All entries for Sunday 24 April 2005

April 24, 2005

Britishness

I read a comment on a blog about someone saying they despised this country in which we live. I think that's just sad. How can anyone despise a country? I know there's lots wrong with this particular one:

  • Terrible politics – if this is democracy, then it's a joke.
  • A rather dubious history. For instance, who invented concentration camps? Yup, that's right, the British!
  • A nasty underbelly of racism – just look at the fuss over immigration being made in the election campaigns, it's dispicable.

But actually despising the place is going a little far. Indeed the author of the comment said they couldn't see what was so great about Englishness. Now, the whole notion of Englishness is somewhat fuzzy and based on stereotypes so can't be applied to the country as a whole, but I can think of lots of things I like about "Englishness":

Complaining about the weather: It's pure briliance. How can something so trivial be the topic of such hot debate? You'd think that a discussion about weather really needn't go much furtehr than:
"What's it doing out there?"
"It's raining"
Yet as soon as there's any fluctuation from what the weather should be doing, it's panic stations! The temperature gets too hot and we shout "Drought!" A bit a rain, "Flood!" And as for if it snows, well better stay indoors for a few days, don't want to end up like one of those ice men they find in the alps. I bet Scandanavians in this country have a great laugh in winter.

Overhyping geographical features: I live in the Peak District. Are there any peaks there? No! It's magical how Britain interprets such things. Most other countries would barely describe the hills in the Peak district as being even that, minor elevations, perhaps, but hills? Come off it!

A sense of irony: It would appear that anyone on blogs without one immediately becomes subject to a witch hunt. A great read about Britain is Bill Bryson's Notes from a small Island. One particular quote is when Bryson is buying a train ticket and asks for a receipt. The clerk says "The ticket's free, but the receipts £17.50". Genius. Bryson also notes that Americans don't have a phrase for taking the piss, unbelievable!

British manners: It would be a bit harsh to suggest other countries don't have "manners", but this is a defense of Englishness so it has to be mentioned. Queueing in particular is brilliantly British. It's so timid and probably the "English" trait that shows most strongly in me. I'm ridiculously shy, but anyone butting in front of me in a queue will feel my wrath! It doesn't even need to be enforced, British people naturally fall into long queues. It's in our genes.

The bewilderment that we don't succeed at sport: First of all it's not even true! The rugby world cup anyone? But is it any wonder if England doesn't win the (football) world cup? When it rains all the time who wants to be outside playing sport? If we had Brazilian weather I reckon we'd do much better. And the "after you" mentality of queueing isn't exactly the ruthless determination required for top athletes.

Well that's my defense of "Englishness", though I guess it was more accurately "Britishness". Of course there's many things I don't like about Englighness, but I'm writing a defense, so I'm hardly going to mention them here! And I'm not a patriot you know, given the choice I'd probably have liked to have been born in France! And whilst I think the concept of countries and national traits is outdated, I do like what is called "Britishness", especially seeing as I have many "British" traits myself.


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