As a woman who has been fascinated by the English for at least half of her life, it
is only fitting that I dedicate a piece to this intriguing people, peppering my ramblings
with personal accounts while honing my terrible emulations of their gorgeous accents.
Surely from the fictional footage we have seen on this side of the pond, all English
men walk about in bowler hats and well-tailored black coats as they read the Times,
drink tea, and recite poetry in English gardens. They are either severe, intellectual
geniuses with perfect diction like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes," or
charming, self-deprecating "pansies" like most of Hugh Grant's characters.
Certainly this must be the case, else all of our fanciful visions would come to naught.
I have embarked on a quest to shatter (or, in rare cases) confirm the English stereotypes
we in North America have been exposed to for years. This is no small feat when you've
not had the privilege of traveling to that beautiful country or met even a handful
of its natives. Even so, I enjoy amusing myself with such challenges and, much to
my great fortune, know an Englishman who delights in humoring me. He agreed to a grueling
2 1/2 hour phone interview in order to lend my article some credibility. From this
point forward, he shall be known as Sir Winceslaw the III--or, Sir Wincey.
Onward with the stereotypes!
1. The English are an emotionally cold people.
One glimpse of an English crowd during a football match and this idea is blown out
of the water.
Seriously speaking, while they may generally be more reserved in expressing emotions
in comparison to our let's-air-dirty-laundry-on-Jerry-Springer outpourings of the
heart, the English are certainly not dispassionate. Controlled passions are not indicative
of their absence.
Sir Wincey: "I do not feel as though we are an emotionally cold people, although in
South European countries one finds a more emotional set of people--such as in Italy
where people seem to drive around beeping their car horns at each other and waving
their fists in the air a lot. Americans seem to like to 'analyze' and talk about 'their
issues' more than is deemed proper in Great Britain too."
Americans over-analyze and talk about their issues? Preposterous!
2. Englishmen tend to be effeminate and pansy-like. A good number of them are gay.
Banish all still and moving frames of Rupert Everett and Hugh Grant from your mind.
This is a ludicrous stereotype. Picture instead Sir Wincey himself, who is a strapping,
virile male of undeniably macho proportions, oozing manliness from every pore.
3. The English have terrible, baked bean teeth.
I once read about an American living abroad who claimed that this stereotype was partially
true because the NHS (National Health Service) did not include dentistry.
The honorable Sir Wincey begs to differ:
"I have never heard of 'baked bean teeth.' I do not know what the relative rates of
dental health are throughout the world, but virtually everyone I know has what I could
class as 'nice teeth.' "
On a side note, Sir Wincey does indeed know a gentleman at his place of employment
who may be positioned under the "baked bean teeth" category, yet he seems to be the
4. The English drink tea everyday and will interrupt almost anything for the sake
of preserving their tea time.
Sir Wincey: "I am inclined to think that slightly more tea than coffee is still drank
in Britain, but am not at all sure of that. The drinking of tea is not some sort of
national ritual however, and the idea of everyone downing tools for 'morning tea'
or 'afternoon tea' is not accurate."
Sir Wincey's statement appears to be true. As Steve Lohr of the New York Times writes:
"The waning British thirst for tea is a long-term trend that began in the 1960's.
But in the last decade alone, the volume of tea consumed in Britain has fallen more
than 20 percent. Britons still drink two cups of tea for every one cup of more expensive coffee,
but that is down from six cups to one in 1966. And last year, the value of coffee sales
surpassed tea in Britain for the first time, according to Mintel, a market research
Tea's fading popularity is attributed to faster-paced living, a generation gap and
a stodgy image. Many people these days do not want to take the time to brew tea, and
even fewer will interrupt their busy days for the leisurely, civilized ritual of afternoon
tea, a 19-th century invention of Anna, seventh Duchess of Bedford, who decided that
tea and cakes were the best antidote to a late afternoon 'sinking feeling.' "
5. English food is bland and tasteless
Although some of his own countrymen would disagree, Sir Wincey considers that English
food is "hearty and tasty. It lacks spicy or sharp flavors in the main, but I would
defend the glories of bacon and eggs or fish and chips vociferously!"
I believe many Americans would join him in defending bacon, eggs, fried fish, and
French fries as well--just before they keel over from their respective heart attacks.
6. Englishmen prefer baths over showers.
It is no secret that Americans generally prefer showers over baths. The primary reason
for this was aptly illustrated in a scene from the sitcom, "Seinfeld," in which a
character (Kramer) discovered himself in the unfortunate position of having to switch
from showers to baths due to low pressure shower heads. He explains, "I was sitting
there in a tepid pool of my own filth."
Baths, however, seem to be more acceptable in England. Sir Wincey certainly prefers
them to showers and even has his own set of rainbow-colored rubber ducks with which
7. The English are inordinately polite.
Sir Wincey: "No."
The Sir can be very succinct.
8. The English are generally posh and sophisticated.
Let's face it. A lot of us believe that the English are posh predominantly because
of their accents, but not everyone in England is James Bond.
Sir Wincey: "The 'posh' are a minority."
9. English society is class-based.
Sir Wincey: "It certainly used to be, but has become markedly less so since the war,
and especially from the '60's onwards. There are far less 'toffs'(members of the upper
class) in the House of Commons these days for example, and several recent Prime Ministers
have come from 'humble backgrounds'. One no longer needs to speak like one has plums
in one's mouth to get a job on TV or radio either."
Maybe cotton balls?
10. The English love using words like "splendid," "terribly," "cheerio," "what-ho,"
Sir Wincey: "Bloody is a popular, very mild expletive. The other words are less common:
Splendid and terribly have slightly posh connotations. 'What-ho' is a word associated
with aristocrats and would not be spoken by any normal person! I doubt even posh people
use that word nowadays. Cheerio is quite common actually."
Well I say, that is terribly splendid. What-ho and cheerio!
11. The English crook their little finger when drinking.
Sir Wincey: "No."
12. The English like talking about the weather.
Sir Wincey: "Definitely true--an absolute national obsession. It often seems to be
used as a device to start a conversation, often even with strangers or semi-strangers,
although so potent a grip does it have on the national imagination that people will
talk about it to close friends and family too."
The American equivalent of this weather ice breaker would be, "What do you do for
a living?" In England, this would be considered a very personal question.
13. The English love meat pies.
Sir Wincey: "Generally they do, yes."
Meat pies are similar to pot pies, although they differ in fillings and the type of
14. The English have butlers and they all have names like Jeeves.
Sir Wincey: "Of course! I had to beat my butler (Jives) today for serving a tepid
cup of Earl Grey tea, and using the wrong china to serve it in."
Tyrant! Everyone knows you only beat your butler in England for serving coffee instead
15. English people love to form orderly queues (otherwise known as "lines" in America.)
Sir Wincey: "I have heard comments about this from people on the continent, so perhaps
it is true. To be caught jumping a queue is a definite cause for embarrassment, and
many a late-night fisticuffs has ensued in taxi-queues as a result of such an un-English
Pushing in front of someone while standing in line is definitely not an un-American
16. The English boil or fry practically everything.
Sir Wincey: "I wish we still did fry everything. The great British breakfast is fried,
fish and chips are fried, vegetables are usually boiled, so yes, it does hold true."
The great British breakfast Sir Wincey mentions with such apparent affection consists
of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, fried eggs, grilled (or stewed) tomatoes, baked beans,
and several slices of black pudding fried in lard or butter.
Is that an upset stomach I have, or are my arteries clogging just reading that?
Sir Wincey further expresses his love for all things fried with the following proclamation
regarding baked fries: "Oven chips==an affront to the taste buds of man!"
And you thought the English lacked passion.