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Who exactly are “The English?
It was just two days before “the end of the world” when I landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
It was minus 17°c and despite coming from Switzerland, boy did it feel cold! I was moving from Zurich to Moscow to take up new lecturing positions at two Moscow Universities. After settling in, doing the rounds of museums, art galleries parks and other famous Moscow related sights, I found my time not fully utilised so I decided to look for all my old notes I had made over the years about what I and other nations thought made the English “English” I have shared my thoughts with colleagues, students and family, even chatted with other “Social Scientists” on various internet forums about my findings thoughts and finally getting this 20 year old project onto paper.
This crazy idea came to me one day whilst traveling around the UK.
I seemed to spend half my life just sitting in the car watching other drivers during the day and alone in a pub, restaurant or hotel in the evening, just watching people, “I found observing fascinating”. As you will find out, you can tell so much about a person by what they wear, say and do. So I started taking notes, just for fun really, but as with all things it soon got out of hand! I needed a plan.
I have been here in Moscow for four years now and I am still bouncing round the planet, but more slowly now, what do I lecture about? The English of course!
THE ‘ESSENCE’ OF ENGLISHNESS
We are constantly being told that the English have lost their national identity, that there is no such thing as “Englishness”. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this alleged identity crisis, with book titles ranging from “Anyone for England”? To England: An elegy.
Having spent much of the past twenty years doing “research” on various aspects of English culture and social behaviour in pubs, airports, in shops, in night-clubs, on trains, on street corners , not just in England but in many countries with a good ex-pat population. I am convinced that there is still such a thing as ‘Englishness’. Reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. In this book, I set out to uncover the hidden, unspoken guidelines of English behaviour home and abroad. Are they different? And what these guidelines tell us about our national identity. I had only been here for a few months when a woman approached me while on a bus leaving the University and in English, asked me “how long have you been here”? I asked, “How did you know I was English”? She replied “your boots” the fact they were English brogues and very clean, told her I was not a native, must be English and not been here too long or I would be wearing boots more suitable for the Russian winter. It was at this point I made up my mind to get this finished, little did I realise that it would take so long.
The object was to identify the commonalities in guidelines governing English behaviour, these unofficial codes of conduct that cut through, but yet reinforce class, age, sex, region, sub-cultures and other social boundaries.
For example, members of the local gardening club and leather-clad bikers may seem, on the surface, to have very little in common, but by looking beyond the obvious superficial differences, I found that the garden club members and bikers, and other groups, all behave in accordance with the same unwritten guidelines, guidelines that define our national identity and character. I would also maintain, with George Orwell, that this identity
“Is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature”.
My aim, if you like, was to provide an “ESSENCE” of English behaviour. As native speakers, we can rarely explain the grammatical guidelines of our own language. In the same way, those who are most ‘fluent’ in the rituals, customs and traditions of a particular culture generally lack the detachment necessary to explain the “ESSENCE” of these practices in an intelligible manner.
Most people obey the unwritten guidelines of their society instinctively, without being conscious of doing so. For example, you automatically get dressed in the morning without consciously reminding yourself that there is an unspoken rule of etiquette that prohibits going to work in one’s pyjamas. But if you had a social anthropologist staying with you and studying you, he would be asking: “Why are you changing your clothes?” “What would happen if you went to work in pyjamas?” “What else can’t you wear to work?” “Why is it different on Fridays?” “Does everyone in your company do that?” “Why don’t the senior managers follow the “Dress down Friday custom?” And so on until you were totally sick of him. Then he would go and watch and interrogate other people from different groups within your society and, hundreds of nosy questions and observations later, he would eventually decipher this code of clothing and dress in your culture.
So who are the English? What are they like?
Let’s take a candid and totally prejudiced look at the English, tongue firmly in cheek, and hope they forgive my flippancy or that they don’t read this bit.
The typical Englishman is: introspective, patriotic, insular, xenophobic, brave, small-minded, polite, insecure, arrogant, a compulsive gambler, humorous, reserved, conservative, reticent, hypocritical, a racist, boring, a royalist, condescending, depressed, a keen gardener, semi-literate, hard-working, unambitious, ironic, passionless, cosmopolitan, a whinger, hard-headed, liberal, a traditionalist, a couch potato, obsequious, a masochist, complacent, homely, pragmatic, cynical, decent, melancholic, unhealthy, a poor cook, pompous, eccentric, inebriated, proud, self-deprecating, tolerant, inhibited, a shopaholic, conceited, courageous, idiosyncratic, scrooge like (a poor tipper), courteous, jingoistic, stuffy, overweight, well-mannered, pessimistic, disciplined, a habitual queuee, stoic, modest, gloomy, shy, serious, apathetic, honest, whimpish, fair, snobbish, friendly, quaint, decadent, civilised, dogmatic, scruffy, prejudiced, class conscious and a soccer hooligan.
