The English Temperament

October 27, 2008

Perhaps the most startling thing about relocating to England has been the people. And I don’t just mean, “they call this English? I can barely make heads or tails of what they’re saying!” Oh, that reminds me: Here in the UK, they say “bits and bobs” where we would say “odds and ends.” But my POINT was that it’s NOT just linguistic and idiomatic differences. There is a fundamental difference to the way people behave here.

Now, to be fair, this should probably be titled “The Oxford Temperament,” so take these thoughts with a grain of salt the size of Rhode Island – which, did you know, is larger than the island nation of Jamaica? – but at the same time, it cannot be exclusively Oxonian, for reasons which will become clear later.

I’ve spent a long time defending my thesis that English people behave differently (especially considering I’m only aiming for 500 words), but I still haven’t told you HOW they behave differently. Well, it’s quite simple really – they don’t smile.

You might think that a petty grievance, but once you’re here, it becomes painfully clear that we smile to as a gesture of peace between strangers. Here, when I look someone in the eye, and smile, they will often as not, stare at me coldly for a moment and then look away.

Now my ego dictates that this doesn’t mean that everyone in Oxford thinks I’m an idiot. So, in keeping with my previous article, I’ve come up with the following explanation:

1. English people have bad teeth. This, it should be noted, is not a god-given truth, but a stereotype which has been applied to English people. Therefore, it is not that English people “have bad teeth,” but rather that English people “THINK they have bad teeth.”

2. The weather here is dreary, at times. Again, not gospel, but just an observation: as an island nation, it is subject to heavy cloud cover with fair frequency. Hawai’i sees rain almost every day, but it’s not big enough to keep its clouds for very long.

3. As a result of (1) and (2) above, we find that English people are less likely to smile. This is simply because they are self-conscious about their supposed teeth defects, and that the weather gives them fewer reasons to smile.

4. Now as we all know, smiling is a positive-feedback-loop. That is, when you smile, you release endorphins, which make you happy, which makes you smile, and so on. Of course, the opposite is also true. If you don’t smile or, heaven forfend, frown, you are more likely to be glum.

5. Therefore, because of (1), (2), (3), and (4) above taken together, we can see a simple logic which creates a culture in which smiling is NOT the norm.

Today’s article, as you may have already noticed (if you were keeping count), is going to exceed 500 words. Think of it as a penance on my part for being over 14 hours late in posting this beast.

But back to the issue at hand. Now, as I promised, I am going to show that this can’t be merely a fluke of how awful it is to live in Oxford (although we do get several extra inches of rainfall compared to the rest of the country, for whatever reason). Consider the following image:

If you can’t read the text in the picture, the important bit says:

“Myasthenia Gravis means muscle weakness, it can be fatal, effects all ages and genders.”

Ladies and gentleman, The british have so excelled at the art of not smiling, they have turned it into a disease which “can be fatal.” A disease so prevalent there is a billboard campaign for it!

Now if that doesn’t suggest a widespread problem, or at least a high-profile one, I don’t know what does…

Please do comment, I like to hear from you guys on how crazy I am 🙂

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3 Responses to “The English Temperament”

  1. Chris Says:

    You know, I read this article while I was in Europe written by a British journalist about America (this is relevant, I promise). Now, obviously America does not enjoy the most pleasant reputation abroad, and the UK especially has been known for its America spoofs. For instance, they had a show about a dumb and obese cowboy trucker white trash family who basically were fat and did dumb things. So this British journalist came to visit the US for whatever reason, and while being disgusted by some practices (probably the death penalty and such, I can’t remember), she came away writing an article called, “7 Things the US Does Better”. Most of those things were related to affection. For example, she marveled at how much American mothers held their children, played with their children, laughed, and showered them with love. She marveled at how American’s smiled at each other, how they express emotion in public (PDAs et al), and also about how late shit stays open.

    Now those reasons you mentioned for UK stoicism seem pretty good, although I’m guessing there’s more to it. I think some of it might be because they’ve got this tiny-ass island, which gives the nation “small-dick” syndrome, and so the go expansionist wild (with the help of tea), but they keep the island as an isolated fortress. Once you have a small dreary island with a fortress mentality and expansionist dreams, you get moody, rod-up-the-ass, take-themselves-too-seriously motherfuckers.

    What do you think?

    • Janet Darlington Says:

      Thanks for the parts about Americans. I am glad we don’t ship our kids off to abusive schools at 7 yrs of age and seem to respect our children (not perfect tho) more than they.

  2. Janet Darlington Says:

    How difficult it must be for you. I watch Brit sitcoms and.notice differences. It is especially interesting in the differences of relating watching Irish sitcoms.


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