Having spent Christmas abroad, I can reveal the country we should look to for guidance on friendship between nations is Cyprus. It's true the place is divided between two halves that hate each other, but as an outsider even that appears quaintly baffling. For example, on the Greek side a typical news broadcast on the radio goes something like "Here are the headlines at mid-day. Turkey is still a shit-hole. We'll be back at one for an update."
Most Greek-Cypriot maps don't recognise that any places exist across the border, and the brochure in our hotel said that, while it is possible to cross to the Turkish side, "everyone who goes comes back wishing they hadn't bothered". As you flick through the adverts for go-karting and scuba diving, you expect to find one that says "Hire a cannon and bombard a Turk - £!0 for 15 minutes. At Sunset Excursions we don't believe shelling has to mean shelling out!"
The Turkish side is equal in the opposite direction, but most unexpected is the recent impact of a third nation - the British. The population on the Greek side is about 700,000, of which the British are now 60,000. As a result, almost every bar on the island has three screens showing Sky Sports, and now I've never been better informed about Port Vale's midfield injury problems. At one point I reckon I could have recited the Ryman League Premier Division off by heart.
Linguists ought to keep track of this, as there could soon be a new dialect, which will sound half Cypriot and half Sky Sports. Men with dark stubble in tavernas will make statements such as "Ah gotta tak ma car back to garage init, it still not work. When ah see that mechanic it gonna be judgement night - starting at 7.45pm, it's a one you've all been waiting for, unless he fix carburettor."
Even more disturbing, several bars had huge signs advertising the times they were showing Emmerdale. Can it be legal to show Emmerdale in a foreign country? There are thousands of UN troops up the road. Surely they could stop that happening.
And this is only the start. Every few yards along the coast are huge billboards advertising for the British to buy property there. One advert encourages potential emigrants by boasting the Englishness of the island, gushing "We drive on the left and have red post boxes."
Because there's nothing worse than going abroad just to have the whole experience spoilt by finding the post boxes are a different colour.
On top of that, property sellers wander up country roads and along the beach with clipboards, approaching you to ask if you want to buy an apartment. At first this seems a bit hopeful. I can see why it might work with a rose in a restaurant, or a pirate DVD in a pub, but wouldn't think a house in Cyprus was the sort of thing you buy on a whim. But presumably it must work, and occasionally someone gets back to their hotel and says, "I couldn't find any Cadburys' Fingers, but I did get the deeds to three acres of Limassol."
The British community in Cyprus should be studied by everyone who's ever ranted about foreigners coming over here in their thousands, crowding our small island and refusing to become integrated with "our" culture. The only British person I found who spoke any Greek was a woman who'd lived there 15 years, and said "I sort of know enough to get by."
In fact, at the wild bird park near Pafos, they put on an excellent parrot show - and it's not until you get home you think "Hang on - even the poxy parrot spoke English." I'm sure if you let a few parrots fly wild round the island, within a couple of weeks they'd be able to say "Coming up after the break, all the second-half action from Norwich versus Stoke."
But there doesn't appear to be any hostility between the British and Cypriots, and the emigrants are only doing what people have always done, and moved to where they'll enjoy life more than where they were before. I just hope they realise they're lucky, in that there's no Cyprus Daily Mail screaming every day about the floods of economic migrants, and demanding they support Cyprus at football when they play England. Or that they sit a "citizenship test", in which they have to prove they can play a bazouki well enough to be understood in an emergency, and set up a barbers' shop to'O-level standard.
And the whole process may solve the dispute between the Greek side and the Turkish side. Because now the Turks are trying to encourage a similar type of immigration. Soon the whole Mediterranean will have been bought by the English. Malta will be turned into a water-slide, Crete will be a Wetherspoons, and Cyprus will become a pedestrianised precinct, with only a plaque on a Warner Village complex marking where the border used to be.Reuse content