Tales from the Frontier - No. 11


Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference. - Winston Churchill

Social Media and TV commentators bang on nowadays about attitude. Mostly concerning modern youngsters and their lack of it, or their having an overabundance of the bad kind. All wonderfully inconsistent. Anyone who has suffered teenage children will know all about this fluctuating trait.

In the distant days when most youngsters were shy and spotty-faced, attitude was much less ‘in your face’. The average schoolboy addressed every male adult as ‘Sir’ and only laughed, mocked, or vented their disgust in private behind the bike sheds. Schoolgirls wore pigtails, white ankle socks and neat dresses and only swore in secret. Many could actually do joined-up writing and kept a diary. They didn’t want equality because they knew they already had an advantage over boys. Neither juvenile gender (and only two were recognised) would dream of setting upon the elderly and giving them a good kicking.

The generational changes are indeed BIG.

Part of the reason for current attitudes is the assumption that everyone has rights and very few accept that responsibility goes hand in hand with that. “Are you ‘dissing’ me?” implies that the dissee (he who has been dissed) has the automatic right to respect without earning it. There is a general sense of entitlement which is relatively new (if you’re a mature person) and historical (if you think great age means the distant past before iphones were prevalent). Nobody seems to believe in starting at the bottom and working their way up. Quite a few don’t even believe in working. Which is just as well because career choices aren’t what they used to be. Indeed, careers aren’t what they used to be. Except for the Civil Service, jobs for life are rare. Although working for the Civil Service implies you need to get a life.

It is strange because many of the heroes and heroines worshipped by the young have put great effort into building the foundations for their life’s work. Most enduring ‘overnight sensations’ in every field have earned their spurs the hard way; if they hadn’t, the ‘overnight’ would measure the duration of their popularity. Nowadays (in most instances) if you can’t walk the walk then it doesn’t matter how fluently you talk the talk. Talking the talk does not mean there is merit in endlessly posting on Facebook or tweeting interminably.

Sir Winston (the quotee above in case you’ve forgotten) in his younger day had plenty of his own attitude. He must have been a serious pain in most parts of the body not just the neck and the butt. He didn’t get much better as he got older according to reports. Luckily for him, with the war on, his attitude was just the one the Brits needed. (You can chose your preferred war because he was actively engaged in at least four – Afghan, Boer and Worlds I and II.)

Your own attitude reflects how you are going to deal with the world at large and is a product of many things: your nationality, upbringing, age, emotional and mental state, and so forth. It is also affected by the attitude of others you encounter at any particular time. Everyone has had a cheerful, reasonable mood shattered by the surly abruptness of what the Germans call a ‘beampter’, a far broader version of what we might know as a ‘jobsworth’.

On the frontier there seems to be three distinct national attitudes although I have to admit to large areas of blurring. Blurring in Alsace is hardly unusual, not because the wine is very good, but because in a long life the area has changed hands between Germany and France more than a few times. National attitude is difficult to distinguish if you’re not entirely confident of which nation you belong to this week.

One look round and it is easy to sink into stereotypes. This is not surprising since the much maligned stereotype is actually a shorthand version of what you see about you. It is not a lazy inaccuracy as many would imply. It is a generalization conscious of inherent faults - so don’t give me any attitude about stereotypes.

The German attitude here tends toward the ordered, efficient, law-abiding, correct and car loving.

The French one is more carefree: they eat better, dress better and take life less seriously although they pretend to have deep philosophical ideas about it.

The Swiss attitude is entirely pragmatic. They tend to a Madonna view. That is her of ‘Material Girl’ rather than Jesus’s mum. And the BIG difference means that the Swiss get all the gravy and don’t feel bad about pretending they care.