The Culture Clash

It looks as if the UK-EU Brexit talks are going to be a culture clash – pragmatic Brits vs detail-fixated Continentals.

The Brits’ approach is: ‘We’ve had a trading agreement for 40-odd years what do you want to change about it to implement Brexit?’

The Continentals’ approach is: ‘Let’s pencil in three days for the discussion on tariffs for Rumanian condoms.’

After 2,000 years of trading across the North Sea it looks absurd, in the 21st century, to have hundreds of bureaucrats sitting down to discuss the terms on which this trade should be conducted.

At the recent Downing Street dinner the Continentals pulled out copies of trade deals stretching to thousands of pages to impress the Brits with their complexity.

It didn’t work. Brits aren’t into complexity. Occam’s Razor is in a tradition of British pragmatic philosophy which inclines us to simplicity.

The Continentals, by contrast, love the complexity of anal detail. For them, a three day discussion on Rumanian condoms is a lip-smacking prospect of an opportunity to display their skills in nit-picking, hocus-pocus and jiggery-pokery.

So the Brexit negotiations are going to be an entertaining display of the clash of British and European cultures.



  1. Yes I think that’s very true, Gary, there are the serious European countries and, as you say, the fiesta brigade. 10 countries contribute to the EU budget and 18 are on the take. Either Germany will pay to keep the show on the road or there’ll be a split. I see Macron wants Germany to pick up the lion’s share of the collective EU debt burden as well as contribute its annual $60bn to the EU budget. So it looks as if it’s all up to the Germans’ willingness to keep stumping up.

  2. Of course, it’s all going to be of little importance.
    If we leave and make a go of it, other financially beleaguered countries will follow to avoid paying a greater and greater share of the burden of those “fiesta countries”.
    Then these independent countries will, as they always have done, see the advantage in some sort of trade association.
    Before long we will be back to the Hanseatic league, or “common market 2.0” without all the federal interference we all so hated in the EU and trade agreements with the remaining bankrupt countries will be of much less importance.
    This is what so scares the EU bureaucrats.

  3. Well Mark, of course there are going to be examples of Continental simplicity and British complexity, and vice versa, but I was talking in generalities. Just try buying a house in France and you’ll see what complexity means. If you have found the Continentals more inclined to simplicity than us then you’ve been fortunate in your dealings with them.
    P.S. The piece isn’t news – fake or otherwise – it’s opinion.

  4. Very true, The Baron. In this negotiation with the EU I feel we have to ask qood questions. Like today Barnier and Verofstadt have said how complex the issue of reciprocal rights for Europeans living in other European countries than their own is going to be. But all they have to ask is what, if anything, do we want to change in the existing arrangements?

  5. Absolutely, Dr Bob, wishy-washy woolly is the French way.

  6. I agree DontAgree , there are some silly things but my point is that English is a more precise language than many. A Japanese friend tells me he prefers reading novels in English to reading them in Japanese because English prose is so much more exact.

  7. “Brits aren’t into complexity”? It depends doesn’t it … if you look at the traditional customs in parliament you may get very different view on that. One example:
    The practice of bills being ‘read’ three times in both Houses
    How is that for verbosity?

    • Taxation was going to be my counter to the “It didn’t work. Brits aren’t into complexity.” argument.

      Bureaucrats love creating artificial complexity **regardless of where they dwell on planet earth**, because
      the fact that no-one else can be arsed dealing with said pointless artificial complexity is exactly what keeps
      them in dubious employment.

      The Baron

  8. Yes indeed SEPAM, the Continentals are addicted to verbosity. For instance we could sort out the issue of reciprocal rights of European foreign nationals living in the UK and EU in one sentence – ‘We guarantee the rights of your guys on the same terms as you guarantee the rights of our guys’. But I expect the Brussels bureaucrats will need 200 pages to say that.

    • We really are into fake news territory here!

      Take one example, the permanent right to remain. Talk to an EU citizen in the UK and you’ll find British ‘pragmatism’ requires the completion of a 58 page form. Talk to a UK ex-pat in any other EU country and those ‘detail fixated Continentals’ require a form of less than 10 pages.

  9. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    We saw the same thing with the EU constitution. I had a look, had expected something short and sweet, pointing out the direction to go. Instead we are treated to 500 pages of brutal verbosity.

    In the 1930\s you had pulp fiction authors who were paid by the word and by the line. This guff is getting close to the purple patch, except from this time the people are going to pay, dearly.

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