If the above list contains a few contradictions, it’s because not surprisingly there’s no such thing as a typical Englishman and very few people conform to the perceived Standard English stereotype (whatever that is). Apart from the diverse differences in character between the people from different parts of England (particularly between those from the north and south) the population of the UK encompasses a contrasting mixture of Scots, Welsh, Irish and assorted ethnic groups originating from all corners of the British Commonwealth, other EU countries (including hundreds of thousands from new member countries in recent years), plus miscellaneous foreigners from all corners of the globe who have chosen to make the UK their home. London is the most ethnically diverse city in the world.
Sorry New Yorkers if you thought you had this title.
The English Class System
One thing which initially puzzles foreigners visiting or living in England is its class system, which is a very curious British pretentiousness. Entry to the upper class echelons is rooted in one’s birth right and ill-bred upstarts with a bank account full of ‘new’ money, being for the most part foreigners with unpronounceable names, find they’re unable to gain entry to the most exclusive clubs and homes of England (even if they’re seriously rich). Many of the English are obsessed with class and for some; maintaining or improving their position on the social ladder is a full-time occupation (the ultimate aim being to acquire a knighthood or peerage). The rest of us pretend we’re a ‘better’ class than we actually are, with the exception of a few politicians who are busy trying to live down their privileged past in order to appear from a similar class level to the less privileged masses.
At the top of the heap there’s the upper class, the ‘blue-bloods’ or aristocracy, crowned by the British royal family, followed at a respectable distance by the middle class, which is subdivided into upper middle class, middle middle class, and lower middle class followed by the working class, and two relatively new categories that are the inevitable legacy of the unbridled market economy of the last two decades: the underclass and the beggar class.
In the UK, people were traditionally, officially classified according to their occupations, under classes A to E. However, owing to the expansion of the middle class in the last few decades (we are all middle class now), the government has in its infinite wisdom introduced some new classes (including a meritocratic super class of top professionals and managers earning millions a year). Class is, of course, wholly unimportant in the UK, provided you attended public school, Harrow or Eaton will do just fine, speak with the right accent and have copious amounts of inherited money.
The UK has been uncharitably described (with a hint of truth) as a society based on privilege, inherited wealth and contacts. Class is also what divides the bosses from the workers in the UK and the class struggle is at the root of many industrial disputes. It has certainly re-ignited over the past couple of years. A blue-collar (manual) worker must never accept a position that elevates him to the ranks of the lower middle class (a white-collar job), otherwise his workmates will no longer speak to him and he will be banned from the local working men’s club. (As a consolation however he may be accepted as a member at the local Conservative club). Similarly, middle-class management must never concede an inch to the workers and, most importantly, must never have direct discussions with them about anything, particularly pay rises or a reduction in working hours.
One thing that would probably cause a strike in any country is the introduction of an English food menu, apparently in most English company canteens and restaurants; everything is served with chips or ice-cream. (Really!) Of course, British food isn’t always as bad as it’s painted by foreigners. (What can people, who eat anything that crawls, jumps, swims or flies, possibly know about real food?). While it’s true that traditional British food is often bland, may look unappetising and can make you just not feel hungry anymore, for most people it’s just a matter of getting used to it. (What’s wrong with a diet of high calorie puddings, Fish and chips, meat pies, biscuits and tea, anyway?). After all, it’s usually necessary to become acclimatised to the food in most foreign countries.
