- 23 Jul 04
As well as improving his word power, the admirable Reader’s Digest gives Barry Glendenning some indigestible food for thought about the place of Ireland in europe
You’ll join me in felicitous mood, in the wake of a stimulating post pendigestary ablutional interludicule spent enthusiastically devouring the most neoteric literary installment from that ever-diligent cadre at the Reader’s Digest.
Not having read it for some years, it was refreshing to see all the old reliable favourites still present: Life’s Like That, Our Honeymoon Flight To Horror, Face To Face With Ashley Judd, A Guide To Devotional Anthologies and my own personal favourite, It Pays To Increase Your Word Power – that indispensable lexicography that the pompous, the vacuous and the intellectually fraudulent commit to memory, labouring under the delusion that more cerebrally enfeebled mortals will be awestruck by their linguistic pugnacity, when in fact the preponderating inclination is actually one of utter discombobulation.
Just as hotpress is Ireland’s self-styled most fortnightly magazine about music, politics, movies, sport and shagging, named after an airing cupboard, the Reader’s Digest – so named, one presumes, because it’s only ever read by people who are sitting on the toilet – claims to be a “monthly wealth of information, entertainment, inspiration and advice from the world’s most widely read magazine.”
And to be fair, nobody could ever bring it before the beak for being in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act. Despite being old and pompous enough to lapse into the third person when talking about himself, your humble correspondent continues to believe that his finger remains somewhere within range of the pulse of modern culture. Therefore you can imagine that it came as quite shock to me to learn that contrary to my long-held assumption, Ashley Judd is not a gnarled, stubble-jawed, guitar-toting old country singer from Nashville with one leg, an unfaithful wife and a blind dog, but is in fact “an intelligent and beautiful actress capable of lending depth and believability to her roles, as showcased in the crime thriller Kiss The Girls.”
Just when you think you know someone, eh?
Perhaps the most interesting feature in this month’s issue of the Reader’s Digest was a feature entitled “Europeans: Who are the sexiest? Rudest? Funniest?” Trumpeted as a survey of nearly 4000 people in 19 countries it set out to confirm what most of us suspect to be true already: nobody likes Germans, the Dutch are liberal, Italians are sexy and Belgians are dull.
Sadly, a survey can only be taken as seriously as the morons who participate in it, and if the evidence presented in this one is anything to go by, the Reader’s Digest has sold us a pup. The fact that the thoughts and opinions of 4000 people were solicited meant that only the views of a select few could be quoted in the accompanying article. And assuming these were the best of the bunch, it was rather disturbing to learn that a disproportionate number of them appeared to hail from Luton, an area on the outskirts of London that is notoriously grim, grey and racist, where the most popular amenity is widely accepted to be the departures lounge of the local airport.
For example, the question pertaining to the European country with the Best Cuisine saw Italy trounce France by 40% to 23%. And why? “Because Italy has contributed so much to food,” enthused a middle-aged British male interviewed in Luton. “Where would we be without pizza and pasta?”
Where would we be? Middle-aged, enthused and stuck in Luton, it seems. And if that’s not enough to put you off your Spaghetti Carbonara, I don’t know what is.
In the category of Sexiest Europeans, those swarthy Italians took the gong again with 34%, although according to the Reader’s Digest, one woman, also in Luton, “lowered her voice to add, ‘They’re rather hairy aren’t they? But please don’t tell my husband’.”
As her husband appeared to be busy elsewhere extolling the virtues of Formaggio pizzas and Fusilli pasta, she was probably on safe ground. However, one couldn’t help but wonder why it was she didn’t want him to know that Spaniards were hairy. Did he not know? Was she concerned that he’d be jealous? Or was it a case that if he discovered that somewhere outside Luton there exists a wonderful land peopled by folk jabbering in tongues and combing each other’s backs that he’d be off on the next flight, leaving her and the kids to fend for themselves by panhandling for spare change outside Kenilworth Road football stadium on match days?
Interestingly, upon being asked what nationality he would like to be if he couldn’t be Spanish, one presumably hirsute shop assistant in Avila stopped picking nits off the back of his hands for long enough to wax lyrical about the benefits of being Italian; “They party and have a great sense of humour. Also, they don’t seem so driven to work,” he said, which was rich coming from a citizen of a country where everyone knocks off every lunchtime to go to bed for the afternoon.
As for the Irish? Well, a mere 1% of Europeans consider us the sexiest, making the Belgian Prime Minister the only man less likely to get laid at an EU summit than Bertie Ahern. Truth be told, we don’t come out of this survey smelling of roses at all – in summary, it suggests we are mildly amusing (albeit 24% less amusing than people in Luton and other areas of the UK), we can’t cook, we’re lazy, we’re not sexy,we’re prudish and we’ve contributed little to the world apart from cheese, chocolate and clocks, according to one confused Dane, who could well have been mistaking us for the Swiss. As you do.