Charles Nevin: Mea culpa, Silvio (et Tony et al)

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The Independent Online

Something of a row, I couldn't help but notice, involving Mr Silvio Berlusconi and his suggestion that a German MEP would be excellent casting as a Nazi concentration camp guard. Mr Berlusconi claims he was employing irony, but everyone, understandably, is very cross.

I have to say, though, that I have some sympathy for the Italian Prime Minister and former cruise ship entertainer, as it is so easy to be misunderstood, particularly in exchanges between countries with long histories and keen sensitivities. Allow me to demonstrate, as a public-spirited precaution, just how it could happen again unless everyone is very careful.

George W Bush, telephone call to President Chirac: "Jacques! You'll never guess who this is! Give in?"

President Chirac: "Give in? What is this, 'give in'? Do you mean 'surrender'? That's you, George, isn't it? What is this all about?"

GWB: "Jeez, Jacques, calm down, I was just monkeying around!"

PC: "Did you say cheese? Are you starting that again!"

GWB: "Jeez, Jacques! I said Jeez! Listen, there's nothing fishy, I just wanted a friendly talk!"

PC: "Vichy! What's Vichy got do with anything?"

GWB: "Exactly! That's water under the bridge now! We've all got things we can hold our hands up to! I just wanted to see if you could abandon your entrenched positions and start collaborating again! What is the time in Paris, anyway, about 1940 hours? Jacques? Jacques?"

Gerhard Schröder, telephone call to President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland: "Aleksander! I thought we might roll in and see you! Aleksander? Aleksander?"

Silvio Berlusconi, state visit to China, conversation with President Hu: "Listen, believe me, I know a bit about tourism and entertainment, and I'm telling you that your Tiananmen Square is just too quiet. It needs livening up."

Tony Blair, telephone call to President Vladimir Putin of Russia: "Vlad! Vlad to talk to you again! Vlad? It's just a British joke, a play on words, between 'Vlad' and 'glad'! Glad to talk to you, you see. Glad, pleased. Never mind. Tell me, though, Vlad, I've always wanted to ask you, you're not named after old Vlad the Impaler are you? My, but he massacred a few, didn't he? No, not you, few. Never mind. My spies tell me it's pretty cold in Moscow, Vlad. Insulation must be a bit of a problem. Do you lag? No, do you lag, not gulag! Gulag! That's a good one! I'd get sent to Siberia for mentioning those! Vlad? Vlad?"

Silvio Berlusconi, visit to Zimbabwe, conversation with Robert Mugabe: "So, what would I have to do to get a farm round here?"

George W Bush, telephone call to Jose Maria Aznar, Spanish Prime Minister: "Jose, can you hear?"

JMA: "See."

GWB: "Good."

JMA: "No, it's 'see', not 'hear'. 'Oh say, can you see, by the dawn's early light.' That's how your anthem starts."

GWB: "Don't try and get smart with me, no way, Jose! Some of us remember the Alamo!"

JMA: "The Alamo!? That was the Mexicans!"

GWB: "Too right! They might have conquered you, but there was no way they were keeping Texas, no sirree. Duke Wayne saw to that."

JMA: "You cannot be serious! What can you be thinking of, George? Have you gone completely mad?"

GWB: "Whoa there! What is this? The Spanish Inquisition? Jose? Jose?"

Silvio Berlusconi, telephone conversation with Guy Verhofstadt, Prime Minister of Belgium: "Guy! This will kill you! It certainly had me struggling! Can you name 10 famous Belgians? Guy? Guy?"

Tony Blair, telephone call to Costas Simitis, the Greek Prime Minister: "Costas! I need your help. We need to rally round and present a united front on this one, and I know I can look to Greece for four-square, solid support.

CS: "Of course. What's the problem?"

TB: "Hang on a second, Costas. There's a Hawker AV-8B Harrier flying past and I really must have a look. I love plane spotting, don't you? Now where were we?"

CS: "You were saying you had a problem."

TB: "Oh, yes, that's right, it's Silvio."

CS: "What's wrong with him?"

TB: "He's lost his marbles. Costas? Costas?"

Silvio Berlusconi, telephone call to Tony Blair: "Tony! Has anybody ever told you how much you resemble Andrew Gilligan? If they ever make the biopic, you'd be perfect! Tony? Tony?"