Monday, 13 June 2011

In which an Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one

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.


Helen said...

Love this.

See also: talking about the weather.


HC said...

I have always been a fierce patriot. I list my hobbies as hillwalking, pondering the wearing of a monocle and fantasising about boffing Julie Andrews. I also own a hot water bottle.

blogmywiki said...

Excellent list. But Eric 'Hungry Caterpillar' Carle is an American of German parents I think.

MissLizSarab said...

Englishisms - getting hammered surely?

Blonde said...

Helen: You're right, I forgot that one - it's a stalwart Brit characteristic, so I don't know how.

HC: Nice. Keep flying the flag, my friend.

BMW: Bah. I had no idea, but a little research reveals you to be right. Have edited accordingly.

MissLiz: Getting hammered! Yes. Excellent. To be included. Thank you.


I'm Welsh, but relate to your feeling of increasing patriotism. I used to loathe (and probably still do) dramatic displays of pride in one's country of origin, but I'm able to understand better. Quiet moaning rather than ostentatious fiery displays of anger, small-talk in queues, still not 'getting' our weather, and welcoming new talent (even Cheryl Cole was 'new' once!) are very positive things, we SHOULD be proud.
Mum raised a laugh when she used the term 'pooh-poohed' (an idea) not sure if that is an exclusively British saying though?

Sylvia said...

I love this! I'm unashamedly English-like-this too, and after a gap summah of my own in Bolivia, where I was the whitest person around, then a month and a half in a German lab, I've never had our differences thrown into such sharp relief.
Honestly got through both by listening to Radio 4.

jman said...

David Beckham's left foot. David Beckham's right foot for that matter. I don't know which side used it first but Yanks get hammered and pooh pooh things as well.

Rebecca said...

As jman said, Yanks do get hammered and pooh pooh things as well. There are also a great many of us who truly adore your little island and wish we could spend big gobs of time there. And, obviously, not just us Yanks. The U.S. has long been known as a melting pot, but the diversity found just in your capital city is breathtaking. So many people, from all over the world, aspire to a British life. With good reason.

On a very serious note, though, I can tell you that national identity can be a very profound factor. As a just past middle aged American woman, mine has changed dramatically over the course of my life. Unfortunately, not for the better.

I still love my country, and am aware that there are many wonderful things about it. But they only serve as counterpoint to the decline in things like health care, education and general quality of life for the vast majority of our population. We are only a shadow now of the country I knew as a child. And that is just unbearably sad.

Redbookish said...

Echoing your title, my grandmother taught me that 'A lady always uses a butter knife, even when she lunches on her own' and 'Only cads wear made bow ties.'

I think you learn about your ethnic & cultural background by being away from them. I learnt about being English (a specific ethnic identity, I'd say) by being transplanted to Australia for a lot of my childhood and education.

I acquired an Australian accent deliberately just after I turned 11 and was going to high school, because apparently the way I talked sounded "as if you think you're worth something ' (it was just plain old RP), and that was a good enough reason to be beaten up.

So England is the place I can relax and not have to perform my identity (unless someone calls me Australian).

desperatelyseekingsamantha said...

I am American but wish I was British about 75% of the time. :-)

heybartender said...


jman said...

knock you up or give you a knock (do not say this to an American!)
pissed (in the US it means angry)

Brennig said...

I'm Welsh, but schooled in some of England's better establishments. I would vote for the gentle thwock of willow against leather and a polite round of applause from the pavilion, and the 'clack clack clack' as studded feet step off the changing room concrete down on to the green outfield.

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