Europe’s North & South ‘Tribes’

Crossing the Sea from Denmark to Sweden             Photo Credit: African Press Club

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

 Dateline: Eixample, Barcelona

References are constantly being made to the diversity of African languages, tribes, and culture. More often than not, it is viewed negatively, at least in the mainstream international media. Then, I travelled to Sweden from Barcelona on the invitation of a friend and thought, wait a minute, Northern and Southern Europe are quite different.

My friend lives in the countryside close to Copenhagen the capital of Denmark. So, we crossed the bridge between Sweden and Denmark. My first observation upon landing in Denmark airport was the height of the men. They were quite tall! People were also pale complexioned compared to Spain.

To the average African in the motherland watching television, all white people are the same. Nope! My dear African, Europe also has its ‘tribes’.

The Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, French, Portuguese are the total opposite of the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the UK, and Ireland. The language, culture, food, climate, mannerisms, systems, level of prosperity and family orientation are not the same. Even Germany in Western Europe, for instance, is different from Eastern Europe.

Let’s start in the South. Have you ever talked to an Italian with his hand in your face like my Nigerian brothers and sisters? Yes, they actually are similar to us in that division. They’re talking among themselves, and you’re thinking, are they quarreling? Nope! It’s just the way they are – a bit animated.

Enter the French who think they’re the best thing that happened to mankind since sliced bread. Lawwwd, you need the patience to deal with this lot, especially in Paris. I’ve never seen people who pretend they cannot speak English, all to coerce you to speak French. I reckon their old brawl and supremacy tussle with the British perhaps, informs this attitude.

At least they can be proud that they beat the British mercilessly in the culinary section. Dishes from both countries are a world apart from each other. One is scrumptious and the other is quite honestly, bland.

What about the Spaniards? They love life. Nobody is in a hurry, as a result, the bureaucracy can be slow. Be prepared to hear “manana” often, meaning tomorrow. Manana could easily metamorphose from tomorrow to next week.

Greece, oh the ancient nation that produced renowned philosophers such as Aristotle. Time has no meaning here and laws are meant to be broken. That’s probably why Northern Europeans think they’re a basket case following years of economic crisis.

Obviously, the fiscal discipline in the North among other factors has produced greater wealth compared to the South. The break up of the family unit in the North is a feature that sets them apart from the South too.

The British, known to be cold and uptight, appear to be having imperial nostalgia. The former Empire country some say is trying to recreate Empire 2.0 with Brexit. Unfortunately, Brexit has unleashed a vicious fight between the Leave and Remain camps. Consequently, we’re seeing the Scots and the Irish speaking up against what is regarded as the “arrogance” of the English.

The religious rivalry between Scotland and Ireland (Protestants and Catholics) was waged for centuries and dictates their local politics in contemporary times. My British friend tells me Scotland might find it difficult to achieve independence as most Protestants voted to remain in the referendum.

As for the Welsh, any talk of independence would be more about politics rather than religion, although that is not on the table. I don’t think anyone quite saw what was coming. Stay tuned for more entertainment from the Brits. The Brexit drama series will be on for a while.

The Scandinavians are known for remarkable efficiency, just like the Germans. One sentence for the Dutch: they’re very tall. I bet the Southerners thumb their noses at their Northern counterparts, asking them to get a bit of extra spice in their lives.

Don’t even get me started on Eastern Europe. Their worldview was influenced largely by communism.

A quick word on the European Union: The EU originally formed for a common market, has brought a measure of stability and unification in Europe. After two world wars, younger Europeans tell me they think the EU is the best thing that happened to the continent. But murmurs about the South sucking up finances of the North persist. This may explain why EU big guns like Germany and France are mortified of common banking.

For an African, you might want to take the flavorsome food of the South and the super efficiency of the North. This was all meant to be light-hearted. Please don’t take yourselves too seriously!!!

Let me know your thoughts in the comment box. Enjoy and have a fabulous week!

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12 comments

  1. As a “european”Scotsman I read your article with interest. Very informative, particularly for those having never been to Europe, and a light and easy read Constance. I hope it encourages the reader to dig deeper into European affairs at all.levels.

  2. An interesting perspective. However, things are more complexe even at first sight. Due to a welcoming policy towards politics refugees, not few Swedish have Persian or Chilean roots. Succesful French soccer national team is a perfect exemple of multiethnical French society nowadays.
    Curiously enough, the tall guys of Europe haven’t been able to win any basketball championship, whereas the small spaniards won several medals in the las two decades in Olympic Games, World and European championships…

    As has been pointed out in the article, some people of regions that belong to a certain country, don’t consider themselves as a citizen of this country: they hold independence dreams. The most evident case would be the Spanish region of Catalonia: the former president escaped to Brussels in orden of not to be sent to jail, like politicians and other personalities involved in Catalan attempt of independence in october of 2017.

    In addition, religion can explain some differences between Europeans. Catholicism is the religion of Central and South European countries, whereas the protestant countries are located in Northern Europe. The different values of these religions, can explain that an Irish and an Italian have more similar family values than an Irish and an English.

