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Thread: European cultures : (3) the English

  1. #1
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    Post European cultures : (3) the English



    After describing the French and the Belgians, let's tackle the English national character.

    I will start with a humorous description of my favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, an American who has lived for over 20 years in England. This is an excerpt from his excellent and hilarious book, Notes from a Small Island (p. 52 in the 2001 Perennial edition). He is writing about the British, but this seems all the truer when confined to the English.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Bryson
    It has long seemed to me unfortunate - and I am taking a global view here - that such an important experiment in social organization [communism] was left to the Russians when the British clearly would have managed it so much better. All those things that are necessary to the successful implementation of a rigorous socialist system are, after all, second nature to the British. For a start, they like going without. They are great at pulling together, particularly in the face of adversity, for a perceived common good. They will queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets, and sudden inconvenient shortages of staple goods, as anyone who has ever looked for bread in a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon will know. They are comfortable with faceless bureaucracies and, as Mrs. Thatcher proved, tolerant of dictatorship. They will wait uncomplainingly for years for an operation or the delivery of household appliance. They have a natural gift for making excellent, muttered jokes about authority without ever actually challenging it, and they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and powerful brought low. Most of those above the age of twenty-five already dress like East Germans. The conditions, in a word, are right.
    The traits captured here by Bill Bryson are patience, tolerance, politeness, consideration, humour and frugality.

    Here is another abstract (p. 79-80) :

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Bryson
    And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats - tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.
    "Oh, I shouldn't really," they say.
    "Oh, go on," you prod encouragingly
    "Well, just a small one then," they say and dartingly take a small one, and then get a look as if they have just done something terribly devilish. All this is completely alien to the American mind. To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright. You may well say "Oh, I shouldn't really" if someone tells you to take a deep breath.
    I used to be puzzled by the curious attitude of the British to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies - "Mustn't grumble," "It makes a change," "You could do worse," "It's not much, but it's cheap and cheerful," "Well, it was quite nice" - but gradually I came around to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier.
    British moderation and unrelenting optimism. This must have something to do with the weather; it must be a natural adaptation to cope with the grim, nearly constantly overcast sky. I wouldn't say that many Belgians are like that too, but my father and his mother certainly are just as Bill Bryson describes here.


    That's for a start on the English character. I will continue later, and update the thread frequently as I am wont to do.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 29-12-09 at 15:25.

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    All those things that are necessary to the successful implementation of a rigorous socialist system are, after all, second nature to the British. For a start, they like going without.
    Hahaha. Don't mind going with out too much... "like", well I wouldn't go that far.

    They will queue patiently for indefinite periods and accept with rare fortitude the imposition of rationing, bland diets, and sudden inconvenient shortages of staple goods, as anyone who has ever looked for bread in a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon will know. They are comfortable with faceless bureaucracies and, as Mrs. Thatcher proved, tolerant of dictatorship. They will wait uncomplainingly for years for an operation or the delivery of household appliance. They have a natural gift for making excellent, muttered jokes about authority without ever actually challenging it, and they derive universal satisfaction from the sight of the rich and powerful brought low. Most of those above the age of twenty-five already dress like East Germans. The conditions, in a word, are right.
    Yeah, this is mainly true if exaggerated, but we just don't think about it - it's normal to us.

    That is why so many of their treats - tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.
    "Oh, I shouldn't really," they say.
    "Oh, go on," you prod encouragingly
    Gateau and cakes like that I tend to avoid, they're far too rich to consume in any meaningful amounts. I'm happy with humble a cherry bakewell and an apple pie, I'm not fussy.

    To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright. You may well say "Oh, I shouldn't really" if someone tells you to take a deep breath.
    Sadly consumerism in the 90s and early 2000s has stunted that a bit.

    This must have something to do with the weather; it must be a natural adaptation to cope with the grim, nearly constantly overcast sky. I wouldn't say that many Belgians are like that too, but my father and his mother certainly are just as Bill Bryson describes here.
    Why are foreigners so obsessed with our rain? Americans are always talking about it but apart from mentioning the weather we really don't care too much.

    Maybe the British will evolve to be semi-aquatic in a few million years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Albion View Post
    Why are foreigners so obsessed with our rain? Americans are always talking about it but apart from mentioning the weather we really don't care too much.
    The clichee of british rainy weather is very popular here in germany too. The funny thing is that Britain has significantly more sunshine days per year than germany. It once was clarified in a TV show that the rainy britain impression comes from the mild british winters, while in Central Europe there is more snow instead. Most Germans I met don't like rain and much prefer snow. I never understood that. I'd always prefer to live in England or Irleand to get rid of snowy winter.

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by ElHorsto View Post
    The clichee of british rainy weather is very popular here in germany too. The funny thing is that Britain has significantly more sunshine days per year than germany. It once was clarified in a TV show that the rainy britain impression comes from the mild british winters, while in Central Europe there is more snow instead. Most Germans I met don't like rain and much prefer snow. I never understood that. I'd always prefer to live in England or Irleand to get rid of snowy winter.
    Well, it depends on where in England or Germany you live.

    Hours of sunshine per year:
    655px-Europe_sunshine_hours_map.png

    Annual precipitation:
    europe-annual-rainfall.jpg

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mzungu mchagga View Post
    Well, it depends on where in England or Germany you live.

    Hours of sunshine per year:
    655px-Europe_sunshine_hours_map.png

    Annual precipitation:
    europe-annual-rainfall.jpg
    Thanks, helpful.
    I was not precise, the comparison was made with "rainy London", not Britain in general.
    Yes, according to your maps, London has similar sunshine and rain rate like northern Germany.

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    Of course what the map doesn't show is the distribution of sunshine and precipitation within a year. For example, if it is dry and sunny in summer, but rains heavily in winter (like at the Mediterranean Sea), or if a few drops fall almost daily (like in Ireland).

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    if there is something I see characteristic for english as nation it is need to be special, to set themselves apart...e.g. they still drive on wrong side, use measurement units that are obsolete, are only formally part of EU while they do not plant to adopt same currency or border passing system....

    otherwise, good music scene sets them apart, and also more smart/sophisticated sound of their pronunciation of english language...

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    Yeah it really really really does NOT rain that much in England - evidence? - they have issued yet another hose pipe ban in southern England because of DROUGHT.

    I think the reason most people think it rains loads here is because A) British people always complain about the weather B)It might not rain but my GOD is it ALWAYS cloudy (Literally I think we get about 5-10 clear days a year and C) because it rains in winter instead of snow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ElHorsto View Post
    The clichee of british rainy weather is very popular here in germany too. The funny thing is that Britain has significantly more sunshine days per year than germany. It once was clarified in a TV show that the rainy britain impression comes from the mild british winters, while in Central Europe there is more snow instead. Most Germans I met don't like rain and much prefer snow. I never understood that. I'd always prefer to live in England or Irleand to get rid of snowy winter.
    Yes, but the big difference between Britain and countries like Germany and Norway is that our climate is damper and arguably less healthy overall. No doubt that northern Germany and Norway have colder, more snow-laden winters, but there the coldness is more crisp rather than damp. The UK's awful dampness, which creeps into one's very bones, is due to the island, oceanic climate. I am surprised that the Vikings didn't turn back! No doubt they set fire to churches to keep warm...

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