As a lifetime student of language, I pay attention to how people use figures of speech, such as similes or analogies.
My observation is that, when they search for a telling comparison by way of illustration, the first thing that springs to their mind is something from their areas of expertise.
Thus, speaking of someone making a mistake, a musician is likely to say “he struck a false note”. A football coach, on the other hand, would probably opt for “he missed a sitter from five yards”, whereas a physician would probably prefer “he misdiagnosed the condition”.
The upshot of it is that the language people use gives a clue to their personality, experience and the kind of things they hold dear.
That’s why I find so elucidating what Jean-Claude Juncker (Junk to his friends) said about Brexit the other day. Fair’s fair, he explained. You’ve got to pay the bill before leaving.
That was the message, and it’s straightforward enough. But the way Junk worded this perfectly sound idea caught my eye:
“If you are sitting in a bar and ordering 28 beers and then suddenly one of your colleagues is leaving and is not paying, that is not feasible. They have to pay.”
Now, having drunk enough booze with Junk to float an aircraft carrier, I know he likes his jar. Usually his tipple of choice is single malt whisky, but he often perpetrates an indignity on that noble beverage by chasing it with a stein or two.
However, he doesn’t seem to be familiar with bar etiquette, which isn’t surprising. After all, Junk has spent most of his life on an expense account, so I don’t think he has ever been out of pocket when sinking toxic amounts of booze.
As a close friend, I don’t mind plugging this hole in his education.
Junk is referring to the situation of every drinker paying his share of the bill, or going Dutch as we say. That’s a fairly widespread arrangement, but not the only one.
For example, when I was a board director, I’d occasionally take my whole department out for a drink or lunch and pick up the whole tab afterwards. I’d then claim the amount on expenses, which is an arrangement Junk knows only too well.
On other occasions, I or a generous friend would buy a round of drinks for everybody present. The implicit understanding under such circumstances is that what goes around comes around: you pay today, I’ll pay next time, that sort of thing.
Now, true enough, sometimes people do go Dutch. If they all have drunk roughly the same amount, they divide the bill by the number of people, and each pays his share. If, on the other hand, one of the drinkers is Junk, his fair share would be more than all the others’ combined, for obvious reasons.
Now the analogy Junk used involves 28 drinkers sinking beers in a bar and going Dutch. For the analogy to work, each should pay 1/28th of the bill.
However, Britain has been paying at least twice her fair share since the EU was formed in 1992 (having retroactively prevented every European war that could have broken out before).
That means the drinks of one of the 28 are on us. But hey, we’re wealthier than, say, Romania, so we can afford it. By all means, let’s tell Romania to keep her wallet in her pocket.
But Junk isn’t just talking about Britain paying 1/14th of the bill today. He seems to want us to keep paying for the drinks the others will be consuming without us long after we’re gone.
In other words, he isn’t talking about going Dutch. We must coin another term to describe what he has in mind. May I suggest going EU?
‘Going EU’ isn’t at all like going Dutch – Junk’s analogy doesn’t work. ‘Going EU’ is more akin to a slave buying himself out of servitude. This is such a rare event that no going rate exists, and each slave pays for his freedom whatever price the master sets.
Or perhaps even that analogy is wanting. For the EU is demanding that the slave pay large amounts before the master even agrees to talk about the terms of his release.
“I’m not in a revenge mood. I’m not hating the British,” explained Junk. In fact, he quite likes us: “The Europeans have to be grateful for so many things Britain has brought to Europe, during war, after war, before war, everywhere and every time.”
That’s very good of him: if there’s one thing I hate, it’s ingratitude. But then came the clincher: “BUT YOU HAVE TO PAY!!!” Junk positively sounds like a tricky boozer who always claims to have left his wallet at home when the bill arrives.
Okay, forget drinking (Junk never does). Let’s go back to another analogy he favours, that of a divorce settlement.
I don’t know how many divorces Junk has been through, and on what grounds (him coming home every night pissed as a skunk?), but they don’t work that way either.
The two parties, or rather their lawyers, sit down and hold talks. As a result, one party (usually the husband) agrees to part with some part of his estate. Junk, on the other hand, is demanding a vast amount as a precondition for even opening the talks.
Otherwise, he says, “We cannot find for the time being a real compromise as far as the remaining financial commitments of the UK are concerned.”
I’m eager to help, as I always am every time Junk can’t get home under his own steam after a night out. The real compromise is that we exit, bang the door and leave Junk stuck with the bill.
Or rather we’ve already paid, by financing Junk’s wicked employer disproportionately for decades. Londoners pronounce this word like ‘dickheads’.
And Junk? Don’t mention the war, there’s a good lad. Your German masters don’t like it.