Auntie Europe cover

With the continent seemingly lurching from one crisis to the next, we are delighted to welcome an agony aunt, who will be weighing in on some of the most pressing European problems, to the E&M team. In this edition, unflappable Auntie Europe offers straight-talking advice on culture clashes and relationships gone bad. Be warned though, she doesn’t pull punches and egos may be bruised as she delivers a few home truths to our troubled trio…

Help! I think my friend is spying on me…

Photo: Jens Kronen (Flickr); Credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’ve noticed something strange about my friend recently. I’ll call him Sam. He’s a really nice guy, an American, we’ve been close for years. Well actually, maybe not that close – and maybe not that many years – and I’m not totally sure if he’s all that nice. But he’s definitely generous. He helps out his friends, money-wise, or if they just need a bit of support. And he actually helps his enemies too; he’ll give them advice on how to get rich, or beat their complexes. Actually, he can be pretty patronising sometimes! And he once accused me of Schadenfreude, like he even knows what that means.

Well, anyway, the problem is, I’m pretty sure he’s been reading my text messages, and maybe even listening in to my phone calls! The other day, I was planning to go and see a film with this Russian friend of mine – OK, more of an acquaintance, but I try and make sure my group of friends is diverse as possible. We’d arranged it by text. And the Russian friend had left a slightly alarming message on my phone, too.

Then I bumped into Sam, and after he’d given me some money advice (he told me to spend more and save less), he asked casually, “So what film are you seeing with Mr Macho, then? Not a war film, I hope?” He definitely didn’t know about our date. I hadn’t told him, and the Russian guy hasn’t been speaking to him for a while. I confronted him about it, and he just looked kind of condescending and said, “Well, somebody has to look out for you, if you won’t look after yourself!”

The thing is, I DO look after myself. I’m an independent woman! If I want to go and see a film with a Russian guy today, and maybe even have coffee with a Bavarian tomorrow, how is that any of his business?

– Bothered in Berlin 

Dear Bothered,

I hate to say this, but has it occurred to you at all that you could be the problem here? You hang around with this Sam guy and appear to be pretending to like him. You call him patronising, but you are the one who seems to be gloating over his ignorance of unique German words. And while it’s fine to be multikulti, you seem to have what I can only call a bizarre obsession with making sure your group of friends includes as many cultures as possible, even if this means spending time with “alarming” Russians – not to mention Bavarians.

Maybe Sam really is snooping on your text messages. He didn’t exactly deny it when you asked him. In that case, you can pick one of three options:
1.) Break off contact with him, change all your security info, block him on Facebook. It’s not as if you like him much, anyway!
2.) Remain friends, but keep closer tabs on your private info. Protecting yourself from snoopers is common sense!
3.) Consider whether you might actually need his protection. Sure, girl power is great, but are you making the right choices?

More importantly, I’d like you to sign up with a therapist to talk about your deeper issues. Why is it so important to you to be friends with everybody, even if they aren’t a great fit? Why does being patronised by an American make you so angry? And what got you so paranoid? Maybe something in your past is causing all this.

Help! My big brother is bullying me…

Photo: Thomas Ricker (Flickr); Credit: CC BY 2.0

My problem is kind of embarrassing. It’s usually kids who complain about their siblings – but I’m a fully-paid-up adult, and my elder brother bullies me more than he ever did when we were little. In fact, we used to get on all right back in the day. I did have to do pretty much everything he said, but that just seemed normal.

It was when I moved out that he started getting aggressive. This is going to sound pathetic, but we used to do a whole lot of stuff together, especially out in the countryside – we’d go to the beach, especially, and once we actually built this whole fake village, or we’d go shooting, one time he almost shot me in the face! But that was just by mistake. He said sorry afterwards.

And then, when I moved into my own place, even though I lived right next door to him, we kind of lost touch. I go to the beach with my friends now. Or play football with this Polish guy I got to know. My brother got pretty pissed off, but to start with he took it out on my younger siblings, who mostly lived at home. My sister Georgia, she got rebellious and told him he had issues about his masculinity or something, and he got even madder.

Recently, it all came to a head. I don’t even know what started it, I just headed down to the beach one day, and he beat me up. He told me he was still bankrolling me, and he could cut off my gas any time, which is kind of true. And now it’s like that the whole time – most days, if I go home, he’s there, ready to fight me – he’s often pretty drunk, and he’ll cry afterwards and reminisce about when we were pals.

The worst thing is, I just feel so conflicted! He may be an asshole, but he’s my brother, right? A big part of me just wants us to be friends again! But the other part of me wants to move out of this place and go west.