However, it’s difficult not to have some sympathy with foreigners who think that many British ‘restaurants’ should post health warnings and be equipped with an in-house medical centre. It may come as a surprise to many foreigners to learn that British bookshops are bursting with amazing cookery books and they aren’t all written by foreigners. The UK also has many popular television cookery programmes that usually feature eccentric (and excellent) chefs and scrumptious looking and tasting food. The English can console themselves with the knowledge that they, or some of them at least know how to behave at the table, even if they don’t have much idea what to serve on it. To compensate for some deficiencies in the kitchen, the English are famous for their love of wine (or anything alcoholic) and are among the world’s foremost (self-appointed) experts on the character and qualities of good wine, although they’re often better talkers than drinkers. In the UK, a wine may be described as having intense aromas and flavours of berries, bramble-jelly, Morello cherries, peppery spices, mint, toffee and a hint of honey. The secret of dining out in England is to consume as much alcohol as possible! When you’re drunk, all food tastes great! The English even make their own wine; not only home-brewed stuff made from elderberries and other strange hedgerow fruit, but also real commercially-produced wine made from grapes! Although it isn’t exactly causing panic among continental wine producers, most of it is really rather palatable.
Contrary to popular belief, the English aren’t all drunks and are actually languishing in a fairly lowly 12th position in the alcohol consumption league among the world’s top 30 developed countries. The English do at least know how to make a good “cuppa” (tea) and don’t believe in polluting it with flowers, roots or herbs, just a little milk, possibly sugar and depending on the blend, a little slice of lemon. The British recipe for any national disaster, whether it’s a cricket thrashing at the hands of the Aussies or a power cut during their favourite TV show, is to make a ‘nice cup of tea’. Tea is drunk at almost any time (approaching 200 million cups a day), not just in the morning or the afternoon. The English drink tea at any time and for any reason in the same quantities as other Europeans drink mineral water or wine.
Unfortunately, coffee (70 million cups a day) is a different matter altogether and although the British have been drinking it since the 17th century (just prior to discovering the delights of tea), they are only now starting to master the art of brewing a half-decent pot, which just goes to show that practice doesn’t always make perfect. The British don’t do anything by halves and fortunately their coffee making skills are improving.
You may sometimes get the impression that the English are an unfriendly lot, as your neighbours won’t always say hello and probably won’t drop by or invite you to their home for a cup of tea. As an outsider, it may be left to you to make the first move, although if you drop by uninvited, your neighbours may think that you’re being just a little bit pushy and just trying to sneak a look at their home. Northerners are generally more friendly and warm-hearted, particularly when compared with the detached and sometimes aloof southerners who won’t usually give you the time of day. If your southern neighbour does condescend to speak to you, he’s likely to greet you with the ritual “Hi, how are you?” This doesn’t, of course, mean “How are you feeling mentally, physically or spiritually?” but simply “Hello”. The questioner usually couldn’t care less whether you’re fighting fit or on your death bed. The ritual answer is (even if you’ve just had a heart and lung transplant) “Fine, thanks, how are you?” If you wish to start a conversation with your neighbour, or in fact anyone, a remark such as “nice weather” usually elicits a response (particularly if it’s raining cats and dogs). The weather is a hallowed topic and it’s the duty of every upstanding citizen to make daily weather predictions because of the awful hash made of it by the meteorologists. The UK has rather a lot of weather and there’s often rain, gales, fog, snow and a heat wave in the same day (although the weather is always described as ‘nice’ or ‘not very nice’). When it snows, everyone and everything is paralysed and people start predicting the end of civilisation as we know it.
The seasons are a touch erratic, but, as a rough guide, winter lasts for around 11 months, with a break of a couple of weeks for spring and autumn, and (in a good year) a couple of days for summer. There is, however, no truth in the rumour that the entire world’s bad weather originates in the British Isles (surely some of it must come from somewhere else!). The English will do anything to escape for a few weeks to sunnier climes (whatever do they find to talk about on holiday when the sky is boringly blue each day?), even going so far as to spend days in an airport lounge for the dubious pleasure of a few weeks in a half-built hotel in Spain, the favourite destination. Bathing in polluted seas and getting sick on foreign food. The fact that no people anywhere express such a consistent desire to escape as the British, may have more than a little to do with their unpredictable climate.
It’s a common misconception among many foreigners that the English all speak ‘English’. There are a multitude accents and dialects, half of which are so strong that you could be forgiven for thinking that people are conversing in an ancient secret language. An Englishman’s accent and choice of words is usually a dead giveaway as to his upbringing. For example, you can safely bet that someone who says, “One feels that one has a certain obligation to one’s social peers” to attend a prestigious event even if they have no personal interest, is not from London’s East End. One third of the English use such long unfamiliar incongruous words that most of us cannot even pronounce them, let alone understand them.
