Tag Archives: England

Awkward Conversations with Foreign People

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Hello, reader!  How’s the world treating you today?

One of the best things about living in England is the mutliculturalism.  (What makes it even better is that every time someone says that, Nigel Farage gets a stabbing pain behind his eye.  I have absolutely no evidence to back that up, but you never know…)  This is particularly relevant in London: did you see the re-imagined tube map showing the languages spoken in different parts of London?  Here it is.  How cool is that?!

I don’t understand why UKIP, racists and other generic twats get their knickers in such a twist about British identity.  Firstly, other nationalities have all sorts of beautiful, fascinating and useful things to teach us, as evidenced by all the purloined objects in the British Museum.  If we didn’t think that foreign stuff was cool, we wouldn’t have nicked it in the first place.  Secondly, we’ve kept all the Britishness we’ll ever need.  Seriously, we have.  There are certain British values which to this day remain undiluted, unwavering and inexplicable to people from elsewhere.  Our identity as a nation and our global reputation rest upon these unshakeable pillars of completely peculiar principles.  Here are some examples of things which we Brits are totally fine with, but which we find difficult to explain to people from other countries:

Bonfire Night
“About four hundred years ago, a bloke with a bit of a chip on his shoulder tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, so now we burn effigies of him.”
“And this is a happy time?”
“Oh, yes.  Fireworks, fairground rides, family outings.  All good fun.”
“You celebrate a four-hundred year-old terrorist attack.”
“…Well, yes.  But it’s a failed terrorist attack, if that helps.”

Queueing
“You just stand in the line?”
“You just stand in the line.”
“What if you’re in a hurry?”
“You have to wait.”
“What if you need the toilet?”
“You wait.”
“What if your feet get pins and needles?!”
“You just wait.”
“What if somebody jumps the queue?”
“Ah, well that’s different!  In that case, you TUT.”
“Yeah?”
Very loudly.  And then you carry on waiting.”

Why Tea is So Important
“It just is.”
“But why?”
“It’s traditional.  It’s English.”
“It’s Chinese, actually.”
“Yes, alright, but we like it over here, too!  It’s comforting!”
“How so?”
“Because it’s…hot?”
“So is coffee.”
“Yes, but…”
“And hot chocolate.  Hence the name, ‘hot’ chocolate.”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t find the queen serving hot chocolate to her guests at Windsor, would you?  She’d serve tea.”
“She’d serve coffee to the Americans, I think.”
“Perhaps.”
“And actually, I don’t think she’d be serving it.  I think she has staff to do that.”
“I’m not having this conversation.  Go and put the kettle on.”

Talking About the Weather
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, comment upon the weather.”
“Why?”
“Because weather is the ONLY thing that you can talk about with absolutely anyone at all, without needing any prior knowledge of them as a person.  Unlike religion, politics, current affairs, art and literature, talking about the weather doesn’t involve having an opinion or risk offending someone else.  It’s an excellent way to start or maintain a conversation with someone by purely stating empirical, uncontroversial facts. No one can argue with ‘nice day today, isn’t it?'”
“If you don’t want to talk to someone about their opinions or discuss interesting topics, why on earth are you talking to them?”
“…I have no idea.”

Sarcasm
“So you’re saying one thing, but you mean the opposite.”
“Yeah.  It’s a type of humour.”
“But why do you need it?  Why can’t you just say what you mean, like America does?”
“Oh yeah, because British people would love to be more like America.”
“Really?”
“NO.  THAT WAS SARCASM.”

So there you have it: the British identity in a nutshell.  Obviously those are all a bit silly, but you know what I mean: we’re a pretty odd bunch, and our identity as a nation isn’t going anywhere.  We are the affable, slightly strange grandfather at the global dinner table, and we’re ok with that.  We also need to be ok with other cultural identities, even if they seem strange to us.  Bearing that in mind, could somebody take Farage’s toys away and send him to his room?  No dessert for intolerant eejits, I’m afraid.

Have an amazing Tuesday!

St. Patrick’s Day Perspectives

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Good morning and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I was born and raised in Watford (which has its own special set of ramifications that we can come back to another time), but I also have a lot of Irish heritage.  I didn’t get some of the Irish genes that I would have liked -the gorgeous red hair and pale skin went to my little sister in this generation – but a lot of aspects of my personality are more Irish than Watfordian, such as my deep-rooted conviction that feeding people will solve everything.