–  Torn apart in Central Europe 

Dear Torn,

Something’s telling me that your brother’s going through an intense grieving process kicked off by you and your siblings becoming independent, and that he needs professional help. I’m not sure what it is, but something’s giving me that vibe. Oh wait, maybe it’s the controlling behaviour, possessiveness, violence, drinking and crying! He’s grieving for the guy he used to be – or used to think he was – when you and your siblings all thought he was a hero.

Right. So your brother needs a grief counsellor, and you could probably do with one too.

But at the moment, it doesn’t sound as if he’s going to allow you to ferry him to a therapist. And right now, your first responsibility is to think about your own safety. This is where you really need a “Team You”. Talk to the Polish guy, and to any other friends you have, and figure out a safe place where you’re not at the mercies of your bullying brother. Get some financial advice, become properly independent. And stop feeling guilty about it. He’s not your “big” brother any more – he’s a guy with problems that you can’t solve.

Help! This one guy spoils everything….

Photo: William Warby (Flickr); Credit: CC BY 2.0

I’ll cut to the chase. I’m part of an awesome group of friends – we’re all different, but we fit together really well, we always look out for each other, and we’ve got closer and closer over the years.

But we all feel that this one guy in the group spoils everything. He’ll turn up to our games nights, but he only ever wants to play Risk or Monopoly. Ok so Risk can be fun, but who the hell likes Monopoly? Anyway – that’s just an example of what he’s like. He acts like he basically invented our group of friends, and he always has to be right, even about really trivial stuff. It’s not like we mind if he puts vinegar on his chips – but he has to go on about how it’s the best way to eat them! He’ll tell us we’re not cultured because we haven’t read every word of Shakespeare, but if you mention Goethe or Sartre he’ll say, “What? Oh, you mean Goath and Sahtrer? Didn’t they make a film out of that?”

The great thing about our group is that we can tolerate people who are different. We all have quirks!! So none of this would be a big deal, but recently he’s started to make real trouble. It’s like he’s got this guilt-trip thing going on. So if we’re planning to take Helen out to a fancy restaurant (she’s been having a really hard time recently, she can’t find a job), he’ll suggest fish and chips instead, or a night in playing Monopoly, and go on about how she owes him money, and then he’ll pull out his trump card: “Well, if you go there, I’m not coming.” We always make some kind of compromise. (Like posh fish and chips, which none of us actually like, not even him.) And he’ll come along, but he’ll sulk.

What can we do? We’re starting to feel like he’s not much fun anymore.

– Baffled in Brussels

Dear Baffled,

OK, so the first thing I’ll say is that this guy does sound like a something of a judgmental prig – but then, so do all of you. For people who apparently love quirkiness, you certainly make a big deal out of consensus! Is it forbidden for anyone to like Monopoly in your group? Can’t you agree to play it every now and then? Why not watch one of Goethe’s films together, if it’s so important to you that everyone should know about foreign auteurs? Maybe your friend has picked up some none-too-subtle hints that you’re not actually OK with him having a different view, and he’s starting to get all defensive about it.

I think you’re hoping I’ll say you should kick this guy out of your group. And if you think he’s stirring up trouble just for the sake of it, or you just can’t bear to hear another word about vinegar being the best condiment, maybe that would be best for all of you, including him: perhaps this friendship has just turned sour.

But you also need to give some thought to what friendship means to you. From your letter, it sounds like being friends means “doing everything together” – but it also sounds as if not everyone really belongs in the same way, since you and your other pals have obviously been talking about this Shakespeare-loving guy behind his back, and you’ve reached an agreement that he’s “not much fun anymore”. Could there be a way out of this that doesn’t involve a fish-and-chips compromise that everyone hates? Can you arrange events so that they don’t have to be compulsory for everyone? When he says he doesn’t want to come to the fancy restaurant, can you just say, “Fine, no problem – see you at the regular games night on Friday!”

Or would that be the end of the group?

Cover photo: Tobias Melzer *Image cropped by E&M

  • retro

    Auntie Europe, a.k.a. Aleithea Cope, believes in telling it like it is – even if the truth sometimes hurts. She has written advice columns for top-quality tabloids across Europe, and has published bestsellers including Tough Love: Why you shouldn’t pretend to like your children, Cruel to be Kind: How to be honest with your friends and Who Needs Friends? Get the respect you deserve. She wrote about her painful divorce with searing honesty in her autobiography, Drink, Cry, Hate. She lives in Malta with her dog, Cerberus.

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