The Finnish ambassador turned to me.
‘It’s not true that Finns have no sense of humour,’ he said. ‘Or that we lack passion.’
‘For example,’ the ambassador said, ‘there was once a very elderly lady. One day she turned to her even older husband, and said: “Darling. Why do you never say you love me any more?”
‘”Well,” said the husband. “On the day we married, seventy five years ago, I told you I loved you. If the situation changes, I shall let you know.”‘
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is incisive on relationships: “Poor Mr. Casaubon had imagined that his long studious bachelorhood had stored up for him a compound interest of enjoyment”
I thought of my Finnish friend when I was browsing my post about one of the funniest writers in the English language, the great George Mikes (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). I recommend the post if you have not read it. Mikes said it was the English, rather than the Finns, who were sometimes lacking in passion, as in this example:
The English have no soul; they have the understatement instead. If a continental youth wants to declare his love to a girl, he kneels down, tells her that she is the sweetest, the most charming and ravishing person in the world, that she has something in her, something peculiar and individual which only a few hundred thousand other women have and that he would be unable to live one more minute without her. Often, to give a little more emphasis to the statement, he shoots himself on the spot. This is a normal, week-day declaration of love in the more temperamental continental countries. In England the boy pats his adored one on the back and says softly: I don’t object to you, you know.’ If he is quite mad with passion, he may add: ‘I rather fancy you, in fact.’ If he wants to marry a girl, he says: I say… would you?…’ If he wants to make an indecent proposal: ‘I say… what about…’
Meanwhile in Germany, I recently learned that the Cologne a cappella band “The Wise Guys” have a terrific song called “Relativ” (in English: relatively). You can listen to it (in German, with lyrics) at the link. The chorus, spookily similar to George Mikes’s English boy, is:
‘I like you, relatively speaking,
Maybe even a bit more,
I like you relatively a lot.’
It’s a beautiful song, even if you don’t understand German – but better if you do. My point is, the Germans do restrained passion too.
Finally, we must turn to Eartha Kitt, 1927-2008, once described by Orson Welles as “the most exciting woman in the world.”
Her splendid song An Englishman needs time compares English lovers to those from other geographies, including Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, French, Viennese, Dutch, New Yorkers, citizens of Hollywood, Persians, Eskimos (sic) and Swedes. In each verse, she describes the specialities of each nationality: “The Italians long for an operatic song or a soft Sicilian rhyme, while the French fall in love, at the drop of a glove…”
Each culminates in the disdainful comparison “But an Englishman needs time.”
The final verse brings salvation for the English.
But after all is said and done
And the battle is finally won
Ladies… let’s contemplate
Who wouldn’t wait
For a mate
Who takes his… [immense pause] …time?
Maybe sometimes, restrained passion is best.
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