It must look odd to the rest of the first world. Every few hundred kilometres and as we cross the mountains or a river we change language and quite dramatically so. There are quite marked differences culturally, too. Spectators from other continents might be forgiven for finding us a tad quaint or seeing us as some sort of museum like the World Showcase in Disney. Yet there are a few things we might like to consider.
The great landmasses of the Africas, the Americas and Australasia probably contain even more languages if we look to the indigenous population. Great distances as well as the rivers and mountains separate them linguistically. The English speakers came later. The comparatively fewer varieties of language within Europe suggest that people there did travel and connect more.
Though many South American countries speak Spanish, it is a different Spanish in each one. A word that is quite polite in one country may be quite rude in another. Even in modern South America, then, language is diverse.
Within Europe there are some surprises though. The purest French and the easiest to understand is spoken in the Alps. Swiss German sounds like German spoken with a Welsh accent. Is it the effect of the mountains that make the voice lilt? The people who live on the Alps are more like each other than their compatriots.
The Basque country covers the Pyrenees and a bit of the coast in both France and Spain. The Basques have their own language and their own games. They are physically a little different from other Europeans.
In Switzerland three languages are spoken. In Belgium there are two. Those who speak Flemish will not listen to French and visa versa.
And look at the Old World culture: Shakespeare, Dickens, Sartre, Molière, Zola, Balzac, Flaubert, Schiller, Goethe, Brecht, Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Georges Sand, Lorca, Bizet, Vaughan Williams, the British rock scene, Dante, Milton, Sartre, Böll. All those ancient stories about the King Arthur arose at the same time in French and English and are a basis for European culture.
Yes, the native people on the other continents hold some ancient wisdom but there seems to be a gap between this and the 21st century people. In Europe the wisdom has continued to bubble through and has been the basis for culture in the modern worlds on the other continents. Sure, we’ve produced a few wrong ‘uns. I won’t name them here – you know who they are. Some terribly cruel things have happened, too. But there’s far more wholesomeness than rot come out of this continent and it’s fascinating off-shore island.
I guess we’ll always be the fascinating off-shore, island, and we’ll keep a bit of the mystique forever, but do we really not want to be part of this vibrant and diverse culture? Sure, I know, you don’t need to have a trade agreement with Austria in order to be able listen to Mozart. It can however, be a heck of lot easier to get to a live concert in Salzburg under current arrangements than the ones we had in 1972. Apart from which, it’s the EU that 52% of voters (37% of the population?) in the 2016 referendum voted to leave, not the EFTA agreement, or the Common Market, not the EEC or the EC. The EU is about more than trade.