“You Germans,” I say accusingly to my German mate Jörg. Of all my German mates, Jörg is definitely the Germannest. He has Gasthausschuhe and everything.
“Yes,” he says, sighing in a fairly-good-natured-but-pretending-to-be-pissed-off kind of way. “We Germans.” Slight pause. “I know what you’re going to say, Jacinta.”
“You don’t,” I say.
“I do,” he says. “We’re all Nazis and we can’t dance.”
“No!” I say. “Well, I mean, yeah, dur, obviously. But that wasn’t what I was going to say.”
“What were you going to say?”
“You’ve got so many health myths.”
Jörg doesn’t say anything for a bit, he just kind of like mulls this statement over in his head. But then he says: “Health myths. You think. Like what, for example?”
“Well, you know, about how the black bits on toast give you cancer.”
“That’s true!” he says.
“It can’t be true,” I say. “I know it can’t be true because of toasters. If the black bits on toast gave you cancer, why would the toaster companies produce toasters that go up to eight? My toaster has got eight settings. I like it on like, two or three. I basically like to eat slightly warm bread. But even setting number six is really quite toasted. If you turn your toaster up as high as it can go and then put your bread in there, afterwards you just get a square of some kind of cindered, charred ash-like substance. You basically get a slice of black charcoal in your hand. If you had a smoke alarm, and you toasted something on setting number eight, it would totally go off.”
“Yeah, and if you eat that, you’ll get cancer. And die.”
“If that was true,” I say triumphantly, “then all the Americans would sue all the toaster companies! You know, those Americans who sue Starbucks if the coffee’s hot and stuff? They would definitely sue the toaster companies about getting cancer. And then the toaster companies would only make toasters that go up to, like, five. So it’s definitely a health myth. Plus, everyone in England eats the black bits off of bread all the time and nobody ever gets cancer. Well, I mean, people do get cancer. But just not that much more. And I never met anyone who got cancer from eating the black bits off of bread, anyways.”
“Okay. What else?”
“Well, then there’s the draught causing all other illnesses, except for cancer. When Ryan was little, he used to get these funny things in his eyes, like all this goo. His eyes would gloop over. And everywhere I went, old grannies would come up to me, and whisper, like witch doctors: ‘There’s Zug in these walls.’ I thought the Zug was this terrible chemical leftover from the GDR times, like asbestos. Everywhere I went, Jörg! Everywhere I went, German grannies would come up to me, take one look at Ryan, and go: ‘Zug‘. And it was the explanation for every fucking illness he had! Lung infection, gooey eyes, colds, everything. And then one day I went to the Jugendamt, yeah? To the Unterhaltsvorschusskasse. And Ryan had these gooey eyes, right? And the woman I gave my form to, she said to me: ‘It’s because of the Zug, that’s why your boy’s sick. There’s Zug in these old buildings.’ And I just looked at her and my whole body filled slowly with panic and I whispered in this soft but frantic voice: ‘What? Even here? There’s Zug in this building? Is NOWHERE in Germany safe from the Zug?’ It was years later I found out it just meant air. Air. Just air blowing through a room. I don’t know why you guys bother having all those Krankenkassen in the first place. All you need to do is ban toast and keep the doors closed.”
“Yeah, we’re a bit paranoid about draughts, that’s true. But I think you Brits could do with being a bit more paranoid, the way you all walk around in tank tops and tiny vests in October…”
“And you always think all headaches are caused by the weather. You’re really superstitious about the weather, actually. All that season-based tiredness. And then the thing with milk and antibiotics. That’s a load of crap, too.”
“Is it? And what about you Brits? You don’t have any health myths?”
“I can’t think of any,” I say, racking my brains. “We are a bit paranoid about chicken, I think. And we always think swans might break your arm.”
“No, that’s true about the swans,” says Jörg. “They’re vicious fuckers. But yeah, you are a bit paranoid about chicken, I’ve noticed that.”
“I really can’t think of any others,” I say sadly. “British people have lots of myths about teenage mums getting pregnant to get a flat off of the government and plus we have lots of urban myths and stuff. We have more urban myths than Germans do, I think. But except for a bit of chicken-based paranoia, I can’t think of any English health myths whatsoever.”
“And really,” says Jörg, sniffing disapprovingly. “Really, it’s your beef you should be worried about. It’s full of BSE. And that’s such a gruesome, depressing way to die. I wouldn’t eat British beef if you paid me, to be honest.”
See what I mean? He really is just about the Germannest person I have ever met.