Some of the English are prejudiced against English from other regions, plus of course the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Yanks the French, not to mention most Europeans and most other foreigners and anyone who speaks with a different (i.e. lower class) accent. However, don’t be concerned, as British xenophobia always refers to ‘Johnny foreigner’ but present company excepted. The English, in common with most other races, do not have a lot of time for foreigners, particularly rich foreigners who buy up all the best property, and who should all stay at home. The English image of foreigners is gleaned from the stereotypes portrayed on television. For example, every Englishman knows that all Americans are millionaires with flash cars, murderers or policemen (or all three), drive like their Grandmother (slowly) and make love with their clothes on to women in full make-up with perfect hair. However, it’s the Germans and Japanese who, despite providing us with reliable cars and other things that work well, remain at the top of the list of baddies and are still portrayed as ‘the enemy’ in weekly television (TV) reruns of World War II.
The British are the masters of the understatement and rarely rave about anything. If they’re excited about something they sometimes enthuse “that’s rather nice” and, on the rare occasion when they’re deliriously happy, they’ve been known to exclaim “I say, that’s really rather good”. On the other hand, if something disastrous happens (such as their house burns down) it might be termed “a little spot of bother”. The end of the world will probably be pronounced “that’s unfortunate” or, if there was something particularly good on TV that evening, it may even be greeted as “a jolly bad show” (the ultimate tragedy). The true character of the British is, however, revealed when they’re at play, particularly when they’re engaged in sport.
The English are sports mad, although most people confine their interest to watching or gambling rather than taking part. The English are famous for their sense of fair play and playing by the rules, cheating is considered very bad form. Football (soccer) is the UK’s national sport and if we hadn’t taught all the other nations to play we might even have been world champions more than once. However, the real character and true sporting traditions of the English (other Brits have better things to do) are embodied in the game of cricket, a study of which provides a valuable insight into these strange islanders (and their attitude towards tea parties, religion, sex and foreigners). Foreigners may, at first, have a bit of difficulty understanding what cricket is all about (although it’s far easier to understand than British politics), but after a few decades, most get the hang of it (unlike British politics which remain a complete mystery). The first thing you must understand is that cricket is a game for gentlemen, embodying the great British traditions of fair play, honour and sportsmanship (except when played by Australians, who haven’t the remotest concept of these things).
It’s tempting (although fairly pointless) to make comparisons between cricket and a girlish sport played in the US, called baseball. (The nearest equivalent in the UK is rounder’s, a game played by girls). Imagine if you can, a baseball match that lasts five days with interminable breaks for tea, drinks, rain, a streaker (naked pitch invaders), lunch, injuries, tea, stray dogs, more rain, rest days, more tea, bad light, dinner, supper, tea and even more rain, and nearly always ends in a draw! (If not abandoned due to rain) and you will have a rough idea what it’s all about. Despite the length of a cricket match, which varies from one to five days, it’s an enthralling and thrilling sport. On the rare occasions when things get just a tad boring, there’s always something exciting to liven things up such as a newspaper blowing across the pitch, a stray dog or pigeon on the field or, on a good day, a streaker. The commentators do a sterling job and keep the audience spellbound with the most amazing and fascinating statistics and anecdotes about cricket’s legendary heroeszzzzzzzz
The guidelines of cricket are a little complicated (Einstein’s first theory of relativity is much easier to understand), so I won’t bore you by trying to explain them in detail (fascinating though they are). A cricket team consists of 11 players and a 12th man who has the most important job of all – carrying the drinks tray. He’s also sometimes called on to play when one of his team-mates collapses from a lack of tea or is overcome by excitement. Like baseball, one team bats and the other team attempts to get them out (or committed to hospital) by hurling a ball at the batsman’s head. The team on the field (not batting) stands around in set positions with peculiar names such as gulley, slips, short leg, square leg, long leg, cover point, third man (they made a film about him), mid-off, mid-on and the most dangerous of all, silly mid-off and silly mid-on. Only someone who’s a few pence short of a pound stands directly in front of a batsman as he’s about to hit a very very hard ball in your direction at over 100mph (160kph).
When the bowler strikes the wicket (or the batsman) with the ball everyone shouts in unison “Howzat” very loudly, on the assumption that the umpire is asleep, hard of hearing, short-sighted or all three. Cricketers generally play in a white uniform, (unless it’s limited over cricket) and the only colourful things about the game are the ball (red) and the language used by the batsman (blue) when he’s hit by the ball or when the umpire gives him out leg before wicket (lbw) to a ball that didn’t touch him, and in any case was a million miles away from the wicket. One of the unwritten rules of cricket is that the players (gentlemen) never argue with the umpire, no matter how short-sighted, biased and totally ignorant of the rules the idiot is.
