OK UK?: Sorry America, I'm Still English...
Sorry, Still English...
As my Father would always say, “Well you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?” which is the English way of asking for permission before humorously decimating, well, just about anything or anyone.
Luckily I am six thousand miles away in California, so I’m unlikely to come to any actual physical harm, however, I am perfectly positioned to look at my homeland with an interesting perspective.
England is weird as all get out.
I know this, we are unapologetically strange, or as we put it "totally doo-lally-tap' (like using phrases such as that one, which everybody knows, but no-one can explain!)
We wear our nuttiness with pride, using words such as quirky or eccentric or creative. It is as if the entire island woke up one rainy morning (aren't they all?) and said "Bugger normal, let's all be a bit more bloody unique."
The idea, as I understand it, is to clearly define 'us' and ' them'. Them being foreigners. We loudly, and very rudely, declare all foreigners as strange beings with weird habits. And then happily eat their food.
This is all a hangover from when we ruled the world. We had a great plan, back in the day. It involved being very arrogant, very rich, had a Protestant God on our side, and the most powerful Navy in the world. (No, no, America is totally different!)
First you land, then you steal, then you help them find the right God, then you introduce cricket, and, once you are comfortably ensconsed, you call them derogatory names. This, unfortunately, backfires, with the name-calling being the proverbial last straw, making the natives really, really, angry and suggesting you go back to your island.
Back at home, we hunker down in our neat bungalows (stole that one from India) wearing our best pajamas (ditto) drinking tea (there's a theme here...) and declare the ungrateful natives to be "Bloody… (fill in the name here)."
That particular figure of speech has become so ingrained, former Prime Minister Tony Blair was recorded at a diplomatic function talking about "the Bloody French." the news hounds of the world reported this diplomatic faux pas in horror.
The island of Britain, gave a collective shrug, and said, "well, they are".
(Notice how the phrase for really cocking things up is, in fact, French?)
It is singularly shocking to leave the cocoon of England, and discover yourself through other people’s eyes. And, even though we coined the term 'politically correct', we actually meant it as a joke. This is the natural home of scarcasm , (sarcasm that wounds), with an entire country expert practitioners of the art.
We have whole books, written by genuinely famous authors like Churchill and Wilde, full of pithy put-downs, and scorching observational humor.
While much of our derision is reserved for foreigners, we maintain a healthy level of self-excoriation. Nothing is seen as going too far, taboo or sacred, and what remnants of decency that were left after the sixties, got used up by the Pythons.
In some cultures it is deemed insensitive to be rude to one’s host. In England, a well-timed insult is considered de rigueur. I learned the hard way that what is deemed normal in dear-old-blighty, goes over like the proverbial lead balloon here in Cali. There was much marital discord as I blithely insulted my wife’s horrified friends in the mistaken belief that I was being both friendly and funny. Can you believe it? An insult is taken as an insult.
This meant I quickly had to learn to play with the verbal equivalent of a straight bat, and it was not easy I can tell you. Fortunately, my wife was also friends with a pair of Scottish ladies, and in no time at all we were insulting each other with reckless abandon. What a concept; sanity through sarcasm (it’s also how teachers survive on a daily basis!)
It’s been twenty years since those rookie mistakes, and I now embrace my American persona (such as using words like rookie,) but the memories are still painfully fresh.
Here, I am told that I have a cute accent.
Back home for my Father’s funeral, I horrified the mourners by apparently speaking with an American accent, though I took great pains to ‘Brit’ it up.
I now officially reside in a linguistic no-mans land, but when I write, as my editor/wife regularly reminds me, I still have an aversion to the comma, and i always start in the passive voice.
Sorry, still English…
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