A few years ago I heard a book serialised on the radio called ‘Notes from a Small Island’ by Bill Bryson, an American.  I laughed so much I went and bought it, and when we were grimly cutting down on books we could bring from a large vicarage to a small flat, Bryson escaped the chop.  Then this Christmas an American friend of Hub’s sent us her copy, and now I am reading it and laughing my socks off all over again.

Bryson has lived in England many years and really loves it.  But he is still an American and he has lots of observations and comments to make about our funny little habits.  Take this bit:

‘One of the charms of the British is that they have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their happiness.  You will laugh to hear me say it, but they are the happiest people on earth.  Honestly.  Watch any two Britons in conversation and see how long it is before they smile or laugh over some joke or pleasantry.  It won’t be more than a few seconds … 

…And the British are so easy to please.  It is the most extraordinary thing.  They actually like their pleasures small … they are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake.  Offer them something genuinely tempting – a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box – and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it’s unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.

‘Oh I shouldn’t really’ they say.
‘Oh, go on,’ you prod encouragingly.
‘Well, just a small one then,’ they say and dartingly take a small one, and then get a look as if they have just done something terribly devilish.  All this is completely alien to the American mind.  To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one’s mouth more or less continuously.  Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright….

… I used to be puzzled by the curious British attitude to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies – ‘well, it makes a change’, ‘mustn’t grumble’, ‘you could do worse’, ‘it’s not much but it’s cheap and cheerful’, ‘it was quite nice really’ – but gradually I came round to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier.’

Mind you, I can think of some exceptions.  The British are not easy to please when it comes to government … but then, is there a nation on earth which is??  I think not.  
You could say that we aren’t easy to please with our football, either.  On the other hand, we are really good losers – good sports, playing the game, shaking the other fella by the hand, etc … 
What d’ya reckon??


18 thoughts on “BRITISH – HAPPIEST NATION?

  1. I love this book too – the pants on his head in the bus-shelter the first night he arrives and there are no trains out….:)) and all his spin on English landladies etc.. and men getting terribly excited about which road to take somewhere and so on….:) yes a fab book… and hilariously written….
    I am so pleased he finds us such a happy lot – I’d forgotten that bit! :)) Wonderful! Funnily enough I was just thinking about re-reading it myself the other day… must have been long distancely reading your mind! :)xxx


    1. There are so many funny bits … just been chortling at how he sends up the menu in one place which has very pseudo-French fancy names for the food … so he dreams up fancy names to describe what he’s doing :)) It’s a great book for a bit of a giggle and if we need cheering up!


  2. I’d agree except in Scotland where the SNP are making life a misery. eg police cars everywhere checking whether you had a glass of wine with your dinner the night before.
    A new bag tax falling heavily on the poor who shop every day.
    Creating antagonisms with the English where non existed before . They resurrect battles from past centuries to invoke hatred for the English.
    I loved Scotland before this wretched Nationalism was conjured up. I am ashamed that St Andrews University ( I attended St Andrews University as well ) ]didn’t knock his ideas about Nationalism on the head before releasing him to create mayhem in this side of the border.

    This Alex Salmon has forgotten that it was Nationalism which led to death and destruction in World War 2.

    The Americans lost many lives stopping the spread of Fascism.


    1. I can’t speak about the Scots, I really don’t know them as a nation, although I do admire what the Scots have accomplished. Let’s hope this nationalism doesn’t resurrect old rivalries and we make the transition to a federation as smoothly as possible.


      1. I regarded Scotland in the same way as I view Cornwall or the Lake District or the Isle of Skye.
        English people have never banged on in every second sentence about England preferring for most part to say when asked about their Nationality ‘I’m British’.

        Some said that when Nationalists say ‘how much they love their country’, they should be asked ‘why stop at the border ‘?

        Nationalism is really based upon greed………….. ‘let a small fraction of the population maximize its share of natural resources’.


      2. I think there are other reasons for nationalism too – a lot of it is about identity and power. Interestingly, Bryson doesn’t go north of the border or to Wales or Ireland, he sticks to England because he is getting around by public transport. He lived in Yorkshire for many years and loved it.


      3. That’s where I come from Bradford, Shipley, Baildon, Ripon and surrounds.
        I feel England on its own and Scotland on its own would be less if separated, diminished in influence and creative energy.


      4. It may be possible to be two distinct nations but in a federation like the States, where each region makes its own decisions but chooses how to work constructively together. Not that I’m advocating being like the States altogether … that gives me a shudder!


      5. If UK was as large as USA other options would be viable but all these parliaments in UK have to be paid for by taxation…………. its like a job creation scheme for the boys in Edinburgh……… totally unnecessary.
        Examples Trams installed at a cost of £ 1billion ………….. Parliament building no fixed price contract but cost £m490 and so it goes on. A smaller Parliament in London is all we require.


      6. He must be better because his website says that he preached today in Canterbury Cathedral – it’s the feast day of Thomas a Becket who was of course famously murdered in that cathedral.


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