Now we come to the Aussies, (Australians), whom everyone knows have no respect for tradition (and couldn’t give a XXXX for anything that doesn’t pour from a tinny or a barrel), have I am pleased to say, attempted to brighten up the game’s image by dressing like clowns for one-day matches (yet another sacrilege to the old school). One of the worst mistakes the English ever made was to teach Johnny foreigner how to play cricket (or any other sport), as the ungrateful blighters get a certain sadistic satisfaction from rubbing our noses in the dirt (beating us at our own game). One of the problems with Johnny foreigner is that they have no concept of how gentlemen should behave, and fail to realise that the real purpose of any sport is the taking part, and nothing at all to do with winning. Gallant losers are treated as heroes in the UK and heroic defeats against overwhelming odds are infinitely preferable to easy (hollow) victories.
The British have a passionate desire to queue (for anything and everything) and appear to outsiders to have endless patience, as you would expect from a nation that can endure a five-day cricket match. The British queue everywhere for everything, including football tickets, sales (when people queue for days or weeks), buses, trains, aircraft, fast food (or slow food if there’s a long queue), post offices, government offices, concerts, cafeterias, doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, groceries, supermarkets, theatre tickets, banks and public loos (for girls), for some reason, there is never a queue for the men’s loo!. The other form of popular queue in England is the traffic jam. I have spent many an hour admiring the construction of motorway bridges and the perfect positioning of rainwater drains at the side of the road. Many motorists spend their weekday’s bumper to bumper driving round and round the 117 (190km) mile long M25 motorway, which, was made circular (a stroke of genius)to make it easier to get back to where you started! and much more fun than the Moscow MKD which although also circular is only 108Km long. At weekends, motorists often get withdrawal symptoms and go for a drive with the family, friends, relatives and the dog in search of a traffic jam, usually to be found anywhere near coastal areas from spring to autumn, particularly on public holiday weekends.
Queuing isn’t always a necessity, but simply a herd instinct that compels people to huddle together (in winter it helps to keep warm), except of course when travelling by public transport, when the guidelines are somewhat different. On public transport you must never sit next to anyone when an empty seat is available and you must spread yourself and your belongings over two or three seats and never move for anyone. (The best way is to feign sleep with a belligerent expression on your face – most people wouldn’t dare disturb you). You must avoid looking at your fellow passengers at all costs (in case a stranger smiles at you), usually achieved by staring fixedly at the back of a newspaper or out of the window. Whatever you do, don’t open a window and let in any nasty fresh air, this will cause a riot.
There’s not a word of truth in the rumour that British men are lousy lovers (or all gay), which, is a scandalous lie put about by sex-mad Latinos so that they can keep all the women for themselves. Slanderous foreign propagandists have calculated that the British make love an average of twice a week. To add insult to injury they also estimate this is more often than we bathe (which is a damn insult, as the average Briton showers at least once a day). If you find a foreigner under your bed or in your bath don’t be alarmed, he’ll only be conducting a sex survey for Paris Match or Der Spiegel.
Although perhaps not the most romantic of lovers (but much better than those unctuous Italians, who are all talk and no trousers and have the lowest birth-rate in Europe), the British know what it’s for and don’t need a ruler to measure their manhood (neither do we all get our kicks flashing, mooning or being whipped by women in leather underwear). Judging by the illegitimate birth rate (around 40 per cent of all births) many Britons don’t wait until they’re married to find out what sex is all about either. ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’ is simply a challenge to women who have had their fill of Latinos with short fat hairy legs (how does a woman make love to someone who only comes up to her knees anyway?). Sex is definitely not simply a person’s gender and most Britons take more than a hot-water bottle and a teddy to bed with them.
British women are among the most emancipated in the world – not that the weaker sex (men) gave in graciously – and are allowed to vote and drive cars! Nevertheless, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for women to claw their way to the top of most professions or into boardrooms, which remain bastions of male chauvinism. (something to do with a GLASS CEILING), Of course, no self-respecting man would allow himself to be dominated by a mere woman, unless of course he’s a wimp and she’s a handbag-wielding, belligerent battler. If British (male) politicians learnt nothing else during the Thatcher years, it was the utter havoc a woman can wreak in the boardroom.
