Over the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly aware of the fact that being British is a big part of my identity. I didn’t particularly feel it at school, where we were all basically one great lump of homogenous, well-brought up gel (hard ‘g’) with an RP accent and horribly precocious nature (other than Curable Romantic, who was all of those things, but with the added frisson of a Middle Eastern-cum-Nordic heritage, which made her exceptionally exotic – but just as highly strung as the rest of us).
My nationality was thrown into sharp relief on my gap year (which, having just read the previous paragraph, I imagine you’re all assuming was a gap yah. I choose to remain silent on the issue). Long-term readers will know I spent it as one half of a pair of wazungu in Tanzania, sticking out very much like the proverbial white chick in a rural African village.
Four years spent at university in Edinburgh weren’t quite so much the culture shock that Tanzania had been, but as the months and years went on, I definitely found that – although I utterly cherish the place, and still think of it as home – almost as profound as the difference between Brits and Tanzanians, there’s a definite cultural chasm between the Scots and the English – and I wasn’t one of the natives (my first sighting of a deep fried pizza slice saw to that).
And now, working for an American company, with close, daily contact with my US counterparts, I feel more English than ever – a colleague’s response the other day to my use of ‘tickety boo’ in a conversation had led to my sending a weekly email of ‘Englishisms’ to the New York office (any you can suggest would be much appreciated).
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – without being jingoistic about it, there’s a huge amount to be proud of about this little island. But though the abolition of slavery, and hundreds of years of parliamentary democracy may be things to be proud of, I don’t think they’re what we immediately think of when we think of England; its icons and its national treasures.
What I do think we think of is more along the lines of…
Stephen Fry. David Dimbleby. (Much to my chagrin) Cheryl Cole.
Boris Johnson. Colin Firth. Brian Cox.
A decent gin and tonic. Jilly Cooper. A great cup of tea.
The Archers. The new series of Doctor Who. In fact, anything written by Stephen Moffat.
Rain during Wimbledon. Rain during the cricket. An exceptional ability to queue.
Stoicism. Fish and chips. Pippa Middleton’s bottom.
Radio 4. The NHS. The impossibility of getting anywhere by train.
Strawberries and cream. Pimm’s. Yorkshire pudding.
The Queen. Will and Kate’s wedding. Prince Philip being hysterically inadvertently racist.
Another cup of tea. The Proms. Utterly awe-inspiring works of literature.
The Beatles. Downton Abbey. Harry Potter.
Getting hammered on a Friday night. A great big English breakfast. And, of course, a bit more rain.
There may not be the breathtaking vistas of the African savannah, nor the furious glamour of New York – but it’s not so bad, really: our little green and pleasant land.