Where only foreigners wear white macs

An EU summit in Cardiff has made its cabbies smile
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"IT'S LIKE THIS, mate," says the big man as he grinds a cigarette end into the pavement and hitches up his trousers around an ample waist. "We're your new ambassadors."

He pauses for effect and takes a bite out of a warm Kairdiff pie before continuing: "We've got to smile. Not all the time though, you'd look stupid wouldn't you? When I see a foreign bloke, I've now got to smile at him. You can tell they're foreign because there's something about them: they've often got white macs on."

The big man is a Cardiff cab driver and he is enthusing about this coming weekend when the European Summit circus rolls into town.

Ahead of the summit, which will be attended by Europe's 15 heads of state and their entourages, some 700 of the city's cabbies have attended a three- hour course at a council-run charm school to learn how to be smart, courteous and tolerant.

Some, says the Wales Tourist Board, have also been given a six-language tool kit, which allows them to "sort out any basic problems, from saying hello at the terminal, stating the fare, to giving change and directions".

But it's not just the cabbies, their shirts emblazoned with Proud to be Professional over the left breast, who have been gearing up for Le Weekend, when the Queen, 60 European heads of state and ministers, plus 1,500 delegates and support staff, and 3,000 media folk descend on the city.

With around 5,000 opinion leaders in town and a potential worldwide television audience running into millions, the city is taking the opportunity to show off its assets.

The summit, which marks the climax to the UK's six-month presidency of the EU, will bring in pounds 2m this weekend and the TV exposure will permanently boost tourism to the tune of pounds 3.7m or so a year.

One big problem has been solved: a much publicised search for a hotel bed big enough to accommodate the comfortably proportioned German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, has been successfully concluded. With that matter out of the way, the focus is now on selling the city.

Frank Hennessy, broadcaster, entertainer and founder of the Kairdiff Language Society, says people who see Cardiff for the first time because of the summit will be shocked. "It's a beautiful city - one of the best in Europe," he enthuses.

Apart from the official sites, such as the revamped docklands and the castle - but not the new green fields in the adjacent valleys that were once coal pits - visitors will be able to lap up a cosmopolitan culture.

Those visitors prepared to look beyond the official entertainment - including the Euro Wave Floral Exhibition - will be able to sample food and drink such as Skull Attack, a local beer, the Caroline Street Welsh kebab, faggots and peas, and the legendary "aarf and aarf".

"When curry entered the eating habits of Cardiffians in the late Fifties, they never managed to give up chips, but being cosmopolitan folk they added a portion of rice as well with the curry on top, and so created the `aarf and aarf', which remains Cardiff's only contribution to world cuisine," explains Rhodri Morgan, MP for Cardiff West.

Close behind the "aarf and aarf" is the Kairdiff pie, a beast of a pastie, served volcanically hot and, some say, best eaten when the senses have been dulled by alcohol.

"On one occasion," says Hennessy. "The health and safety people took one of the pies and found there was no meat in it. Now most of us had known that for years, but the bloke said he'd done it to save the jobs of his workers as a result of the BSE crisis.

"They're the only meat pies you can't catch BSE off and we love 'em, especially after a pint of Dark. Mind you, they've done extensive scientific tests and they still don't known what's in them."

Roger Dobson