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