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??