Sunday 25 May 1997
Poor old Mobutu Sese Seko, exiled ex-president of Zaire (sorry, Congo). He seems more famous now than he ever was during his 32 years in power.
Evidence of this was a Jak cartoon in the Evening Standard last week, showing Mobutu trying to get some of his stolen billions out of a Swiss cashpoint. Jak clearly felt that the former dictator's leopardskin cap was enough to identify him; no need for any cartoonists' tricks, such as having a bystander reading a newspaper headlined "MOBUTU FLEES ZAIRE". With the exception of Nelson Mandela, the last African leader to be so immediately recognisable - or notorious - was probably Idi Amin.
Then there is the movie on the celebrated Mohammed Ali-George Foreman "rumble in the jungle" two decades ago, When We Were Kings, which has been released too late to be any help to Mobutu. The scenes showing him in his pomp will now simply add to his chagrin.
Word has it that the old despot will eventually fetch up at his palace on the French Riviera, though not for a week or two. With a better grasp of events in France than in his own country of late, he is staying out of the way until the elections are over.
Wo Fat is me
A Warning to anyone heading for Hong Kong to witness the handover next month: don't snigger at Cantonese names such as Hop On or Fat Kau (my own favourite is Tin Lung), or at Cantonese use of English, because we sound just as funny when we try their language.
Chinese people who choose European names sometimes get it wrong. Local wit Nury Vittachi has recorded the existence of a Nausea Yip, Picas So (Picasso) and Arsenic Lo. There is a businessman called Goggles Pang and a bank teller named Unique Leung, as well as the strangely appropriate Sinfonia Ho, who sings in a choir. Many youngish Hong Kongers have names borne by nobody under the age of about 80 in this country, such as Eustace and Gladys. My theory is that they originated with Victorian missionaries.
But foreign devils cause amusement or offence of their own when they try to speak Cantonese. Get the tone wrong when you ask for choi sum, a green vegetable, and you are telling the vendor: "Take off your clothes." Demand a da fo gei (cigarette lighter) in a restaurant and you might be in trouble - it can mean "Hit the waiter."
Germans are preoccupied with order, mental health and spurious statistics, but ask a representative sample what really makes them livid, and the answer turns out to be - their own family.
According to a poll by Das Haus magazine, every second male has his day ruined when a family member fails to put back the top of the toothpaste, or finds a tube which has not been squeezed correctly. Two-thirds of Germans hit the roof if the person before them in the bathroom forgets to drain the washbasin. Nearly 70 per cent of women go apoplectic at the sight of the bathroom mirror sprayed with water or - worse! - toothpaste. Some 58 per cent are enraged if the previous occupant does not replace the empty toilet roll.
According to Das Haus, the findings may help to explain why Germans act for the best part of the morning as if they had got out on the wrong side of the bed. One should be careful to draw further conclusions, but to anyone planning to stay with a German family, a word of advice: bring your own toothpaste.
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