I went out with this Spanish girl for a little while back when I lived in London and one night she asked me why British people say “sorry” all the time. I just joked that she only thought it was strange because “you foreigners are so rude” but I knew what she meant, we do seem to be perpetually apologizing for one thing or other, even for things that aren’t our fault (eg: saying sorry to a person who bumps into you). It’s as if we’re apologizing for our very existence.
The online forum British Problems lifts the lid on that part of our psyche and the way our politeness and self-effacement can reach neurotic extremes, leading to a dread of being a bother or making a fuss, horror of committing a faux pas, and hypersensitivity about what strangers think of us. In such a state, everyday life becomes a treacherous minefield of awkwardness and embarrassment.
And we wouldn’t be British if we weren’t hyper-aware of class: There was a working class family in Waitrose. I can’t tell anyone about this in case they think I’m a terrible snob.
It’s ironic that a people who once conquered and controlled half the planet should be like this. We never felt awkward about taking over another country, yet here we are worrying about inconveniencing a bus driver. Though I still think it’s preferable to the other side of the coin.
Download: The British Way of Life – The Chords (mp3)