Saturday, November 26, 2005

Old Europe -- A visit to the nursing home

Several years ago, Donald Rumsfeld made a somewhat dismissive comment about "Old Europe." I wondered what a visit to the Old Europeans Home would be like...

France is most noticeable, because she greets you at the door. She has completely forgotten who you are, but always tells you in strictest confidence about the affairs she had with famous men in her day. You’ve been secretly keeping count. The number is quite high.

The Benelux siblings, two women and a man, seem initially to have a graciousness about them. Only after repeated visits do you realize that they are always complaining about the cook. They won’t admit it’s their digestions that have gone. They don’t like anyone, really, and are always correcting the others’ grammar and manners.

Switzerland and Austria both still dress for dinner, but the cut of Switzerland’s trousers isn’t as sharp over the Depends. People compliment Austria on her jewelry, and are polite enough not to mention that she breaks wind an awful lot.

The pension that Sweden’s husband left for her didn’t turn out to be as much as she thought, but she drinks coffee and gets by, uncomplaining. She doesn't like to mention that the staff at the home are darker than they used to be, and not terribly polite. It worries her.

Germany is the old guy who sits watching TV until you walk by his room. Then he collars you, assuming you must have come to see him, and gives you advice in an irritated tone of voice. He is always complaining that the world is going to hell, and has a variety of people he blames for this. Before you judge him too harshly, however, remember: he's the only one who makes it out during fire drills without a lot of help.

Italy and Spain sit by the window and talk of old times while playing cards. They lie by leaving out the unattractive bits of the stories. Finland quietly reads the paper, waiting for someone to ask his opinion.

Canada and America are 30ish cousins who visit regularly. America is more impatient about receiving advice and starts eying the exits when it starts. She works at some job that makes money, but they can’t figure out what it’s all about. Computers, maybe. Canada politely listens to the advice and then ignores it, agreeing how irritating America is and then doing just about what America does. But with less acrimony, and the old coots are proud of the influence over her they think they wield. She works in some profession the old folks think they recognize the name of, like journalism or chemistry, but they actually have no idea what the hell she does. At least recognizing the name gives them something to talk about. Denmark asks why they never bring the children to visit. Simple. Several of these old codgers scare the pants off children. The tykes get forced into ethnic costume and dragged in at Christmas.

Canada and America never visit at the same time, but they talk on the phone after. They speak in a sort of complex code that communicates criticism of the various residents without actually criticizing.

United Kingdom is semi-retired, and only comes as a visitor. He still makes an undisclosed bit consulting, and talks amiably with the others about old times. He actually has done the interesting things and been to the interesting places he talks about, but doesn’t correct the shameless lies of the others. He flirts gallantly with America and Canada when he meets them in the parking lot; he times his visits to theirs, actually. Even though he is too old for them, the North American cousins are quite fond of him, and find only a whisper of humor in his flirtation. What they wish is that there were men their own age like that.

Ireland is also a visitor, not a resident. She visits old friends out of duty, but manages a sunny disposition. She actually has a sunny disposition, because her ship has finally come in a bit, what with the grandchildren moving back to the neighborhood and fixing things up. But she thinks it would be unkind to rub the others' faces in her good fortune, so she has perfected looking like she's actually distressed but just putting on a good front. She needn't have bothered. The others don't believe the stories that the grandchildren came back anyway - because theirs never do. She avoids her ex-husband United Kingdom, but they run into each other anyway. There is usually some depressing problem they have to discuss about their son Northern Ireland, who because of their constant fighting and eventual divorce, became somewhat of a bitter, violent drunk.

In contrast to Greece, a cheerful, violent drunk older than everyone in the home but still only a visitor. No one knows how he stays healthy with that lifestyle of unhealthy food, too much liquor, and chain-smoking. He also flirts with Canada and America, which they find appalling. After they leave he calls them whores. France winks and thinks she knows how to handle him. Of course, she thought that about Germany and Great Britain, too.

Commenters may feel free to add their own bits to this


OBloodyHell said...

Let's see:

China is the highly energetic youth, with a brutally high opinion of himself, thinking his family lineage is far more significant than it really is. Like most youths, he has not yet learned the folly that is communism is, in fact, a folly... but he's starting to figure it out.

Japan is China's more mature sibling. He's well paid and does good work. He thinks he has the world mostly figured out, except for his finances. He still runs those poorly.

South Korea is one of a pair of twin middle brothers to China and Japan. Quiet, industrious and studious. He's all work and no play.

North Korea, twin brother of South Korea is the bad sheep of the family, constantly looking for trouble, never spending his money sensibly, and has a massive gun collection despite the fact that he's always short of food in the kitchen. It's hard to believe the two are related.

Hong Kong is China's supergenius little brother. He always has a new gadget or business in the making, and, strangely, he rarely misses on these.

OBloodyHell said...

Italy is the retired lothario, and he's pretty much lost it. He's got three opinions on everything, none of them in agreement or sync. He's still certain everyone wants to go to bed with him regardless, because he once was just that good.

Spain is the old maid... she once was very, very powerful and respected (much more recently than Italy as a matter of fact) , but, these days, if she's invited somewhere it is out of faded respect and obligation.

Portugal is Spain's little sister. She, too, used to wield great power, but nowadays, most people have forgotten she's even there, quietly sitting out there on the sundeck watching the world go by.

Anonymous said...

Australia is another cousin, slightly younger than America and Canada and sees little reason to hang around with the old folks. She's rather party on the beach after a day of surfing. Coming from a troubled past, she's grown up into a responsible, if fun loving, adult presence.

Philippines used to work for Spain, enduring constant harassment and molestation, before buddying up with America for a while. Recently left home and is working for herself now. Does a lot of domestic work but is starting to wonder if she should start hanging out with China, wondering if he’ll buy her dinner with all that new money he's got coming in.