Mark Daniels: Count to four while you pour

Related tags Occupational safety and health Evening

This will force us to adopt all the regulations for each member state while simultaneously permitting all nations with a coastline on the...

This will force us to adopt all the regulations for each member state while simultaneously permitting all nations with a coastline on the Mediterranean to ignore any rule imposed by Slovenia.

But, rules on the size of our bananas aside, there are a lot of things that our European cousins do much better than us that perhaps we should consider adopting. Their diets, for a start, contain far more vinaigrette and vegetables than they do McDonalds and therefore they all live to the ripe old age of 263, and you can travel for miles on a stretch of road without seeing a single speed camera. They all seem to be able to get a football team to qualify for Euro 2008 and, with the possible exception of the party-loving Swedes, they take a reasonably sensible approach to alcohol.

Take Spain, for example, where I've just been fortunate enough to spend a week in an apartment loaned to me by a family member.

They have a smoking ban, but nobody seems to take any notice of it and, more importantly, nobody with a beard and a badge that says they're in charge seems to be enforcing it. Sitting in a restaurant last Wednesday evening with my wife, enjoying a very nice meal, a bottle of wine and untainted views of expensive boats in Puerto Banús harbour, a lady on the table next to us asked the waitress if she was allowed to smoke. The waitress turned to me, asked if we minded and, when we shrugged, gave her permission.

They have the same rules on health and safety yet four builders were up on a roof, re-tiling it, last Thursday with no scaffolding and no safety nets and the ladders they were using to get up and down with all their materials were simply rested against the guttering and protruded in to the road. The road wasn't closed for their safety, nor narrowed to control the flow of vehicles around the work area with traffic lights. The drivers simply drove around the obstruction carefully, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

And then there are the bars. Children happily sit under the watchful eyes of their parents until late evening, with nobody shouting that they aren't allowed in after 9pm, sipping their cokes and taking part in the conversations, while waitresses serve up a variety of drinks with no government stamped optic or marked pint glass on display.

Speaking to one bar owner, I asked how they were able to account for their drinks. "It's easy," he told me in perfect English. "First, you must remember that I don't pay as much for my booze as you do." It's true - he paid less than a tenner for his 1.5 litre Smirnoff Red, while one of my suppliers charges just shy of £26. Before VAT. "Then you must remember that we don't pay the same amount of tax as you." Again, true: IVA, the Spanish equivalent of VAT, is just 7%.

It all added up to a triple Bacardi and 200ml bottle of Coke costing about four quid.

"But," I stammered, "without measures, how do you calculate how much to pour for a customer or base your prices?"

"That's easy," he said with a smile, "we just count to four while we pour." And he demonstrated: one..two..three..four whilst pouring a measure of Bacardi through a plastic pourer in the neck of the bottle. It was easily 70ml. "If we like you," he continued, "we count slower, like this: one....two....three....four. But, if we don't like you, we count quicker: one.two.three.four. By the end of the bottle," he said with a wry smile, "it all works out the same."

So, there you have it. An environment that isn't hung up on health and safety laws, whose truck drivers are striking for a reduction in the price of fuel rather than an increase in their already-£10'000-above-national-average salaries, whose children are taught the value of socialising from an early age and who've figured out that the smoking ban should be all about whether the person sitting next to you really minds or not.

Small wonder Britain has one of the highest rates of stress related illnesses.

Even smaller wonder that the Europeans are wandering around with smiles on their faces as if they've just figured out the secret of immortality.

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