those of us who indulge in the fine art of simplification always enjoy a good clichi. It was, then, something of a surprise to me that the argument with that creature Sarah had rankled me so. She'd made some sweeping generalizations about Americans, and I dismissed her out of hand. How could you sum up an entire nation of people in two sentences, for God's sake?
Nevertheless, the nugget of truth that transforms an opinion into a clichi is always a little unsettling. Since I'd come to Ireland and England, many women friends had asked me if what they'd heard about American men was true. It seems, boys, there's a popular assumption that not only is the American man more sensitive, having been emasculated by strong American women, he is also blessed in size.
"Compared to what?" I asked, then added a little meanly, "A mouse?" I was only kidding, of course. The truth of the matter is that I've encountered all sizes and styles in America. "I can't make any generalizations about American men in bed," I said. "It's too big. The country, that is."
Magda had warned me long ago about Liam. It always came out the same way: "I like Liam. Really, I do. He's charming, he's intelligent, and he's very pretty. But "
" He's Irish," we would both finish in unison. Then I'd say, "Magda, you can't write off an entire nation of men. Just because of a few bad things you've heard."
"Yes, I can. He'll be married to his mother. Madonna, whore. Madonna, whore. Consider yourself warned."
English men are greatly maligned by their female counterparts for lacking the sort of qualities the modern woman insists upon: emotional openness, considerate lovemaking, sensitivity, flexibility. "But you're looking for a man," I'd say. "Not for a character from 'Friends.' " I had many English male buddies, but I had to admit that there was a certain rigidity about all of them.
"What about Germans?" I asked Carmel, an English friend. "Passionless," she declared. "Mind you, I've never been involved with a German. I'm just speaking from pure unadulterated bigotry."
"Passionate. But once I was in Turin, at a club, and even though this bloke who kept hitting on me was really sexy, it all came across as a bit hollow. He just wanted to get my knickers off."
"Intense. They'll do ANYTHING."
"Swedes? Spaniards? Luxembourgians?"
"Pass, pass, and pass."
"Gosh," I said. "I never knew. We haven't even gotten to Asia yet." But Carmel was thinking about something else. "One time, I was on a boat with my friend Sallie, sailing from one of the Greek islands back to the mainland. It was July, a really hot day, and Sallie was recovering from a terrible sunburn. These Greek sailors on holiday started chatting us up. Two men, one of whom was really big and tall...well, a bear, really. They seemed very friendly, but it was clear they were hoping for a finale to their holiday. We were just chatting away, and Sallie was exhausted. The bear-like one said he had a friend aboard the ship that could get her a bedroom down below. Sallie said yes, and whispered to me that she just needed to lie down and once she got the room she'd explain that to the bloke and send him on his way.
"The two of them went off. A few hours passed, and neither one of them returned. I started to get really worried, and finally I asked the other one to go find his friend, that I really needed to find Sallie. We looked all around, and we couldn't find them at all. I thought, well, she's a big girl, she'll sort it out herself. But I was really nervous.
"About six hours later, both of them reappeared, looking happy and laughing, completely refreshed. I pulled her aside, and she told me that once she'd gotten in the room, she'd tried to explain to the guy that he was really lovely but she just wanted to sleep. He didn't speak very much English, but he kept making movements toward the bed, looking hurt, while she kept trying to get him out. Finally, it became clear to her that all he wanted to do was sleep too, next to her. And that's exactly what they did, fully clothed. When they woke up, he ran around the ship and got her some food, something to drink, a little washcloth, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a towel. When we got off the boat, they drove us back to their flat and insisted that we sleep in their extra room. They took us out for dinner, paid for everything, and drove us to our plane the next day."
"Wow. I'm impressed."
I've always remembered that. I'm sure they were hoping for something more from us, but they seemed more than happy just to let us be their guests."
"So it's safe to say that Greeks are gallant, generous and kind?"
Carmel laughed. I remembered then that her boyfriend happened to be Greek as well.
"Oh, everybody's an individual, you know? How can you generalize about an entire country?"