Donald MacInnes: Foreign culture? Take me to your lederhosen

In the Red

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The Independent Online

Well, our meandering Austrian saga continues its inexorable journey towards oblivion. If you recall, two weeks ago I told how my wife and I had received an angry letter from the Austrian government via our car hire firm.

Apparently, during our trip to Germany, on the day we decided to tootle across the border to Salzburg, we had driven on a stretch of motorway which required a pre-paid toll sticker to be affixed to our windscreen. Not being aware of any such rule, we progressed blithely into the Julie Andrews Alps and into a mountain of debt (well, €120, payable pretty much immediately).

The sting of said vehicular larceny was eased somewhat last week when I received a letter from a reader, a Mr Neil Thomson, who not only voiced his support for my plight, but also recounted an Austrian incident from his motoring past which ended the same way. Actually, he even took it as far as complaining to the Austrian embassy, but the staff there turned out to be as immoveable as a Ribena stain on a new white linen tablecloth.

But at least I wasn't alone in my situation. At least you all cared. Or so I thought…

This morning I got a very cross email from a Mr… well, I shall allow him the cloak of anonymity in case any of my loyal followers decided to instigate a Twitter hate campaign against him.

His basic point was that myself – and the gallant Neil Thomson – had only ourselves to blame, deserving any Austrian punishment coming our way. Apparently, the fact that we didn't check the situation on the country's motorways vis-à-vis pre-paid toll charges was an indictment of the British disease of expecting foreign countries to bend to our will and refusing to adhere to their cultures and laws. As far as he could see, we were no different from the Union Jack-shorted hordes who stride through Fuerteventura demanding sausage, egg and chips and the Daily Mirror from any locals we meet.

Forgive me, Mystery Reader, but you're talking out of your strudel. I love to assimilate with the local culture. Why, my wife will be happy to testify how I very nearly bought a pair of putty-soft lederhosen in Munich, but was put off only because they "didn't look authentic enough". So next time you question my international acumen, picture me in a pair of snug leather shorts.

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