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Englishness

In which we can’t complain


This post was originally written down the other day, in a notebook, sitting in a cafe with K. Post follows:

I’m not sure why, but I can’t bring myself to complain in shops. Maybe it’s a British thing. Maybe it’s a shy geek thing. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, I can’t bring myself to complain in shops, which is why I am sitting here in a cafe drinking herbal tea, instead of the cold drink I was planning to enjoy. I don’t normally drink herbal tea, at all, and sometimes when I’m thirsty I like to have a cold drink then a hot drink, close on each other’s heels. The server misunderstood me – it is a chilly day, after all, and I received two hot ones.

No doubt the server – who sounds American and therefore almost certainly would complain if she found herself in my situation – would not mind if I’d said: hang on, I meant the cordial, not the herbal tea. But, being shy, and geeky, and English, I said nothing, and decided that I would enjoy the tea even though I hadn’t meant to order it. Fortunately, it’s actually quite nice.

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Nationality

In which the family seem foreign


My parents are not Norwegian. They’re English, have hardly ever left England, don’t speak any languages other than English. Until last week, my mother hadn’t had a foreign holiday for 35 years, and my dad had never had one at all.

Now, often, you can look at someone, and spot their nationality. It happened to me in Paris the other month: I only had to go up to someone and say “Um … bonjour?” and I’d get: “Hello, can I help you.” Sometimes the hello came first, so I’m sure it wasn’t just the accent or the awkward pause. I’d assume that the same would apply to the parents too, as they’ve hardly ever left Britain.

But no: they set off for their first foreign holiday together after 30 years married, and they get on the ferry to Norway. They arrive at the ferry terminal in Newcastle, where you’d think the staff would be used to spotting the difference between Norwegian and English people. All of a sudden, everyone, even the English terminal staff, automatically assume they’re Norwegian. Getting on the ship, they’re being greeted: “hello … hello … hello …” – then as soon as The Mother appears on the gangplank, the greeter switches to Norwegian.* Why, she has no clue. Apparently, people from Norway, people from Newcastle, people who meet a lot of Norwegians, automatically assume my mother is one too. Strange.

(and on their return, they brought me a giant sausage. Which appears to be Danish. But that’s a blog for another day, when I’m not too lazy to get the camera out to shoot a picture of it)

* Whether Bokmål or Nynorsk, I don’t know – as the parents don’t actually know any Norwegian of either sort beyond “Does anyone know where the toilets are?” they didn’t appreciate the subtlety – never mind the subtler still differences between spoken and written languages.

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Red cross

In which we eat roast beef


Today, of course, we should all be marching around with a bulldog on the end of a string, eating roast beef and Yorkshire puddings,* and generally Being Patriotic. It’s St. George’s Day, so all English people should rise up and be proud of their Englishness.

The Plain People Of The Internet: Hang on there! What’s this siren going off here for?

A Siren (unnamed): Weee-oooo, weee-oooo (etc).

Ah, I see you’ve found my new Excess Sarcasm Alarm then.** Damn, I thought for a minute there was a risk you might believe me. Here’s a tip: if anyone tells we should be doing more to celebrate it, back away slowly. You could always suggest they move to Sofia, or anywhere else in Bulgaria, where St George’s Day is celebrated rather more fervantly than here. I’m always wary of patriotism for patriotism’s sake. If you want to be patriotic, go out and make your community a better place, every day of the year.

* even though they taste much better with lemon and sugar, like pancakes. The pudding, not the beef.

** Only £15.99 from all good electronics stores, as soon as I can find enough unobtanium to power them all

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Signs you might be English

In which we rely on stereotype


If someone walks into you in the street, you say “sorry”, even though it’s not your fault.

You can have ten-minute conversations with complete strangers, but only about the weather or how terribly the buses are running.

You will sigh at people under your breath, but never dare of telling them what you think.

You will be stubborn enough to always wait for the other person to apologise.

You keep all your feelings to yourself.

And when something great and amazing happens to you, you say “Ooh, that’s nice.”

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It’s a telly phenomenon

In which we refuse to watch the football


As I said some time ago, I’m going to go my best not to write anything about Big Brother. And so far, I’m doing quite well.

I’m going to do my best not to mention the World Cup, too. As I said yesterday, I don’t care about football at all, myself. Neither does Big Dave, even though if you met him you’d probably expect him to be a supporter.* If there’s one thing both me and Big Dave dislike more than football, though, it’s the assumption that even though we don’t like football we must be interested in the World Cup. We get funny looks just because we don’t give a toss whether England win or lose.

People do seem really surprised if you tell them you don’t care at all about it. Even people who aren’t football supporters, and who would never normally watch football. They say things like: “But it’s the World Cup!”

“Yes, I know! It’s football! I hate football!”

“But England are playing! You’re English! You have to support England! You have to at least watch the England matches.”**

“Um … no, I don’t. It’s football. I hate football. Just because I don’t want to watch football on the telly doesn’t mean I’m suddenly Not Really English.” And at that point they usually give up, and look at me a bit oddly for the rest of the day. They don’t seem to get that I just don’t care about football, any football.

So, I’m not going to watch it, or write about it. The only thing that will get me to watch England playing in it, is if somebody ties me up in front of the telly so I can’t get away from it. A cruel torture indeed.

* he would fit right into the traditional football-supporting demographic without too much trouble – especially if, like me, you only saw him in a shirt and tie at work, so didn’t realise that he doesn’t wear sportswear at home.

** all, ooh, three of them.

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Nationalistic

In which we go dragon-killing


Well, I sat down at my computer to write a long serious post about how I need to lose my shyness. But then, I thought: hang on a minute! It’s Saint George’s Day! So, I dressed up in a suit of armour and went out to sing Jerusalem and stab a few dragons instead.

Actually, that last bit wasn’t quite true. I love the fact that other countries have deadly serious national days; England has a national day to celebrate a mythical Lebanese man who isn’t even a Catholic saint any more. Bulgaria, in fact, has much better St George’s Day celebrations than we do, although no longer on the same date.* England has, well, nothing at all, and most of the people who campaign for more of a celebration are rather nasty nationalists. We could do with a decent national celebration, if only as an excuse for a party.

* because they still date their saints’ days with the Julian calendar, which is a couple of weeks out.

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