A question of Europe

I’m a great addict of tv quiz shows. My early evening goes from Pointless to Eggheads, and on Monday we can then proceed smoothly to University Challenge and Only Connect. I’ve got a dongle that allows me to watch from France, where we are spending a holiday at the moment. Which means I can watch them alongside the French quiz-shows, my favourite being Questions Pour Un Champion.

One thing that has struck me is how few questions there are about Europe in UK quizzes, and it is particularly striking in relation to the wealth of questions about the USA. Contestants are expected to know more about the American Civil War than the Franco-Prussian War, more about the US constitution than the Edict of Nantes. An example: it seems that the average pub-quizzer needs to know the capitals of all the US states, but is never asked about the capitals of European regions. Which, if the recent celebrity version of University Challenge is any evidence, probably avoids a lot of embarrassment. A panel of four high achievers were asked to name a German region beginning with ‘Sw’, a question that should be about as difficult as asking which English county begins with Yo. Embarrassed silence ensued. This fits with a recent column by Matthew Parris in the Times, which asked readers to name the Irish Prime Minister: if that’s too tough, who is your own MEP ? I live in France for two or three months of the year and would be pushed to name the French Prime Minister (Jean-Marc Ayrault, by the way, if you’re off to the quiz at the Dog and Duck tonight). By contrast, the French quiz contestant is regularly asked questions about British cinema, geography or literature.

Is this a sign of Euroscepticism ? A general feeling that foreigners aren’t that significant ? Our traditional weakness with languages ? Or maybe, the continuing fascination with all things American. One person wounded in a California school is more newsworthy than three Kurdish activists shot dead in Paris, to take this week’s example. I’m not immune. I love to visit the USA and am as open to its seductions as the next Brit. But I do remember when travelling round the USA as a 21 year old student, going to St Louis, and being disappointed that (despite the classic jazz songs) it was like Coventry only hot. Maybe we should find out as much about our close neighbours as our distant cousins.


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