Friday, October 13, 2006

Teaching Your Grandmother ...

There's no real proof as to where the expression "Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs" comes from. The presumption being is that your grandmother has no teeth and therefore prefers raw eggs to the hard wholemeal-mixed-with-barley bread. In the 18th/19th centuries that was the staple diet of British peasants - and dental health at the time was truly awful - so it was taken for granted that old people were toothless. Who knows.

So, why and where is it used? Well, here for a start ...

In 1999/2000 the Kosovo War was underway and yours truly was in the thick of it, filming in Pristina, Mitrovica and all compass points that sounded like a prescription drug. My translator/fixer at the time was in his mid-20s and a local Kosovan. He was fantastic and we shared private jokes for as long as possible, which is necessary in such a situation.

We watched as homes and lives were destroyed and we also watched as a so-called 'truce' was called. K-FOR (the multi-national Kosovo Force) had to keep the peace between the warring Serbs/Kosova Albanians and UNMIK (the multi-national Police Force) looked after the civilian population and tried to put a stop to insurgents chucking hand grenades into packed restaurants. We ate fairly regularly and despite the hotel in Pristina being in a terrible state, slept reasonably well.

Six years later and my former translator rings me up and says that he is in town and now serving as "an advisor to Agim Çeku, the Kosovo Prime Minister", here to plan a trip to France for his boss. The French were open supporters of the Serbs during the Bosnian and Kosovan crises and have forever despised Albanians (Kosovars are Albanians but with autonomy), so their knowledge of Kosovars is limited. So, over comes this chap to set-up meetings for a goodwill official visit.

Now in his mid-30s, married and with a small child, I met my friend in a café near the Luxembourg Gardens and we 'caught-up'. He regaled me with stories from home and his visit to France - and this is where the grandmother line came to mind.

The morning before our meeting, he had been taken to the CRS training ground - the CRS being the French riot Police. Once there, he was given a pep-talk by the Major IC and then shown the tactics of a group of CRS 'under attack' by a bunch of rowdy French protesters. All this just incase there was a disturbance during the Prime Minister's stay. The CRS, unless you didn't know, are a bunch of racist thugs, dressed from head-to-toe in protective plastic. My friend giggled at the theatricals as they unfolded before him.

"So what did you think of the fat men striking the defensive pose?", I asked him.

"Look", he began and placed the palms of his hands on the table, "I am from Kosovo. We KNOW how to riot. We do NOT have Policemen dressed like Robo-Cop. Bricks, bottles and petrol bombs are for pussies. People in my country, as you know, use other methods and people die. A Policeman in Kosovo has a nightstick and a pistol. Grenades are thrown by the rioters and bullets are returned by the Police. If someone wanted to have a go at my boss, do you think the French have the situation under control? F**k off!?"

I began the "Don't teach your ..." phrase.

"... grandmother to suck eggs?" he concluded.

He's from Kosovo and he knows the very same expression. How fantastic is that?



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