|Roleplaying In Blighty|
Clothes We Don't Wear / Fashions We Don't Follow
Two images appear to dominate American film-makers' view of England. The punk, with wild Mohican haircut and a safety pin through his nose, and the city gent, with his black suit, bowler hat and brolly.
Okay here's the deal:
Punks. You will occasionally see one of these on a London Street. But only very rarely. I might see a punk, or group of punks, perhaps once or twice a year. Basically the punk thing happened in the seventies for a couple of years, then collapsed back into being just one small niche culture amongst many.
The bowler-hatted city gent. I personally have NEVER seen a bowler hat except on television. Bubba claims that he has, but that he saw more while holidaying in New York than he ever did here. I communicate daily into London on trains packed with people working in the business, governmental and financial communities of London, so trust me on this one. Most of them (the blokes at least) wear normal suits, shirt and tie, while some, like me, slob it out in jeans and T-shirt. I'd guess that if you put them next to a train-load of commuters from New York you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Names We Don't Have
Contrary to what you might have been taught, typical English people under the age of sixty don't have names like Alfred and Albert. As I'm sure is the case with most countries, names here follow fashions and you can pretty much guess from someone's first name how old they are. In fact direct marketting companies have software which enables them to target mailshots to different age groups using exactly this principal.
Things We Don't Say
This is a pretty long list, but includes:
"My good man."
It certainly includes, when some kind of supernatural horror beast thing materialises out of a wall in front of two punks: "Cor lumme Bert, what's that?"
(Tip to the American company that produced this comic. A more realistic line would have been: "Jesus, Wayne! What the fuck's that!").
Something we don't say very often is "sir". Policemen call members of the public "sir". Schoolchildren call male members of staff "sir". There might be a few cases where employees of a company call customers "sir". But that's about it.
In every company I have ever worked for I have never had to call a boss sir. In fact, I've never even had to call them Mr So-in-so. Every single person had been on first name terms, even where it's the most junior filing clerk talking to the managing director.
Landscapes We Don't Possess
I remember, as a child, reading a comic where the hero was taking a holiday in a place that he claimed was Britain but which was pretty unrecognisable to me. A tip to that comic company. Britain is small. It has only one climate zone. Slightly moist and nicely green. Rolling grass-covered hills. We don't have deserts. At all. Ever. (Except for several hundred million years ago but that's a tad more geology that any of us wish to talk about).
Oaths We Don't Swear / Pledges We Don't Make / Anthems We Don't Sing
I believe - write in and flame me if I am wrong - that it is common in the US for children to pledge allegiance to the flag in their schools in the morning. There basically isn't any real equivalent of this practice in this country.
Members of the armed forces, members of Parliament and various other officials are required to swear an oath of allegiance to "Queen Elizabeth II her heirs and successors." I would guess that this is our equivalent of when an American swears allegiance to the constitution. In both cases the symbolism (it seems to me) is that you are swearing allegiance to the country rather than the government in power.
However, a normal person would generally go through his or her life without ever having to make any declaration of loyalty to their country.
In addition, we don't generally sing the National Anthem ("God Save The Queen"). It's basically sung at sporting occasions and the Last Night of the Proms (a yearly concert where loads of posh people wave flags) and that's about it.
As I sit here writing this I have been racking my brains and I honestly cannot recall any occasion where I have sung the National Anthem, or made any kind of declaration of allegiance, or waved a Union Jack.
It's not that I'm unpatriotic. It's just that we aren't into flag waving. In actual fact, if you were - say - to put a Union Jack patch onto your jacket, most people would assume from this action that you were a Nazi.
Telephone Boxes We Don't Have
The old-style red telephone box, with all those tiny panes of glass is pretty-much gone now. I remember them from my childhood, but about fifteen years ago the phone company ripped them all out and replaced them with cheap-and-nasty glass and metal jobs.
You will find a few of the old phone boxes in central London because Westminster council slapped preservation orders on them, but most ended up being used as showers and so forth.
I'd guess that the council keep some kind of list of the old boxes to give out to film-makers, because it is surprising how often they appear in Hollywood films and American TV series (in Friends, Ross called home from one).
Weapons We Don't Have
This once is probably no great surprise but I'll just skim through it anyway. The United Kingdom (with the obvious exception of Northern Ireland) is a largely gun-free society.
To use a baseball analogy, minor league criminals (car thieves, muggers, street drug pushers and so on) would almost never carry a gun. Why would they? In an unarmed society they don't need to.
Generally it is only the major league criminals (bank robbers, drug barons etc.) who carry guns, and then probably only when they are "working".
There are pretty strong laws against gun ownership. Pistols are now pretty well illegal as are automatic and semi-automatic rifles. Shotguns are legal, but you do need to get a license. This involves a formal application which is checked by the police. You would generally only expect to see weapons in rural areas and then generally only in the hands of landowners, farmers and game keepers.
One thing that you might not be aware of is that the public supports the tough gun laws by a huge majority. In fact it could be argued that when the gun laws were hurriedly tightened up a few years back after the Dunblane massacre (when a school teacher and most of the children in her class were shot dead by an intruder) it was because Parliament was pushed into a hasty decision by public hysteria.
Animals We Don't Have / Hunting We Don't Do
We basically don't have any large wild animals. In addition, practically all land is owned by someone, and most of that is farmed. There just isn't any kind of "wilderness" and hasn't been for hundreds of years.
The largest truly wild animal in Britain is the Scottish Wild Cat. This is basically like a slightly large house cat with a rather nasty attitude. Not particularly nice, but nothing to be too scared of.
When people in Britain talk about hunting they are usually referring to one of two things:
Fox Hunting. This is a formal activity where several dozen horsemen and women and a pack of hounds hunt foxes on land where they have permission from the owners.
Stag Hunting. As above, but hunting deer. These animals are not truly wild, more feral. They lead a semi-independent existence which is managed by the owners of the land they roam on.
In addition there are pheasant shoots. Again, these take place on private land and the birds concerned are not truly wild. In fact, country estates generally employ a game keeper whose job is to manage the environment to ensure that there are things to hunt.
In UK law a wild animal belongs to the owner of the land. If you hunt that animal without the permission of the owner it is a crime - poaching.
Various Things We Don't Do
We don't take afternoon tea. At least I've never met anyone who does.
We don't employ servants. All right this isn't strictly true. Very rich people do employ servants, but I would guess that the proportion of British people employing servants is no higher that the proportion of Americans.
We don't wear top hats, cloth caps etc.
We don't live in huge houses unless we're very rich. In fact, the average British home is quite small compared to an American home because of our higher population density (238 persons per square kilometre compared with 29 for the United States).
We don't "know our place". There seems to be a perception abroad of the cheery working class chappee who know's "his place" and if very deferential to his "betters". Whilst this might have been true at the start of the century it is gone now. Most people have a very egalitarian attitude and a belief that we are all equal citizens. A member of the aristocracy who expects working class people to call him sir and bow and scrape before him will get very short shrift.
Most people's reactions, upon reading about Lady so-in-so who was brutally car-jacked and had fifty thousand pounds worth of jewellery stolen, is along the lines of "serves the silly cow right for walking about dripping with diamonds."
That's probably enough about what we don't have and don't do. Let's look now at:
What we do have and what we do...
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