LAST WEEKEND I went to Cornwall. That Sunday, you have to remember, was the day when people who normally live in the country were in London - why not swap places for a day? Of course it was rainy and chilly in Cornwall, but the people were friendly, the coastal walks were bracing and the fishing villages had to be painted to be believed. I still got really depressed.

The odd thing about this is that if I had been over the water in Brittany - where the scenery and culture are virtually identical to Cornwall - I would have felt uplifted and energetic and would probably have ended up wanting to stay there for the rest of my life.

Why is this? Why is it that a cafe on the quayside in Mevagissey (where the tea and teacake are really not at all bad), seems so much less enticing than a cafe in St Malo? Why do narrow winding streets in an English village seem unconvincingly twee where in France they would be authentically rustic? Why, in fact, are we British such vile bumpkins, while les Bretons are such charming countryfolk?

The answer presumably lies in our deep neuroses about class, status and nationality. Whenever we go anywhere in our own country, we are immediately in danger of being found out as a member of a suspect class. We also worry profoundly about the opinions, tastes, attitudes and beliefs of the people we bump into.

This is not just a British problem. The people of Barcelona are always telling me how horrible it is to spend time in Andalucia. Parisians hate the Dordogne. Milanese loathe and detest the south of Italy. Further afield, I happen to know that the people of Peking regard southern China as the armpit of the world. And you don't want to know what the Lebanese or the Bosnians think about each other. Given that all these negative attitudes are entirely mutual, that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable holidaying with their own compatriots.

Which is presumably why we like going abroad so much. Out there, we can relax. My local boulanger knows nothing about my accent, nor about my parentage, nor indeed about my attitudes to foxhunting or the welfare state. Likewise, I do not have the faintest idea about his opinions on the subject of, for example, race and Jean Marie Le Pen.

This is not to say that all fat French men with jaunty berets and strawberry noses necessarily have warm feelings to frosty English people in Ford Sierras. But the beauty of it is that none of them will ever know what the other thinks of them anyway.

As a matter of fact being stared at by visitors as "one of the locals" is not a pleasant experience. Not long ago I met an American tourist on a train in Germany. Two travellers in a foreign land? Actually, as my American tourist soon made clear, she viewed herself as the traveller and me (being European) as very much the local.

Me? German? Was I wearing leather breeches and a feather in my cap? Hardly. Which goes to show how wrong it can be to make assumptions about the locals.

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