Much debate and discussion about Brexit – variously described as a disaster or an opportunity depending on perspective and with purported experts lining up on both sides, so what chance the ordinary punter of making any sense of the damn thing?
An area that interests me is culture and how varied the people of Europe really are – albeit we might look the same – which is so woke given the obsession nowadays with looks and appearance in our age of identity politics.
The European Union has 27 different countries – and unbelievably one currency for 19 of them which makes no long term sense whatever but this is a digression – and so back to the differences between us and the twenty seven nations by way of an example…
Yesterday, on tour for a gig in Vienna – one of Europe’s most well-known and vaunted Capital cities – high culture with that bloke Mozart and the Viennese waltz and whirls of course…
Off the red eye out of Gatwick and our Viennese hotels rooms not ready – and so Dominic Frisby and I find ourselves on the streets of Vienna in search of a café…
No chains in Vienna is my first observation.
No Pret. No Nero. No Bucks. No Costya. Not even a McDonalds – or one that we could see anyway. And this is a good thing because it preserves the city’s individual culture and a bad thing because of the security that comes with things that we know.
So to choose a virgin café then…
What to go on?
The façade? Cleanliness? How busy it is? If a place is empty, then its empty for a reason, right?
Evidently, the Viennese don’t drink much coffee and from thin pickings, one café looks most likely and takes pole position.
It is busy, clean and crucially, it has a table free. Perfect…
I go in first.
I am greeted by a young woman member of staff but she is shaking her head vigorously. She says something to me in her language. German, I suppose? Do the Austrian’s speak Austrian? I don’t even know.
I give her my English smile that communicates I only speak English. This is a smile that all English people have down.
‘We are full’ she explains with an apologetic sigh.
I look at the empty table – so alluring and available. But being in the window – the prime spot, I imagine that it must be booked. Surely, we’ve all been crushed by the RESERVED sign?
‘Is it reserved?’ I ask. It seems odd that a café table can be booked but if the Austrians are like the Germans, they are probably very ordered and formal – and so, yes, I suppose a table can be booked.
‘No, it is not reserved. It’s free.’ The lady explains.
An awkward pause now ensues.
‘But you can’t sit there.’
You know my next question, right?
It turns out that this café is only allowed to cater for 8 people at any one time. Even though it has space for at least 10 people and as many again, standing and leaning.
‘Are you serious?’ I ask her, but not in a rude McEnroe-like way.
‘Yes, our licence only permits us to serve 8 people at any one time?’
Your Licence? You have a licence for a café?
This bonkers, right? Bureaucratic madness. An entrepreneur has a dream and an idea and takes the risk to rent a shop. Pay to have it fitted out. Buy machines, tables and chairs. Employ staff. Buy ingredients. Open for business and somehow, a politician is able to dictate how many customers can enjoy their coffee.
Surely, this is a rule that any business owner might agree to but would promptly, ignore?
Table for two. No problem. Take a seat gents. I am trying to make a living here.
Not in Austria.
In Austria, it seems that the rules are the rules – no matter how stupid.
The people of Europe might all look similar but we are all vastly different.
Imagine then trying to run the EU…