Images of Englishness III

Dot writes: I grew up – or spent my teens, at least – thinking it was a bit rubbish to be English. Why couldn’t we be well-dressed, like the French, or run decent public transport, like the Germans, or have a healthy relationship with alcohol, like the Italians, or ride bicycles and be socially enlightened, like the Dutch? Your typical English person, it seemed, was pasty-faced and slightly fat, had bad sex and put a carpet in the bathroom. We felt guilty about the empire but also wussy because we hadn’t been able to hold onto it. People laughed at our food. Our sports teams always lost. Our weather was notoriously terrible. Even our mountains were crap and small and didn’t really count. (And were all in Wales and Scotland anyway.)

As I’ve got older, I’ve made my peace with most of this. England is a small, crowded and often grubby country, but there’s lots to do there, and if our own cuisine is nothing to shout about we at least have everyone else’s. Moving to Ireland made me realise that our roads are quite decent. (This isn’t going to be an Ireland-bashing post. In fact, I want to do a post soon about all the things I like about Ireland.) But one thing that we do need to sort out is our national propensity for scepticism and moaning. I was thinking about this watching the news of the US election. There are bad things about the American dream: chiefly the attitude that, since you can achieve anything you want if you work hard enough, other people having two jobs and no health insurance just to scrape by is a glorious example of freedom. But would the English, or indeed the British, have had the guts to elect Obama? Particularly given that there’s no equivalent of McCain on our side of the Atlantic? We don’t really do hope. We do piss-taking. We do carping. We are not class-ridden in the forelocking-tugging sense, but we don’t aspire to better our stations in life, though we wouldn’t mind a lottery win. The English love to complain, but we don’t seriously expect things to change.

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2 thoughts on “Images of Englishness III

  1. This reminds me very much of Bill Bryson’s desire to be a European boy rather than live in Iowa 😉

    Growing up in Ireland at the same time, watching Blue Peter I myself always wanted to live in England. I can’t imagine what it is like being a “grown up” in Ireland, I’ve never been one there having left right out of uni. I always feel that slight twinge of no responsibilities whenever I am back in Dublin – helped no doubt by this time not having any looming exams!

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