Money and Gambling
The main problem with the British economy (apart from the total ineptitude of British politicians) is that many Britons lack ambition. They certainly want lots of money but would rather do almost anything than actually work for it, contrary to the popularly held misconception that ‘hard work never did anyone any harm’, the British know only too well that it can prove fatal. The British are reluctant entrepreneurs and many succeed in their own business only when forced into it.
Most people prefer to try their luck at gambling (rather than work) and will bet on almost anything, from the national lottery, snow on Christmas day, football, horse and greyhound racing, bingo, casinos, names of royal babies or ships, public appointments, election results, to who the Prime Minister will sack next (or who will resign) – you name it and someone will make a book on it. (One of the reasons that gambling is so popular in Britain is that gambling debts are unenforceable in law). However, the attitude to gambling is changing. Nowadays, someone who wins a fortune on the lottery is unlikely to declare that it won’t change his life and that he’ll be keeping his job as a £500 a week farm labourer (instead he’ll buy a villa in Spain, a yacht and a Ferrari). If the British injected as much energy into work and business as they do into gambling, they might even be able to compete with the Germans and Japanese.
The UK’s electoral system is of course unique (nobody would be daft enough to copy it) and elections are decided by the first horse past the post. This means that the party in power rarely has more than 50 per cent of the total vote and minority parties can poll 25 per cent of the vote and end up with only a handful of seats. Of course, nobody in the UK actually votes for a political party, particularly the one that wins the election (or at least nobody admits to it). Most are registering a protest vote or voting for the party they hope will do the least damage. Despite their singular lack of success, the minority parties battle manfully on and include such defenders of democracy as the Monster Raving Loony Party (the only British political party with an honest name).
Surprisingly few women are MPs, (195 out of 650) which proves conclusively that they’re more intelligent than men and have better things to do with their lives than hurl insults at each other (politicians are the only children who immature with age). The calibre of British politicians may have something to do with the fact that politicking is the only job that doesn’t require any qualifications, training or brains! Nonetheless, as with most charlatans and confidence tricksters, there’s honour among politicians who rarely stab each other in the back (when someone is looking). Although British politicians seldom tell the truth and government statistics are all but meaningless due to the myriad ways of calculating and distorting them, politicians never in fact tell lies. A politician may accuse another honourable member only of being economical with the truth, but never of lying.
One of the favourite pastimes of British politicians (when not playing golf or holidaying in exotic places at the taxpayers’ expense) is sitting on committees, which after weeks of intense discussions and meetings (standing, select, joint, sitting, party, etc.), produce volumes of recommendations. So as not to waste any more time and taxpayers’ money, these are promptly filed in the dustbin and forgotten about. British politics are totally incomprehensible and deadly boring to all foreigners – and almost everyone else.
The European Union
Some people (usually foreigners) think that the British are out of step with their ‘partners’ in the European Union (EU). Of course, as any Briton will tell you, the only reason we don’t always see eye to eye with the damn foreigners (who make up the insignificant part of the EU) is that they refuse to listen to us and do as we tell them. (Whatever happened to the good old days when Johnny Foreigner knew his place?). It must be obvious to everyone that we know best; just look at our manufacturing industry, modern infrastructure, culinary traditions, banking system, free education system, free public services, roads, cricket team; of course, having a transport system and things that work isn’t everything.
The notion that the UK doesn’t always know best is ridiculous and if there’s to be a united Europe, those foreign chappies had better mend their ways. (We didn’t fight two world wars so that Jerry and the Frogs – who we bailed out twice! could tell us what to do!). They can start by adopting British time; after all, “Time” begins and ends in Greenwich in London! Driving on the left, making English their national language, anglicising their ridiculous names and moving the EU headquarters and parliament to London – which every civilised person knows is the centre of the universe, or BREXIT will happen. Perhaps then we would all get on much better! If they don’t agree, we can always fill in our end of the Channel Tunnel and refuse to answer the telephone. Many Britons firmly believe that the UK is still a world power, when in reality it doesn’t have a lot of influence in the modern world. This ‘little England’ attitude means that, to most Britons, Europe is a place full of Johnny foreigners, where the sun shines when they go on holiday. Most are unaware of, or choose to ignore, the fact that the UK is actually part of it (at least geographically).
Foot note: Bloody Brexit IS going to happen!! So ignore the last passage.