I also have several Irish friends, and it is their perspective of this saint’s day that I would like to tell you about this morning.  These friends have been brought up in Northern Ireland (or “Norn Iron”, if you like), but moved over to England for university.  One of them stayed over here for a while and has only recently moved back to Belfast for a fantastic job, and another has just moved to Italy for a few months.  They are passionate, talented and interesting people who are definitely going places, but who are also (quite rightly) proud of where they’ve come from.

Interestingly, the general consensus of their favourite St. Patrick’s Days has been their first one away from Ireland.  I reckon the main reason for this is probably that they were at university with a whole new group of friends, and there is a novelty about today that we English like to maximise.  (For instance, walk into any Asda in the country and look at the St. Patrick’s Day costumes they’ve got in store.  Hey wow, as my friend Carly would say.)  One of my friends said that she was overwhelmed by how many people turned up to her first Paddy’s Day party in England: “They also didn’t just turn up, everyone dressed up – the face paint was everywhere!  It was brilliant craic!”  I was at that party and it’s true, the face paint really took over the evening, and we had a great time.

Another friend of mine decided to use what he describes as the “It’s St. Patrick’s Day and I’m Irish, so bend to my will” card by persuading the staff at one of our uni bars to change the television channel: “I got…them to put the schools’ rugby final (a Northern Irish tradition, it’s quite a big deal) on the big screens. I then got my first few drinks in of the day while I watched my old school get thoroughly trounced. I washed down the disappointment and disgust with a few more beers. Then travelled to the late Rutherford bar [another drinking hole on campus] for a brunch of “traditional Irish stew”.  (It was nothing of the sort. I mean, it was quite nice but nothing like mammy used to make…)”

When I asked my friends about the differences between celebrating St. Patrick’s Day over here and in Ireland, I got a very interesting set of responses: the biggest differences actually seem to be between Northern Ireland and the Republic, because of the Catholic/Protestant divide in Northern Ireland: “It isn’t an official bank holiday here like it is down South.  Nevertheless, quite a few schools and businesses take the day off work.”  I was also told that “in Ireland pretty much everything shuts down; transport, banks, schools etc. (Not the pubs. Obviously.) …I hear the Belfast and Dublin parties are pretty great (albeit the ones in Belfast can get a little hairy – St. Patrick’s Day is most definitely a Catholic holiday”.  In terms of how the English celebrate this day, one of my friends made a very canny observation: “I think for England it’s a great day to drink like the Irish and get the craic going, leaving that old stiff upper lip behind for a day!”  And who can argue with that?

Similarly, I got a very good explanation for why this day seems to be more popular than other UK patron saints’ days: “St Patrick’s Day is a whole lot of fun. Everyone around the world is familiar with the stereotype of what it is to be Irish (I’ve not been to a country yet where someone hasn’t piped up with the old “oh, you’re Irish, do you want a Guinness/potato/leprechaun?”) and more importantly, people like what that stereotype entails: being jolly, cracking jokes and getting drunk with your friends.” 

I completely agree with my friends that today’s socially acceptable jollity is something that we English find appealing because it’s the perfect meeting point between our binge-drinking culture and our traditional self-control, and who can resist shunning their own stereotype for the day in order to adopt someone else’s (which is also a lot more fun)?

So today is a good time for celebration and fun, but what would my Irish friends like to change about this holiday?  One of my friends has an excellent and touching St. Patrick’s Day wish: “I wish that all Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities throughout Northern Ireland who don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day due to it being associated with the Republic of Ireland and the Nationalist communities would come out and celebrate.  It is a day that can unite us, whether you are Irish, Northern Irish, Catholic, Protestant or from a minority.”

Another friend of mine who has a slightly different set of priorities has made this impassioned plea: “If I could change one thing about the day it’d probably be this: hot girls with atrociously fake Irish accents get more free pints than genuine Irish guys desperate for another pint. There is something very wrong about this and I think someone really ought to do something.”

Have a brilliant St. Patrick’s Day everyone, and remember to drink your novelty green beer responsibly.