Saturday, 16 April 2011

Essential Britishness for Brits

The Chairman has been thinking some more about this mythical concept of Britishness that seems to occupy the minds of many.

It’s a fact that those who live in large cities have different values from those who live in rural areas (the hunting issue divides the nation along these lines); those living in the north of the country view those in the south as being soft (those in the south view northerners as thick); the distinction between classes, wherever one sets the boundaries, is massive; those living on one county see outlanders as being somewhat inferior (a relic of regional invasions by Saxons, Danes and Norwegians); the rich are viewed by the poor as being totally remote from life at the bottom.

What, beyond a common language spoken in myriad different dialects, unites the British as an identifiable group? It certainly isn’t a respect for democracy, as that unites the entire western world and not just the Brits.

The queue is seen by some as essentially British, which could be interpreted as reflecting a sense of fairness. “Woe betide anyone who jumps a queue,” is the common mantra, but beyond a few huffs and puffs of righteous indignation, it is highly unlikely very many would be prepared to confront a queue jumper, as most people (not just Brits) are non-confrontational. In any case, a sense of fairness is not uniquely British.

Tea drinking is seen by many as peculiarly British, but all manner of nations drink tea, even in Europe.

Patriotism is not unique to Brits either – in fact many nations are fanatically patriotic and certainly more patriotic than the Brits.

Nor is a liking for football in any way peculiarly British – the Italians and Spanish are far more fanatical.

No, this ‘British identity’ has never existed, so we can’t logically say we’re losing it. People are far more willing to identify themselves as English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish than British, and there are deep, irreconcilable divisions even within these regional identities.

It could be said the Brits are renowned for their stiff upper lip – and yes, that has disappeared from vast swathes of the population, as witnessed by the mawkish outpourings of ersatz national grief at Diana’s funeral. The nation has also become obsessed with things like X-Factor, Big Brother and the like, which are the total antithesis of the stiff upper lip. However, the loss of the stiff upper lip has bugger all to do with immigration and everything to do with the me, me, me culture.

Now if a Brit were to be accused of being slightly French – that’s an entirely different matter. Hang on, it could be said that Brits exhibit a certain sang-froid as well as rejoicing in schadenfreude, which probably typifies the zeitgeist.

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