Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The English -- a dour race?

Something funny happened on the way to Sunday Lunch last weekend.

(Define terms: Sunday Lunch = beloved English ritual. The apotheosis of Sunday Lunch is roast beef, roast potatoes, yorkshire pudding, carrots, broccoli and gravy. It is a deeply satisfying meal and meant to be enjoyed after a long walk in bracing weather. If you aren't going to exercise first I recommend starving your family by not feeding them breakfast. Either way, the stomach is prepared to receive large quantities of gravy-drenched food and the Mother has neatly avoided cooking on Sunday.)

So where were we? Yes, in the car . . . driving up Ashmore Green Road (very narrow; requires careful driving past horse and pedestrian traffic). We passed by a man -- nothing unusual in that -- but then he WAVED at us. Whole family in unison: "Do you know that man?"

Clearly, I've been in England too long.
Let me explain.

English people do not just wave or smile gratuitously; they are not like Americans in this way. Unless they know you, and maybe not even then, they are unlikely to acknowledge your presence. Perhaps it is some vestige of the old style of good manners; when it was thought impolite to address someone before being formally introduced. Perhaps it is just ill humor or a general lack of joyousness or the fact that your average English person would rather choke than utter that American commonplace "have a nice day!" I really don't know. But what I do know is that I've obviously started to adjust.

In less than a month I will be visiting my parents in Salado, Texas -- and yes, before you ask, home to the famous Stagecoach Inn. I don't know what the exact population of Salado is -- several thousand, I guess -- but when I go for long walks there I feel like I know each and every Saladoite. Every car (usually truck) that passes contains a person waving to me as if I were his or her long-lost best friend. If it's not too hot, and the windows are rolled down, I (or you, if you were there with me) am bound to get the full "Howdy" treatment. That behavior passes for normal in small-town Texas, but I'm starting to worry that I'm going to strain my neck -- what with the constant jerking backwards to query "do I know you?"

I'm reminded of an English friend who once visited Texas and chewed out a poor friendly little bag-boy after one chirpy greeting too many.

Okay, I'm not claiming to be the first person to notice that the English are a little, say cheerless, at times. They don't really go in for sober enthusiasm: it's a downright oxymoron. However, I would like to point out that when I finally got around to reading the Sunday newspaper (Monday morning), I saw this headline: You Brits just love being miserable.

Former New York Times journalist Eric Weiner has just written a book titled The Geography of Bliss -- and apparently, the Brits are perversely challenged in the bliss department. Weiner writes:

For the British, happiness is a transatlantic import.
And by transatlantic, they mean American.
And by American they mean silly infantile drivel.
Britain is a great place for grumps,
and most Brits, I suspect, derive a perverse pleasure from their grumpiness.
I've traditionally blamed this grumpy attitude on the weather. Seasonal Affective Disorder. All of those Northern Europeans killing themselves after months of being smothered in thick, damp cloud. But what if it's something else? Is happiness just unseemly in England? Is this going to start rubbing off on me, too?
I'm not sure if Happiness is alive and well in England, but at least they still have HUMOUR. (That would be "humor" to you Yanks.)
In lieu of closing remarks, I bring you the witticisms of Lucy Mangan. Her self-deprecating writing style brings me joy with the arrival of every Weekend Guardian. Here is some select commentary from an account of her first visit to NYC.
Everything that I've heard about America is true.
It is unconstitutional to be hungry here.
I've never noticed it before, but eating out in England
always incorporates a punitive element.
Either the waiters, the price or the joyless munching
of your fellow diners suggests that you really should
be indoors eating powdered egg and sucking on a used teabag.
None of that here.
The whole city is like some vast, walk-in larder.


chris said...

I don't mind you commenting on my blog at all! And you live in the English countryside--way better than NC, probably. Although, we have great BBQ.

Brave Sir Robin Hussein said...

The whole city is like some vast, walk-in larder.

Yes, and it is too. Anywonder we are a nation of fatties!

- - - - - - - -
Wow! Salado!!!! I love Salado! Yes, I have eaten at the Stagecoach Inn. (More than a few times) My fondest memory of that place is the banana fritters. i was about 10 the first time we went to Salado. My dad was in the restaurant business, and we went to a week long convention there. mmmmmmm banana fritters . . . .

Salado today has grown up from when I was a kid. I could easily live there, but alas that nasty little thing called work just gets in the way.

Isn't the internet amazing? Here you are a half a continent away, and your parents live three hours away in my favorite little resort town.

Bee said...

Chris and Brave Sir Robin,

Yes, it is an astounding thing that we can engage in a conversational threesome -- what with the geographical difficulties.

About the Stagecoach Inn: my favorite thing is actually the waitresses. I love the fact that they all have "Flo" hairdos and have name badges telling you how long they've worked there.

Have you ever been to The Range? It's owned by some friends of ours.

The things I really love about Salado are (1) taking long walks and (2) roasting hot dogs and marshmallows in my parents' backyard (two acres of trees and scrub, basically). My Mom made a fire circle.
I'm really bummed about March Easter; Easter is traditionally the time we visit, but I'm not going to get my bunny cake this year.