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Eleven favourite countries – I love you despite

December 25, 2021
From England

It’s the time of year to be kind and generous, to avoid discord and look on the bright side. In that spirit I thought I’d remind myself of my favourite countries, and what I love about them. And why I love them despite.

My inspiration? Once upon a time, a couple of friends. Phil Kirwan and Andy Morton, wrote a song called I Love You Despite for their band, Slender Loris. I remember it as much for the title and the bitter-sweet lyrics as for anything else. I’m incapable of Phil and Andy’s lyricism. But in the spirit of the song, sweet is often best served with an undertone of sour.

France: I love you for the beauty of your countryside. For Saint-Saens, Debussy and Satie. For Notre Dame and Chartres Cathedral. For your cheese, your outdoor weekly markets, your bread and your brocantes. For putting a Russian folk singer/accordionist and a cellist in a tiny church in front of a tiny audience in the middle of nowhere. For your roads, péage or otherwise. For your language and your pride in your history. I love you despite your cussedness, your impenetrable bureaucracy and your intolerance of those who don’t speak your language.

Italy: I love you for Vivaldi and Verdi, for your art and architecture. For Venice, Tuscany, Rome and Puglia. For Pompeii and Herculaneum. For Paolo Sorrentino and Bernado Bertolucci. For your humour, your brightness of spirit, your cuisine and your love of life. I love you despite the litter, the mafia and your bloody national football team.

Germany: I love you for having a conscience. For Bach and Beethoven. For your engineering excellence. For helping to keep the peace in Europe (more or less) since 1945. For being serious, well educated and yes, for having a sense of humour. For welcoming the oppressed and dispossessed. I love you despite your economic success, which has often been at the expense of others, because whose country wouldn’t like some of that?

The USA: I love you for your kindness to strangers. For your ability to adopt, adapt and improve the inventions of others. For your ambition, your restlessness and your relentless positivity. For New York, Boston, Seattle and New England. I love you despite your corrosive mythology (ask Jose Mourinho how hard it is to be The Special One), your divisive politicians and crass blockbuster movies. I’m not ready to re-visit you yet. Please decide quickly whether you’re a democracy or an oligarchy.

Saudi Arabia: I love you because you welcomed me when my life was going nowhere. For your mountains, deserts, wadis and baboons. For souks, shwarmas and coral reefs. For your kindness and your sense of humour. For the idealism of your young, and your respect for the old. For giving your foreign workers a reason other than money for their presence. For Jeddah, a city of character. For inspiring in me a lifelong interest in the history, the cultures, the beliefs and the traditions of your region. I love you despite your pockets of intolerance, your crazy drivers and the mistakes of your rulers.

Thailand: I love you for your tolerance of the bad behaviour of your visitors. For your glorious cuisine, for your green mountains and fertile valleys. Because (as far as I know) you’ve never invaded anybody and you’ve never been colonised. I love you despite your turbulent politics, your scams and your fake Rolex watches.

Ireland: I love you because I’ve married into you, and I’m still married. For your education, literacy and contribution to the English language. For the way you’ve evolved over forty years from a semi-theocracy into something resembling a collegiate European nation. For your golf courses, your feckin’ rain, for your quirks, your jokes, your gombeens, gurriers and gobshites. For your music, for Tayto World (the world’s only theme park inspired by a packet of crisps?), for your bogs and leaping hares. I love you despite your incessant feuding, your bungalows and all the Oirish pubs around the world run by shysters and fake Paddies.

Canada: I love you for being the refuge in The Handmaid’s Tale. For Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Margaret Atwood. I’ve only visited you once, and long to see you again. For surviving so long as America’s neighbour. For your lakes, the Rockies and the frozen north. If I love you enough will you let me in when your country turns into a tropical paradise? I love you despite your terrifying wildlife (ie wolves and bears), your ice hockey (boring) and your obsession with cutting down trees.

Antigua: I love you for Viv Richards, Curtly Ambrose and Andy Roberts, the fiercest cricketers that ever walked the earth. For incomparable boat trips round your island. Because your waiters refuse to be deferential to tourists. For your parishes, a weird throwback to ecclesiastical England. For the view of an active volcano a few miles offshore. For the wood-panelled cathedral in St John’s. I love you despite your rocky beaches and the ever-present threat of seasonal hurricanes.

Turkey: by which I really mean Istanbul, which is one of my favourite cities in the world. I love it for its visible layers of occupation: the walls, the mosques, icons, the mosaics, the cisterns, Topkapi and the incomparable Ayasofia. You have much else to offer, but Istanbul is the jewel. I love you despite, well, let’s say that Britain isn’t the only country with a leader who wants to be World King.

Vietnam: I love you for your history and your willingness to let bygones be bygones. For Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue and Halong Bay. For your stunningly beautiful terrain. For your cuisine and the charm of your people. I love you despite the motorcycles in Saigon, and the loudspeakers in Hanoi – a reminder that Big Brother is still watching.

Any my own country? Too complicated to express in one paragraph, but so many good things soured by so many despites. Just as it’s easy to use a broad brush when looking into a country from the outside, as I have done above, the view from inside out defies objectivity, no matter how fine the portrait.

So about England, I can only quote from I Love You Despite:

If I sat right down
And I wracked my brains
And I made a list
Of the things I feel about you
When the book was closed
And the ink was dry
And the fire was low
I could still not live without you

Andy Morton and Phil Kirwan

Christmas Greetings to one and all.

From → France, Social, Travel, UK, USA

6 Comments
  1. Roddy Bourke permalink

    Happy Christmas to you too Steve and to Paula and kids. Keep up the good work. I enjoy your posts

  2. Phil Kirwan. permalink

    Magnifique Steve

    Je t,aime malgré le fait que ce soit moi qui ai écrit toutes les paroles ! 🤪

    • Je suis vraiment désolé. Toutes nos excuses pour la fausse attribution!

  3. Douglas Langmead permalink

    Australia would certainly have made your list if it wasn’t for the Ashes!

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