There are many things I admire about the British: their literature, their love of animals, their willingness to make do when necessary, the rise of Simon Pegg and Ricky Gervais. I admire a strong “shut up and get the job done” attitude, which is increasingly uncommon these days, even in England. Of course, we’re bound to hear more from the complaining louts than we are about those who simply press on, so it’s hard to determine which group outnumbers the other.
However (and there is a big however), what I dislike is their unmitigated contempt for other countries and cultures. I once met an Englishman in line for last-minute tickets at the Chicago Opera, who turned to me and said, “I suppose the American way is simply to pay too much from a scalper, isn’t that right?” When I demurred, and the line moved along, I noted his sudden rush for the door and subsequent accosting of, yes, a scalper. When he passed me after obtaining his tickets illegally, he avoided my eyes. Ah, yes.
Then, in high school, there was the sudden senior year arrival of an English girl named Caroline. When interviewed by the school paper as a new student, she said, “Being British is like being a member of the most exclusive club in the world.” What club exactly is that, I still wonder? A football club known for violently attacking fans of opposing teams, or the ever-swelling club of immature men intent on believing that their imitation of Monty Python routines are funny, decades after their debut? Or perhaps the club to which she referred was the club of skinheads who still refer to people of color as “darkies” (at best) and Jews as “kikes”. What I notice is that while the British are quite able to accept criticism from each other, they never, ever hesitate to deal it out, even toward countries they’ve never visited, let alone people they’ve never met.
Finally, as ultimate proof of my belief in the everlasting xenophobia of the British, consider this historical reality: what punishment did they devise as a mere step above death? Banishment. And banishment to where? A sunny island of unsurpassed natural beauty, aka, the polar opposite of Britain itself.
I’m sure I will continue to love many things about the English: pasties (the food), Dorset, cake competitions, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, the BBC. But I’d also like to call Britain out for what she is: insular, arrogant, hypocritical, and a bit backwards (plumbing and heating, this means you). I believe she can stand a bit of what she routinely dispenses. If not, well, I suppose she’ll put on her Wellies and march right out to the Home Counties where she can find her commiserating fellows, and have a stiff one.
Tell you what, lads: have one on me. Or maybe on John Oliver, who makes his living telling us all the ways in which we fail to measure up. Well done, John.