It's Christmas time and the seasonal sights, sounds and smells are all around us. I mean of course the bratwurst, the apfelwein, the gluwein mugs, the Dutch cheeses, the Swiss chocolate, the Bavarian wooden toys and the "ember jewellery all de fay from de Beltic".
Yes, that's right. It's the Christmas Continental Market. That village of wooden kiosks selling all kinds of foreign goods, food and drink. Usually supplemented by a beer tent or two – Czech or German of course.
I think it was initially a German invention. Certainly, when they first appeared in the UK, they were tagged "German markets". Now, however, the products of all the nations seem to be represented. Some have only a tenuous link with the season. I mean, the Christmas paella hut – what's all that about?
No self-respecting UK city is now without a Christmas Market lodged in a convenient square somewhere. These hutted villages, springing up in late November, are now as much trailers for the big day as the turning on of the Christmas lights, Santa's grotto or Wham's Last Christmas on the radio. Local traders have joined in, adding British suburbs to the Continental village centre. But the core of foreign exotica remains and gives these markets their special attraction.
The economics of these markets have always intrigued me. Can it really be profitable for a couple of people, or more, to load up a van with goods or foodstuffs to be sold hundreds of miles away in the UK? Surely the costs of travel, accommodation, meals, hut rent etc must come to at least several thousands pounds, before they've even earned a penny. And how much profit is there in selling French bread and pastries?
At first, I thought the traders must be locals who attend classes over the summer months to develop the right foreign accents for the Christmas markets. But no, they are the genuine article. Cheese sellers from Holland, wooden toy traders from Germany and amber jewellery sellers all de vay from de Beltic.
Can someone explain the economics of it all? Maybe they're subsidised loss leaders to give UK punters a taste for the real thing. There are plenty of adverts for trips to Christmas markets on the continent – in countries like Belgium and Holland as well as Germany.
Perhaps the simple explanation is that they make their profits from being open 10-12 hours daily, seven days a week. And the stuff they sell certainly isn't all cheap. Then again, maybe sheer unfamiliarity added to festive abandon or desperation mean that the punters are happy to spend money hand over fist.
Once again, it seems, the Germans have discovered a winning business model. The foreign and the exotic, packaged in the right way, sells – especially at Christmas.
We Scots should try it. I can envisage Scottish Christmas markets being a great success abroad. We could have kilted traders wearing See you, Jimmy wigs. We'd sell lemon curd, macaroon bars, caramel wafers, Queen's Park tops, Partick Thistle ski hats and Krankies DVDs.
The refreshment stalls would offer haggis and stovies in those cardboard containers with the wee blue plastic forks. Square sausage would be the new bratwurst .
We'd warm up the customers with hot toddies and mulled Irn Bru served in Glasgow's Miles Better mugs. With CDs of Susie B and the Alexander Brothers providing the musical background.
I'm telling you, it's sure to be a winner. The Frankfurt punters would just pour their festive Euros into our traders' Christmas sporrans.