Greetings! Guten Tag! Bonjour! And other such variants of a universal salutatory expression!
As the summer holidays are now officially dead, gone, ended and over, it seems appropriate to rejoice in some sweeping stereotypical generalisations about us Brits on holiday, because it’s sweeping stereotypical generalisations that make the world go round.
We just love our holibobs. We like booking them in January, when the weather is at its most vile, as it gives us something to look forward to in the grey wastelands of our wintery lives. We then forget about them until around June, when we panic and obsessively make lists of the essential items we need to purchase (3,000 gallons of factor 170 suncream, 15 bikinis, new beach towel because the Seaworld Florida one never really recovered from last summer’s fortnight in Torremolinos), and make lists of friends and neighbours entrusted to feed the cat and water the begonias.
When it comes to the day of departure, we cannot wait to get into our holiday garb. It’s minus four degrees and raining at home, but will that stop us from adorning our linen trousers and our t-shirts? Perhaps even daring to sport an impish straw hat? No! We’re flip-flopped to the hilt, our cardigans are casually draped over our shoulders, and yes we may contract hypothermia in the polar blast of the plane air conditioning, but who cares! WE’RE GOING TO SOMEWHERE WHERE THE SUN WILL DEFINITELY BE SHINING AND WE SHALL FORGET WHAT IT IS TO BE COLD.
Now, dear Listener, you may think that holidays are a time to relax; to do away with piddling stresses and woes, and to float along the soft tide of quietude. WRONG. By the time we get to our hotel, we will have complained about the heat, the delayed transfer from the airport, foreign drivers’ irresponsible disregard for road safety, and once we are in our hotel we will immediately complain about the hard beds and the faint discolouration of the bathroom tiles.
But all that is by the by, because something paramount must take place within two hours of our pale, pasty feet touching foreign soil: we must have a beer.
The first sip of a cold beer at a poolside bar is perhaps the happiest moment of a Brit’s life. Yes, we’ve drunk beer before – hell, we had a few cheeky ones last night to help us get to sleep at 8pm for our 3am rise – but every Brit knows that when a glass of Carlsberg is consumed whilst sitting in a plastic chair at a sticky table, overlooking a kidney-shaped pool and PALM TREES, amidst an angelic cacophony of Euro-trance, it is akin to Christ himself pulling up the chair next to us and saying ‘You have won First Prize in the ‘Who is the Best Human?’ competition, and this is your reward’.
That first beer is just the beginning, Listener. A particular thrill on holiday – and one that Brits are exceptionally fond of – is consuming distasteful amounts of alcohol. In normal home and work life it would be deemed inappropriate – worrying, even – to crack open a can of beer at half ten in the morning, but in the sweaty luxury of a poolside sunbed, it is a must. Why read your Danielle Steel or your Dan Brown in solemn sobriety when you can paddle in the wooziness of midday boozing! To hell with social convention, you’re on holiday! Seize the day! Or, alternatively, let it slip by in a nauseas fug of alcohol-induced heatstroke.
And daytime drinking is just the start. Night-time drinking on holiday is like winning the lottery. Why? Because we can sit outside without wearing a coat. This. Is. The. Best.
The concept of sitting at a table that is outside, at night, in weather that is still warm, is alien to us. It is electrifying. It doesn’t matter where that table is, as long as it’s outside. In the warm, un-rainy air.
At this outside table (outside!!!!) we will get drunk. We will imbibe everything. We will make ambitious and wholly unrealistic plans to move to Thailand and set up a peace-loving commune and sleep on beds of hibiscus. We will get out the obligatory pack of pornographic playing cards we bought from the poolside shop and we will try to remember the rules of Rummy. We will strike up a slurring conversation with the German couple next to us and gush over how their country’s reputation for cleanliness fully counteracts anything dodgy they may have done historically. We will order bowl upon bowl of nuts. We will insist on calling the waiter Pedro, even though his name is actually Colin. We will eventually rise from our outside table and stumble to our room, where we will hit our heads on the French doors, fall over the edge of the very hard bed, and pass out in our flip flops. And this will have been the most successful day of our lives.
By day four, we will have mild alcohol poisoning, we won’t have had a bowel movement since Heathrow, and we will be sporting some asymmetrical strips of sunburn; namely on our shoulders, back, shins, nose, and chest. We cannot apply suncream, Listener. We haven’t had enough practice. There’s not much call for it on our isles.
And we will start to yearn for food from home. The Boy Scouts among us will have a small cellophane bag of Tetley’s teabags in the zippy compartment of our suitcases (be prepared!), with which we have made blissful cups of tea (only after boiling the water seven times – you can never be too careful with that questionable foreign water) – but we miss our home comforts. So we go to the supermarket. And, dear Listener, there is nothing quite so exciting than finding a jar of real live Branston Pickle in a Greek supermarket.
We will spend eighteen euros on a jar of Branston Pickle and a packet of Jacob’s Crackers and we will scoff them on our balcony overlooking the Ionian Sea (whilst doing The Sun crossword (six euros)), and we will be overcome by such a deep sense of contentment that it will bring a tear to our eye, for we have married the soothing comforts of home with the exotic novelty of abroad. We are winners.
And when we return home to our bleak, grey island, we will curse the mundanity of Branston Pickle, Jacob’s Crackers, The Sun and Carlsberg, and yearn for the vibrant goodness of vine tomatoes, olives, fresh fruit and feta cheese (despite the fact that on the last day of our holiday we declared that if we ever saw another piece of feta cheese again we’d strangle our own mothers), and wistfully search the internetweb for next year’s holiday.
And as long as we exist, and foreign isles with warmer climes exist, this whole scenario will go on and on and on until the end of time, or at least until people stop making sweeping stereotypical generalisations about the whole thing.