Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Englishmen Can Be Rude, Too

By Tom Kando

There is always the widespread feeling that the British are classy. For example, Downton Abbey is wildly popular at this time, but the stereotype is longstanding. As are other stereotypes, such as the rude Frenchman, the jolly but sexually harassing Italian, the humorless German/Swiss (take your pick), the duplicitous Greek/Hungarian (take your pick), the miserly Dutchman/Jew (take your pick).

The British (and other Anglos, such as Australians and Canadians) usually come off relatively unscathed in these prejudices - probably because Anglo-Saxon culture still dominates the world, even though more and more precariously.

But I want to lodge a contrary note: My wife, my children and I have traveled around the world for decades, visiting dozens of countries, including Australia, Britain and just about every other European country. I must tell you: Many of the meanest people we have encountered over the years were English, or some other form of Anglo-Saxon. Here is a sample of our experiences:

1. During the early eighties, we went to Australia. Anti-Americanism was at its height, perhaps still due to the aftermath of the Vietnam war. Of course, hostility towards us by liberal Australians was misplaced, since we were progressive and anti-war ourselves. Nevertheless, here is an exchange which took place between my wife and a Sidney farmers market vendor:
My wife: “My, you have wonderful fresh produce here! I wish we could find such fine farmers markets in California...”
Farmers market vendor: “You know what you can do with your California supermarkets, mam!” (Meaning: shove it up your ass)
My wife was stunned. She tried to explain to the man that he misunderstood, and that she was actually complimenting him...

2. A few years later, we were in London. We were walking down the street and having some difficulty finding our way, so I asked a couple of those proverbial, highly respectable British little old ladies for directions. They asked:
 “Are you yanks or Canadians?”
When we replied that we were Americans, they told us that in that case they wouldn’t help us.

3. On another occasion, we went to see the Merchant of Venice at a West End theater (London). We had bought a number of tickets in advance, but one of our party had to cancel, so we had an extra ticket. People were lined up to buy tickets as well. So I approached someone and asked if he would please buy my extra ticket, either for face value, or even at a discount. No way was I “scalping” or trying to make a profit. Yet, a nasty customer who was standing by told me that I was committing a crime for which I could go to jail.

4. One time, I was somewhere downtown London, trying to get to Piccadilly Circus. Again, I had some difficulty finding my way, and I had to ask a passerby for directions. The man began to explain to me how to get to Piccadilly Circus, pointing his hand in an unexpected direction. I guess I was turned around. I made the mistake of saying: “Are you sure?” His reply: “If you don’t believe me , don’t ask me, asshole!”

5. Even outside of England, the English have sometimes managed to give us a hard time. Once my wife and I were having dinner at a sidewalk restaurant near Pigalle (Paris). There was a British couple sitting at a table nearby, and they derided us during the entire dinner, laughing and snickering about something - I never figured out what.

6. We have experienced many other instances of anti-Americanism from English people. Unprovoked political polemics about the evil imperialist USA, the usual stuff...

Don’t tell me “well, you must be doing something wrong. Somehow, you must elicit these things.” I have traveled in 50 countries and lived for DECADES in four of them. I have had both nice and bad experiences everywhere. I am progressive and as critical of many US policies as the next guy. But blind anti-American prejudice drives me up the wall.

During the Bush years, when America was the laughing stock of the world, many Americans who went overseas were telling people over there that they were Canadians. I found this ridiculous. It’s one thing to be a tasteless, flag-waving jingoist, but to be AFRAID of acknowledging your nationality? To be ASHAMED of being an American? That’s gross cowardice.

Well, I am sorry for this fly in the ointment. As I said, the English and related folks are generally viewed as more simpatico than most other nationalities. I just wanted to lodge a mild demurrer. I realize that I am talking about things that happened some time ago, at a time when anti-Americanism was perhaps more virulent (and more topical). But I wanted to share these experiences with you, and also remind you that Englishmen can be rude, too. leave comment here