    Last but not least, the economical efficiency and honestity of Northern countries is a kind of myth. According to some experts, the disaster caused by the explosion of the economical bubble of Ireland and Southern European countries was a consequence of the actions of Cental European Bank to save the German Economy even if that could mean a disaster for other countries, as finally happened. No need to say that German Banks got huge benefits of this crise… Is also well known that British and German retire move to Spain and Portugal since there they can have free medical atention, something taht doesn’t happen in their country. Evidently, that’s not for free, but paid with the taxes of Spanish active population…

  3. Thanks Ian and Sally for your comments. Ian, digging deeper into European affairs is a story on its own. A lot going on there. Palaiatu, thanks for enriching the discourse as well. I’ve just learnt a few things from your comments as posted.

    1. Hello Palaiatu. Germany was the first country in the world to have free healthcare and Britain started the National Health service in 1946 so in fact their pensioners can get free healthcare in their own countries. They probably come for a better climate and to spend their money and invest in the economies of Spain and Portugal, without taking jobs from the active population. Just as Spanish people could go to Britain and use their free healthcare until Brexit raised its ugly head.

  4. The world is full of all kinds of prejudices and bigotry. As in Africa so it is in Europe, the Americas and Asia. The only difference is the degree. This piece is rather revealing. The natural man will contrive anything to portray his neighbour as inferior. Pathetic, isn’t it?

    1. Hello Tunde. I was wrong, is not only about pensioners. If you can read in Spanish, I suggest you this article:

      https://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2012-04-19/se-acabo-el-turismo-sanitario-para-700-000-extranjeros-y-con-1-000-millones-de-coste_232957/

      In 2012 the Spanish Government took measures against the “medical tourism”, wich had big economical costs for Spain, By the way, English, and German were on the top of the lists of “sick tourists”.

      Good reading!

  5. Being Scottish it is true the UK has free healthcare but often their are long waiting lists for treatment and some may prefer to go to Spain say to be hopefully treated sooner. For instance, kidney transplants. It’s not as straightforward as that though. A Bulgarian colleague and friends wife needed a new kidney. The waiting time here was long and unpredictable so they had to have an apartment in Spain before being eligible for treatment. The waiting time was assessed as one year. Unfortunately it didnt happen and they were forced to go to Sofia in Bulgaria. Sadly, she passed away there. Seeing the distress caused to her and her family makes the phrase “sick tourists” seem uncaring and a cold-hearted statistic. It is an uneven and often cruel world and there are many faults, ills and evils between nation states where money talks and fairness and equal opportunities are non-existent. Nonetheless, let’s be those who claim the higher ground and see the positive vision of European unity after two horrendous world wars. We defeated the Nazis, we can defeat the corporate and national forces of darkness that are always there trying to enslave us in one form or another. First we see it for what it is then we deal with it.

  6. This is a sad story. Unfortunately, in Spain and other countries of the EU (one of the richest areas of the world) people die while being in a waiting list to receive a treatment or due to a bad diagnose because the ratio that a doctor has for patient is 10 minutes…And these people have been paying for that their whole life with their taxes. It doesn’t matter where are you from, everybody must receive medical treatment. So, we agree in this point.
    My comment had the aim to point out that reality is more complex than it can seem at first sight, giving some counterexamples of the usual and common vision of some subjects. There is the idea that Southern European countries aren’t responsable and not eficient, even received the name of PIGS (Portugal, Greece and Spain, including Ireland)by uncaring British economical establishment. That’s the idea I wished to express: not to talk from the cliches, but with a more realistic and honest approach.

    1. I see your point Palaiatu. In fact, everyone that has comment made a good point. That means there are many different layers to the issue. There are good and bad things in each and every country. I have heard that Spanish healthcare is great. I also learnt that waiting time in the UK for instance, can be unbearable. What to do? People find other means. It’s pure survival. I guess in that case, no country should feel superior to the other. We all have things to share with and give to one another.

  7. Hi Palaiatu I completely agree in what you say about the minority establishment in the UK looking down on what they consider as “lesser” mortals. It has always been thus here whether it’s the Windrush generation or the working classes. Being the son of a coal mining family where my father left school at 14 to go down the mine under his father and the first in the family to go to university I have a viceral and intense dislike of royalty and privelege as the dominant force in British society. To me its completely “bonkers” and unreasonable that taxpayers prop up those who think and act as our superiors. So I identify not as British but with all those who have been equally disenfranchised abroad by British “rule” past and present. Being a practicing christian I try to avoid hating people but the system; and work positively to change it in a peaceful manner (in a small way). Trade unionism in this country has always sought fraternal relations with those in other countries realising we are all equal and seek to fight injustice in the work place and society. Nothing or no one is perect of course the human condition being as it is. So my friend I appreciate and agree with your take on this article.

    1. Ian, it’s so interesting you pointed out that your country spends tax payer’s money to prop up those who obviously claim superiority and a certain right from God. Wow! It just sunk in. There’s something very wrong right there. Apparently, people are not thinking or shall I say, are powerless? Hmmm.

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