coast, but the inland cities of Salamanca, Dijon and Perugia. I took to the lifestyle and attitudes like a duck to water. Honestly, it was as if I'd come home. This was in the mid-Seventies, and Spain was in the last throes of Franco, a country repressed to the goolies by the shadow of the Catholic Church, an organisation I fell out with mightily at the age of seven. But, you know, misbehaviour and the art of rebellion is all the more sweeter when it's done on the sly, and I've got to thank the Catholic country of Spain for my sexual liberation. That was a turning point for me, especially since I was sexually weaned on a diet of the odd backseat, guilt-ridden teenage angst encounter in high school and graduated to drunken fraternity encounters in college. Honestly, gross encounters of the third kind are akin to a bad copy of the Renaissance painting depicting Venus and Mars, with Venus looking decidedly put out after a foray in the hay with Mars, who's basically rolled over and gone to sleep. The only thing lacking for the university version would be the puke on the floor beside his side of the bed. You get my drift.
The Spaniards, as well as the Italians, introduced me to the joys or oral sex - giving as well as receiving. Give a good blow job, ladies, and you'll receive tenfolds of ecstasy in kind. The Spanish boys like their girls on top, but they don't make them do all the work, either. There were al fresco encounters and evenings of slow, sweet enchantment culminating in multiple climaxes. If you've never tried the Med, ladies, do so for that reason.
It's why I've gone native to an extent. Living with a Brit has had its moments, but basically, they are more or less like a more repressed version of an American. They talk the talk (in a fashion peppered with toilet references) but walk the walk? Never in a million years. What about all these sexy Brits who garner American trophy wives? McCartney? Jagger? Mr Gwyneth Paltrow? Money talks. Nothing more. Going native means I've taken an Italian lover, occasionally. My travels for my company now take me to the Emilia Romagna area of Italy - specifically Bologna. It's the culinary heart of the country, where the food is as sexy as the men in question. So my special friend makes the tedium of business that more palatable in both ways, if you'll pardon the pun. It's not just the sex, which is good, very good. It's the intellect as well. He's a diehard Italian communist, well-read and a professor of literature. So my mind as well as my body is stimulated.
Do I feel a pang of guilt? In a word, no. But it still doesn't alleviate my homesickness for the US. I suppose you never really miss the water until the well runs dry, but I've got to ask myself what exactly it is I really want to sacrifice in order to liberate myself from this stagnant and superficial life I lead in Britain.
I'm open to suggestions anyway, if anyone reads this.