Being British….

The NYT ponders what it is to be British. What makes that tricky is separating “British” from “English.” I know what it is to be English. It means that you cannot hear this quote without welling up:

“If I should die, think only this of me / That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” (from Rupert Brooke’s World War I sonnet, “The Soldier.”)

But I think I understand Britishness too, that essence of Albion that the Welsh and the Scots also feel. For me*, to be British is:

to have the world’s freest press; to (even though we might envy their climate and their food) feel pity for Continentals; to not really know how the country runs (no written constitution and all) but not give two hoots about it; to have a powerful sense of liberty and fair-play; to find pleasure in simple things; to be stoic; to not need flags and anthems to feel patriotic; to go to the beach on a cold day; to not make a fuss; to have brilliant television and music; to have English words that no other Anglophone can really get away with saying (“bloody,” “wanker,” “twat,” “fab,” etc.); to no longer have post-colonial guilt….

Yep, being British is very cool. There are honestly only three** things I don’t like about my country. One, the obsession with getting drunk; two, the painfully high house prices; three, tabloid, gutter newspapers. I even like the stuff people bash us about (the food, the weather): curry–yum! showers in the summer–refreshing!

So, what does it mean to be American?

*I realise of course, that to be British when living on a rough council estate is pretty crappy. My “British” is one of middle-class privilege. (And what I’ve just said here, BTW, demonstrates another thing about being British: a sense of realism and honesty about life.)
**I thought of another: overcrowded trains



  1. It’s such a large country, it’s hard to find aspects that apply in all parts. Also, it’s hard to find something that some Scandinavian country doesn’t do better.Umm, we landed on the moon! Take that, Sweden!


  2. David, I was really surprised that you dislike America so much. When Ronan solicited what it means to be American, I suspect he meant that in a positive sense, as evidence by his description of what it means for him to be British.Lancer gets defensive when liberals are described as America haters, but if we go by your description of what it is to be American (as you are a self-defined liberal), even your second list, where it feels like you are really straining to find something and only grudgingly expressing it to boot, then it would seem that the accusations that bother Lancer so much are actually true.There is nothing grand about being an American, like there is about being British in Ronan’s description? No inherent qualities that are praiseworthy; no traits or traditions that make you proud to be an American? I cringed when Ronan wrote “so, what does it mean to be American,” because I knew that it would be an immediate bully pulpit for America-bashing. Being a superpower isn’t all bad David; even you can’t deny that.


  3. David, your caricature really pissed me off.Now I’ll leave before I can’t stop myself from writing a string of profanities directed at you.It was not so much your superficial and stereotyped criticisms/condemnations of America as the context in which you thought you should write them, given the tone and content of Ronan’s post.


  4. Ouch, steady on lads! (To be British: to behave like gentlemen, football hooligans excepted).I had hoped for positive things about “being American” and I hope you will contribute some, JF.OK, here’s what it is to “be American” according to me (and remember, my Baltimore-born daughter is an America…for now!:to be optimistic; to believe in honor and freedom; to find ecstasy grilling meat in one’s backyard on a summer evening; to make steel and glass look beautiful; to have kids from Kansas willing to die for a cause that is very unlikely to affect Kansas; to be confident; to have unparalleled outdoor beauty….


  5. john f,sorry you felt that way, man. i was straining to state some of those things, it seems to me like i’ve got a lot on my mind about what i don’t like more than what i do like about being american. that’s my problem, man. i should change that.go ahead and cuss at me man, i deserve it.again, i was just being silly, there’s winky faces interlaced in there, and ronan knows how america sometimes lets me down–we discussed it previously.dude, sorry again. i love reading your posts on stuff, your opinions are great to me. you’re one of the few that i like. even though i ticked you off (immensely), my respect for you hasn’t waned.ronan, sorry for sullying your post with silliness. deepest apologies.


  6. For me, it’s stupid optimism. “What’s that you say? Find the North-West Passage? Of course we can!” or “Land on the Moon? You bet!” I think that’s what drives a lot of American innovation, both technically and socially. Of course, there’s a fine line between stupid optimism and bald-faced stupidity, but you take what you can get.I’ll agree that the Brits have produced some musical gems (including < HREF="" REL="nofollow">the best pop band ever<>, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and “the only band that matters”), but I think we are capable of giving them a < HREF="" REL="nofollow">run<> for their money.


  7. Well, I agree that the Brits are much better pop musicians than anyone else in the world, my Atomic Dustbin notwithstanding.Instead of the Beatles, Stones, Zep, and Who (since I’m not a fogey like those over at Kulturblog), I’d mention: Morrissey, the Smiths, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker, Pulp, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Blur, New Order, Travis, Belle and Sebastian, Bloc Party, etc.We’re not worthy. Also, Ronan, I think you sell your newspapers short. Sure, you have to put up with embarassments like the Sun, but Britain surely has the highest ratio of great newspapers per person. For a country of only 55 million, it’s quite amazing, really.When Maude and I went to England the last time, we spent most of our time buying books, reading newspapers, watching TV and buying Cadbury’s.


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