Philosophy of the Euro-sausage

It's got Disneyland, intellectuals, English 'pubs' and Schopenhauer: Harry Pearson is confused by a two-tier Europe of the mind

Continental Drifts: travels in the new Europe by Nicholas Fraser, Secker and Warburg, pounds 15.99

Travels as a Brussels Scout by Nick Middleton, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 17.99

Perhaps it is something to do with English lack of self-confidence, but during a recent spell in Europe I found myself increasingly obsessed with what other nationalists thought Britain was like. Since these days most people's ideas about the rest of the world are gathered through their TV screens, I spent a lot of time flicking channels in hotel rooms looking for programmes about this country. There were lots of them. Unfortunately, most were made in the United Kingdom and dubbed or subtitled for local consumption. The selection itself was instructive, however. The British programmes the European broadcasters had chosen fell into two broad categories which we might call "Come quickly, Inspector! It's Sir Edward. He's dead", and "Whoooooah! Yeah! Rock 'n' roll!"

The styles never overlapped. Not once, for example, did the shaven-headed singer from Skunk Anansie leap out from behind a golden retriever and scare the living daylights out of Inspector Adam Dalglish. The bumbling, suburban Sergeant Lewis was likewise absent from the sexy Eternal videos.

Such obvious contradictions are often the basis of our unthought-out judgements of other nations. So, Britain is simultaneously hidebound and hip; Sweden is dull and sex-crazed: Belgium boring and overrun with serial killers, and so on. We live in a two-tier Europe of the mind.

Further proof of this admittedly rather scanty thesis comes with the publication of a pair of entertaining travel books, both of which look at modern Europe. Authors Nicholas Fraser and Nick Middleton often tread the same ground, but rarely find the same things, When Middleton goes to Paris, for instance, he visits Disneyland and gets drunk in a string of "English" pubs. When Fraser goes to Paris he chats with the next generation of Eurocrats at the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration and interviews Bernard Henri Levy.

As you might gauge from this, Nicholas Fraser's is the more serious work; an attempt to define what being a European means as we approach the (I'm sorry to have to use this word, but there's really no alternative) millennium. Fraser is extremely erudite, and at times his journey seems as much intellectual as physical - Baudrillard to Yeats as well as Banjaluka to Yarmouth. The result is always interesting, the quotations apt and illuminating, although perhaps a problem arises from Fraser's relentlessly impeccable taste. Great artists have a universality. This is good for humanity, not so good for travel writers. Low culture tends to reflect current national fears and prejudices in a way that high culture often does not. When he is in Sarajevo, for example, Fraser expresses disbelief at the view that France is worried by the thought of an Islamic state in the heart of Europe. A glance at any French bookstall, however, would have turned up the works of Enki Bilal, one of France's most popular and acclaimed graphic novelists. Bilal (born in Belgrade but brought up in Paris) sets his work in a future Europe ripped apart by a terrorist war between Christian and Moslem factions. The fear, however ill-founded, is real.

The omission is surprising since Fraser is particularly good on France. The section dealing with Parisian intellectual life is both entertaining and provocative, a complicated and truthful mix of admiration and scepticism. On the one hand we have the brave and humane Camus, on the other Sartre cynically babbling, "A revolutionary regime must dispose of a certain number of individuals which threaten it, and I can see no other means of accomplishing this than death." The only consolation for which, is that after recent events in Cambodia, Jean-Paul and Pol Pot are now able to enjoy a cosy fireside chat together while Ceausescu roasts chestnuts for them.

While Fraser's prose sometimes mimics the lucid, slippery style of the modern French philosophers he approvingly quotes, Nick Middleton writes with straightforward and relentless good humour. At times, when mere jauntiness replaces the jokes, he can sound a bit like one of those round robin letters that arrive at Christmas from people you are sure you are related to but can't quite figure out how. Thankfully this rarely happens. He is good on quirky detail (in the TGV he notices that the mirrored ceiling allows you to watch other passengers picking their noses upside down) and a nice turn of phrase (a Dane has "fingers so thick they looked like a handful of thumbs"). Middleton is less knowledgeable than Fraser about literature (He confuses the nationality of the fictional Inspector Maigret with that of his Belgian creator, Georges Simenon, for example) but knows considerably more about breakfasts. If you read both books you may come away with the impression that Europe is part Schopenhauer, part sausages. Which is probably as near the truth as anything else.

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?