A half-baked discussion of a half-watched TV show

The Dutch cross the Channel for our heritage. The English cross the Channel for cheap booze
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The Independent Culture
THERE WAS a Dutchman in our pub the other night. Nobody knew where he had come from. Holland, presumably. He ordered a half of lager and said: "Did you see that thing on television the other night?"

Most of us were half-watching some terrible football on the TV set over the bar, and it was only with some reluctance that the man with the dog said: "What thing?"

"I don't know," said the Dutchman. "I didn't see anything on television the other night."

"Then why did you mention it?"

"Because I was told that if you wanted to get a conversation going in a British pub, the best thing to say is: `Did you see that thing on television the other night?'"

"He's right in a way," said the lady with red hair, sipping her matching Campari and soda. "More often than not, people in a British pub are half- watching one television programme while discussing another quite different one they half-watched the other night. The half-baked discussing the half- watched."

"The ultimate pub conversation," said the resident Welshman, "would be a bunch of people discussing a television programme that none of them had seen."

"No," said the man with the dog. "That's called a meeting of the BBC governors."

We all laughed, nobody quite knew why, and someone asked the Dutchman if Dutch people sat around in Dutch pubs discussing Dutch TV programmes.

"No," he said. "We discuss imported American programmes."

"It's the same here in Britain," said the red lady.

"Not in Wales it isn't," said the resident Welshman. "In Wales we discuss imported American AND English programmes. The English think they don't have many native programmes. Imagine how the Welsh feel."

"I'd rather not," said the red lady. "I haven't got the energy to summon up all that burning resentment."

"Why are the Welsh resentful?" asked the Dutchman.

"Because they like burning down second homes belonging to English people," said the red lady. "But it rains so much in Wales that they find it hard to get the fires started, and they blame the English for this too."

"That's one reason," said the Welshman, who has a sense of humour by Welsh standards. "But there are always new ones coming along. For instance, we're now resentful because the Millennium Dome has been built on the far side of London, in Greenwich, which makes it even harder for the Welsh to visit. It's typical of the English to put the Dome where it's only easy for the English to get at."

"And the Dutch," said a voice. It was the Dutchman again. "It was very clever of your government to put it there, down in the south-east corner. Did you realise that most of the population of Belgium and Holland actually live closer to your Millennium Dome than all of the Welsh and Scottish and most of the English? And that it's easier for us to get to?"

There was a moment's silence. "That's the most amazing statistic I've heard in years," said the man with the dog.

"It's the second most amazing statistic I've heard," said the red lady. "The most amazing was that the 10 minutes or so which Gwyneth Paltrow spent weeping in the Oscar acceptance speech was actually longer than the time spent on screen by Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love."

"Talking of which," said the man with the dog, "did you realise that the money spent by Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan was more in real terms than the money spent by the British and US governments on the Second World War events depicted in the film?"

"Is that true?" asked the Dutchman.

"I've no idea," said the man with the dog. "But it sounds good."

"As a matter of interest," said the landlord, "is anyone here actually definitely planning to go to the Millennium Dome?"

There was a silence. One hand went up. It was the Dutchman's.

"You see, this is the difference between the English and the Europeans. We cross the Channel to see your heritage. You cross the Channel to buy cheap booze," said the Dutchman.

There was a loud laugh. It came from the resident Welshman.

"Nice one, boyo," he said. "Let me buy you a pint of incredibly expensive booze, or what the English call beer."

It was so long since the Welshman had bought anyone a drink that there was a long, stunned silence. The Dutchman saw this as his cue again.

"Did you see that thing on television the other night?" he said.