Shreejit says: Bin it!
Hard to believe that there was a time when anyone looking to buy a new car here would have British brands on their list as top choices. England in days of yore offered a huge range of cars – from Austin and Bentley to Rover, Vanden Plas and Wolseley – in all shapes and sizes. There was a make or model for almost every letter in the English alphabet. Even die-cast miniatures from Corgi, Dinky and Matchbox were all stamped as “Made in Great Britain”.
Before Datsuns, Toyotas and Tamiyas rose to prominence, there were just English, French, German and Italian motorcars. Put another way, the only cars we knew were all manufactured in Europe. To the British empire and its colonies anywhere in the world (and at that time they were indeed everywhere), cars were either made on the island of Great Britain or on the continent of Europe. So the Simcas, Renaults, Fiats, Lancias and Volkswagens were all known as continental cars.
To us colonialised Asians who had once faithfully campaigned a “Buy British” policy, the phrase made perfect sense too. After all, if it wasn’t created in England, it had to be from the continent.
Well, it is not so simple anymore. For a start, your choice of British cars has dwindled to just a handful, from more than 20 at one stage. These olde-worlde marques, by virtue of their place of manufacture, continue to carry the Union Jack, but none of them is pure English these days.
Bentley and Rolls-Royce are owned by the Germans, MINI is BMW’s pocket rocket, Lotus is a Malaysian outpost, while Jaguar has become Indian property in a striking reversal of colonial fortunes. In the toy department, Matchbox ended up as a subsidiary of Mattel.
At the same time, the island that is now known as the UK (United Kingdom) and the continent that is now known as the EU (European Union) are no longer our sole sources of passenger vehicles. Today’s Japanese, Korean, “Thai”, Malaysian and Chinese cars, in fact, are far more popular in these parts than those from western automakers.
But strangely enough, the term “continental cars” continues to be used. It’s stranger still that even though the geography hasn’t changed and England remains an island west of Europe, British rides have been included in this totally meaningless category of “continental cars”. Why our younger generation, who have no personal experience of life in the colonial days, refer to Jaguar et cetera as continental cars is most perplexing to me.
It’s time to be sensible, so here’s the deal: British cars should be acknowledged as such, while any car coming out of Germany, Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, Spain or Sweden is “European”; there’s no question about it. Never mind if some of the models are built in a country on another territory altogether.
Get real, folks, there is no such thing as a “continental car”.
David says: Keep it!
Referring to European cars as “continental” is not a symptom of some colonial hangover. It’s just a convenient reference that happened to outlast the British empire, whose arguably greatest contribution to its settlements and subjects was the English language.
This vernacular of international commerce has helped port cities like Singapore prosper and closed the cultural divide between the old British overlords and their best Asian underlings, who have been achieving success as they upgrade progressively from Third World to First.
With English as our official first language since independence, Singapore’s business environment was made conducive to the ang moh whose monies and factories were needed to jump-start this young city-state.
We have come a long way since those precarious early days. Our economy is strong, our foreign reserves are substantial and our per capita income is one of the highest in the world. Singapore is now widely regarded as the Switzerland of South East Asia.
So we shouldn’t begrudge the English their imperialist lexicon. It’s like the father tongue of developed Asian nations which used to fly the Union Jack and sing God Save The Queen.
I remember watching reruns of Mind Your Language in my teens and having a good laugh, which is how I hope to end this argument with Shreejit over the apparent misnomer “continental car”.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this term, in my opinion. It’s just a common, expedient expression used to group British, German, Italian, French, Czech, Spanish and Swedish automobiles into one easy group, not forgetting the more obscure car-making nationalities of Europe like the Dutch, Belgians and Russians.
People who have been calling European cars “continental” for the longest time are simply doing it for convenience and could easily switch to specifics, naming the exact nation that produces the make and model in question. But why bother?
If “continental car” is really erroneous, then we should also correct another similarly grave mistake: the “continental breakfast”.
Hotels across Asia have to modify their menus and rename this item, so as to ditch this historical baggage once and for all. Alternative, but still appetising, labels include “coffee, rolls and stuff”, “break of day bread” and “sunrise sustenance”.
My empty stomach in the morning, however, has been programmed to growl on sensing the words “continental breakfast”, with the growl becoming a full-blown rumble if “buffet” is tagged to the end of that phrase.
Food for thought, indeed. Just like the dictionary’s definition of “continental”: of, relating to, or characteristic of mainland Europe. Allow me to play lexicographer and change that last bit to “the European Union”, which would drive home my point that the “continental car” reference is not obsolete.