The secret of life
The secret of a happy and content life in England is to maintain a sense of humour (and carry a big umbrella). Most of us do have a lively sense of humour and a keen sense of the ridiculous, which helps make life in jolly old England bearable. (The worst insult is to accuse someone of having no sense of humour). One of the things that endear the British to most foreigners is their ability to poke fun at themselves (the English don’t take themselves too seriously) and everyone else, as typified in TV programmes such as Monty Python, Mr Bean and Absolutely Fabulous. Nothing escapes the barbs of the satirists: from the Pope to the Prime Minister, the President of the US to the Royal Family, everyone is lampooned with equal affection.
It’s often difficult for foreigners to understand British humour or to recognise when someone is being serious or joking, although the subject at hand usually offers a clue. Generally, the more earnest or solemn the topic, the more likely they are to be joking. Amazingly, some foreigners think that the British have no sense of humour, usually Americans who don’t understand our subtle way with words and cannot understand real English anyway. Many foreigners believe the British are at least a little eccentric and, at their worst, stark staring bonkers.
A serious bit!
Enough of this frivolity, now for the serious bit! The UK has its fair share of problems and is still failing in many vital areas, including public transport, (expensive) Public health (long waiting lists) and manufacturing (apart from those industries we’ve sold to foreigners). However, we are still world leaders in pageantry, banking, science, innovation, research, University Education, binge drinking and football hooliganism. Major concerns include rising crime (particularly juvenile and violent crime), the uneven quality of state education, a flourishing drugs culture, the failing health service, inequality (the growing gulf between rich and poor), a looming pensions crisis, pollution, awful public transport, homelessness, overcrowded roads, urban blight, a spiralling cost of living and a burgeoning underclass. Apart from that everything is perfect.
The worst crisis is among the UK’s young working class males, among whom a lack of a sense of purpose and unemployment commonplace in widespread. This is reflected in their suicide rate, which has risen sharply in the last decade. Perhaps the most serious decline in British life is shown in the combined effects of loss of social cohesion and sense of community, and the breakdown of the family unit. Almost half of marriages end in divorce and some 40 per cent of all births are to unmarried mothers, this has resulted in a high proportion of one-parent families.
However, not everything is depressing in Britain and the quality of life is considered by many foreigners to be “Bloody excellent” and among the best in the world. In the last two decades, the UK has become a more entrepreneurial society, in which people are increasingly ready to take risks and are less dependent on the state. It has also become a more European nation, less afraid of European bogeymen and domination by foreigners (although the euro is still a hard sell).
Most Britons are better off today than they’ve ever been and optimism about the future has characterised the last few decades. The underlying reality remains the same. Good restaurants flourish, and fashion, music, nightlife and style are all fields in which the UK can now hold its own with the world’s best.
The British enjoy superb entertainment, leisure, sports and cultural facilities, which for their sheer variety and accessibility are among the best in the world (but increasingly expensive). The quality and huge choice of goods in the shops is excellent and explains why many people travel from far and wide simply to shop in Britain. British television has no equal, national and local radio is excellent, and the country has an unrivalled choice of quality newspapers, magazines and literature. The UK is a caring society, highlighted by the abundance of charitable and voluntary organisations, unparalleled in any other country, all of which do invaluable work (nationally and internationally). The UK remains a centre of manufacturing and scientific excellence underlined by its number of Global companies and Nobel prize-winners. It’s also one of the least corrupt and most civilised countries in the world. We even produce some of the best movies on offer anywhere.
The British have more freedom from government interference than the people of most countries, to do, say and act any way they like, something most of them take for granted. The UK is still a great enlightened power (if a little frayed at the edges) and a positive influence in the world and London remains the centre of the English-speaking world. Whatever else it may be, life in the UK is spiritually, mentally and intellectually stimulating and rarely, if ever dull. Although foreigners may occasionally complain about Britain and the British weather, most feel they’re privileged to live there and wouldn’t dream of leaving.
Last, but certainly not least, there are the British people, who, although they can be infuriating at times, will charm and delight you with their sense of humour and idiosyncrasies. When your patience with the UK and the British is stretched to breaking point, simply take yourself off to the nearest pub and order a pint or a large gin and tonic: the UK looks an even nicer place through the bottom of a (rose-tinted) glass, and, with a bit of luck, you won’t even notice that it’s still raining.
Long Live Britain! God Save the Queen!