The Corner

Fun with Nationalities

Do you know who Dame Stella Rimington is? (I know, one wants to say “Remington,” but it’s “Rimington,” somehow.) She is the former head of MI5, one of the British intelligence agencies. She is said to be the model for how Judi Dench — Dame Judith — played M in the Bond movies. I quote Dame Stella in Impromptus today.

Talking about the characteristics of other intelligence agencies, she said, “The Italians were all ex-admirals and terribly courteous — lots of hand-kissing and bowing. The French were extremely good and seemed able to do anything. We worried about laws; they seemed able to do exactly what they liked, so we rather envied them.”

Over the years, I have heard that about the French, from Americans in the shadow world (or within shouting distance of the shadow world). I wish I had met, and interviewed, Count Alexandre de Marenches, the legendary French spook who died in 1995. Wonder what he would have told me.

A few weeks ago, I had a post on this here blog about national identity, and national claims. Take the Austrians: They may be happy to claim Beethoven (who grew up in Bonn); they may be happy to give Germany a certain leader who grew up in Linz.

I heard from many readers, including one who said, “I’m reminded of the time the late actor Richard Harris talked about his treatment by the British press. He said stories about him were of two types: ‘British Actor Wins Award’ and ‘Irish Actor Arrested in Pub Brawl.’”

I love that. This, I’m afraid, is a little darker. A reader remembered Einstein, who said, “If my theory of relativity is proven correct, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”

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