Rob Temple, Very British Problems

This is the book of the Twitter hashtag – a selection of examples of behaviour which is perceived as characteristically British, with some more related discussion about matters such as British weather. I recognised a lot of it – especially the chapter about driving, and other traits such as the recent tendency to whisper at people when asking them to move aside, rather than speak out loud. But much of it seems to reinforce a stereotype which doesn’t reflect reality, or at least only partially.

Throughout there is an assumption that people will do anything rather than speak to someone they don’t know. I think this is a south of England thing. Alongside it is an assumption that people will do anything rather than speak to a work colleague outside work – for example by hiding from them on a bus or train. Really? Perhaps I have been lucky in my workplaces, but when a colleague and I have spotted one another on the way to or from work, we have acknowledged one another, and more often than not sat down together (or walked alongside one another) and chatted about work or other matters for at least part of the journey.

Maybe I am just not very British by temperament. For example, I refuse point blank to drink instant coffee and am not terrified by the prospect of speaking in public. The two things I find most baffling about my fellow citizens are their tolerance for poor quality salted butter, and their love of picnicking in car parks (although I gather the latter characteristic is to be found also among Iranians).

This kind of book of observations about behaviour sometimes becomes a classic (we have an entertaining set of them by Paul Jennings), but I think this one will not age well. There are too many references to current personalities, TV shows and so on which will have been forgotten in a decade’s time. And technology and such matters as the layout of supermarkets are changing so fast that references to them will soon be baffling. So if you’re going to read this, do it while it is still topical!

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