I know that not everyone who reads my regular outpourings in the Bulletin is British; but if you’re not, by jingo, you should be! On occasions I will receive an email from a non Brit inquiring about a rather baffling colloquialism I have used, or upbraiding me as to my feeble grasp of reality as I complain about something that really irritates me, but to them, seems inconsequential at best and marginally disconcerting at worst. What they fail to grasp, is that we Brits actually quite enjoy being annoyed, nonplussed, discombobulated by the small things in life, as opposed to the lifelong dramas of those of Latin extraction, or even worse, the heavy-lidded stoicism of the Scandinavian. Being British is about being constantly aggrieved but never showing it. And it’s always about the small things in life such as bad manners, queue jumping and that reliable standby - silently cursing people who don’t behave properly. Naturally enough, this business of behaving properly has never been codified in any way, so we Brits have free-rein in which to indulge our individual prejudices.
A recent survey commissioned by Warner Leisure Hotels discovered that almost half of the people questioned - when asked what annoyed them most in life - it wasn’t war, famine, general pestilence or Donald Trump - it was queue jumping. It’s the same with feeling the need to say sorry when you have nothing to be sorry about. As in, we all know that we do it - and some would say that saying sorry unnecessarily is an inbuilt superiority complex pretending to be quite the opposite. Confusing isn’t it? It’s the same when you are driving your car and some lout cuts-you-up. My mate told me about a similar incident just recently - What did you do? - said I, eager for some sort of mindless violence inflicted on the aforementioned oaf. “Well, I lowered the front passenger window, and gave him a really dirty look.” That reaction is so typically and utterly British it should be set in stone. Apropos nothing - I was in my local Mercadona the other day when it appeared that I had transgressed the social distancing protocol at the check-out. It seems that my trolley was about a centimetre too close to the woman in front and I was admonished by the rather large young woman at the till. In typical British fashion I apologised profusely, but thought it would be rather bad mannered to point out to fatso that she was wearing her protective mask around her chin!
However, it seems that most of our collective ire is aimed at people who seek to draw attention to themselves. Yes, it’s alright if you are some sort of theatrical but for the main part, any undue showing off is most definitely not okay. This is particularly true when small children are involved. In Spain and across a whole continent children who sing and dance, recite cute nursery rhymes and are by common consent deemed “wonderful,” are not by-and-large given the same level of adoration by Brits unless the child involved is their own blood. “Precocious little madam,” one will occasionally hear at a school concert as childlike family rivalry turns really vicious. Nevertheless, this outbreak of unseemly behaviour is apparently a rare occurrence with us Brits, or rather, that’s what we like to think. This is because hiding our emotions and not saying what we really think can in itself bring about a spiral of anxiety, as we wrestle with the dilemma of either telling the truth and causing a scene, or saying what’s expected of you and despising yourself for it. I read somewhere that on average a human being will tell three lies a day; not exaggerations, nor a bit of harmless ‘spinning,’ but real untruths, whoppers, fibs - lies.
Evidently, we British take ‘fibbing’ to a completely different level - Example: “Do you like my new dress?” Non British answer: “No, not at all, It is two sizes too small for you - and in that red colour you resemble an elderly prostitute.” British Answer: “You look so different, so exotic - the red emphasises your mature womanly figure.” No wonder the French call us “Perfidious Albion.”
This national trait of rarely saying what you actually think is a bit of a mystery to many psychiatrists, because they are best qualified to unravel the strange affliction within us Brits that drives us to hide or camouflage what we are really thinking.
Apart from the obvious examples that I have used already - I wonder why we seem unable to correct someone when they have made a fairly obvious mistake; I suspect this is all to do with our horror of being perceived to be rude. Indeed, to us Brits - rudeness, might be judged a sin even more venal than murder, incest or country dancing. For Brits when they first arrive in Majorca, they usually find it a great shock that their long and often elliptical entreaties before ordering a beer or a sandwich falls on the stoney ground of irritation that noiselessly screams - “For God’s sake man - just tell me what you bloody well want?” This was compounded one day when two local plumbers visited our house to sort out a long standing boiler pump issue. As I explained to them in some detail, the timing of events up to, and beyond the boilers failure - one of the chaps said something to his mate and the other one smirked. What did he just say? I mildly enquired. “Nothing really - he just said to me that could we just get on with the job now - as he was losing the will to live.” Come on, how rude is that; after all I was just being polite wasn’t I?