Behind the ion curtain

As you may well be aware, this blog has a propensity to look westward across the Atlantic in its noble quest to source and dispatch TV wisdom to it’s small but discerning readership. With the Americans’ reputation for churning out shows such as the Soprano’s, Curb and The Wire, sorry Chavez, but cultural hegemony doesn’t always seem like such a bad thing.

Last week however, things were a little different. After having duped the Duchess into an Eastern escapade and bade a tearful “missing you already” to The Wire Series 1, I tossed the TV Guide and packed my bags as TV Casualty finally went Continental.

As any good guide book will tell you, the first thing you should do when you arriving in an unfamiliar country is channel surf your hotel box. Television can expose the best and worst aspects of a country, broadcasting everything from Olympic triumph to Regime change Through TV one can instantly access a rolling archive of the obsessions and intrigues that grip a nation’s collective consciousness at any given moment, and tap into the cultural life of a large swathe of its populous through the protective anonymity of a glass screen.

That said, you’re probably going to want to find an English speaking channel first to ease yourself into the culture shock. In this situation, BBC World is usually your best bet, merging as it does that familiar British presenting style with just enough extra international news to make you remember you’re on holiday. In its absence however Euronews should be more than enough to fill the gaping void. This isn’t because of the quality of journalism on show (Euronews somehow manages to cover Europe wide events with a level of scrutiny just below Newsround) rather it’s for the filler items in between news headlines.

One such filler is “No Comment,” where news footage is shown without narration, and little indication as to what is actually going on. While some of the footage is reasonably self-explanatory, some requires an altogether more creative approach from the viewer. Thus you can find yourself inventing all sorts of reasons why four men in grey suits should be walking into a building, and lets face it, whatever you make up is likely to be about 100 times less depressing than the truth.

Another filler item (and my personal favourite) is “Flashback,” in which a news story from exactly one year before is shown in surprising detail for Euronews, in doing so turning the whole concept of “news” on its head. Tuning into one of these bad boys can initially be incredibly exciting in a “Shit I knew this was going to happen!” way, but as the realisation dawns on you that you are neither psychic nor have you travelled back in time somehow, its actually quite interesting. Of course sometimes major events are reported that you have absolutely no recollection of, but I suppose its better late than never.

Having suitably reassured yourself that the English speaking world still exists, you may want to venture outside into new territories. On this occasion, I managed to stumble across Polska Nostrovia, a highly entertaining show in which Ladas and other Soviet era rust buckets are navigated around a variety of obstacles. This can range from contestants double parking on a yellow square to going hell for leather off road, mowing down cardboard cut outs of animals trying to cross the road, kind of like Top Gear meets The Animals of Farthing Wood. The fact that there is a language barrier doesn’t matter either, as the hilarity of bad driving is, of course, universal.

Other highlights include watching your favourite movies dubbed in German, which can range from being expertly done to absolutely ridiculous, as well as the ever popular music text in channels such as Channels such as Viva serve not only to show that morons exist all over the world (witness XXX GUNTER IST SEXI XXX a few times and you’ll know what I mean) but also show that for all their enviable multi-lingual skills, lyrics written in English by Continental Europeans are all uniformly lame, alleviating somewhat that feeling of awkward ignorance implicit in travelling anywhere outside the English speaking world except possibly France.

With TV like this at your fingertips, it’s easy to see why people say travel broadens the mind.