I’m sorry, I’m British

I read earlier this week that there in an internet phenomenon on the Reddit site known as British problems.  This site details the trials and tribulations of the people one of the politest nations, full of centuries old social protocols that many others would find quite strange but to people like myself simply find a sometimes problematic way of life which we have to navigate every moment of our waking life.

Much of it comes down to terms that involve politeness, good manners, civilisation and well basically being British.  I know I spend most of my life apologising for things.  Not particularly because I am the cause of the mishap or problem or mistake but just because I am sorry that the situation has occurred at all.  People say that it isn’t my fault so I shouldn’t be sorry but the fact of the matter is that I am.   So below are a few of the most popular British problems that were listed in our daily newspapers with my own suggestions and commiserations.  I hope that people in the U.K. will sympathise with them and me and for everyone else you can laugh out loud are our self-made predicaments as another thing we are good at is not taking anything or anyone too seriously, including ourselves.

I live outside the UK so when I say “With all due respect” nobody realises I’m insulting them by TonicBang

Absolutely.  One of the few things most of us have going for us is the ability to get things off our chest without anyone knowing.  We don’t like actual rude disagreements, most uncivilised!

I’m a northerner living in London and I never get enough gravy by Give this one a go

It’s true, people in London do not appreciate gravy like the rest of us up north.  They also like terribly healthy small amounts of salt on their chips (fries to our American cousins).  It is probably due to either their closeness to mainland Europe or the belief it would lead to a longer life but they forget about the extra vehicle pollution and higher murder rates which negate their culinary habits that those of us from the North don’t have to worry about.

I asked if anyone wanted the last biscuit. Someone did by Shastrix

This is terrible.  No one in their right mind in Britain takes the last biscuit, that is why we have the phrase “taking the biscuit” which we only use for bad people.  The last biscuit should sit for hours on the plate and when finally someone says “I’ll have this if no-one else wants it” then under no circumstances should anyone else ask for it when it is offered to them.

I accidentally rang the bell on the bus at the wrong stop, and instead of explaining my predicament to the driver, got off and walked the rest of the way home by marcofshj

I really sympathise with this one as have done this myself on more than one occasion.   This is closely related to feeling bad for stopping the bus when it is obvious no one else is getting off at this stop and you know you are holding everyone up for 5 seconds.

I was visiting a friend’s house for the first time and I couldn’t find the toilet so I came down, pretended I did and now my bladder is going to kill me. by OneSlyPanda

This is really the only course of action available.  You can’t ask for directions as this would confirm firstly that you need to go to the toilet and all mentions of biological needs is very much out of order in polite conversation.  Also though your friend would realise you are a plonker, something they probably suspected but are too polite to say so to your face.  On the other hand they may not have an inside toilet and don’t want to admit it so hope you would work it out for yourself.

I don’t feel well but I don’t want to disturb my doctor by Yummilyspam

We’ve all been there to a certain degree.  All healthcare in Britain is mostly if not entirely free but we are still loathe to actually visit them as this not only shows a sign of weakness (we didn’t have an Empire by going to the Doctors you know).  Other good reasons for not visiting is that you don’t want to waste the doctors time (even though we pay for it with our taxes), you don’t want to be told you’re imagining an illness or worse still, actually be told you have one.  Mingling with genuinely ill people and those with social hygiene problems also weigh on ones mind.   I myself always get told by the doctor that I should visit more frequently.  4 or 5 years ago I went after suffering a cold and lung infection for 6 weeks and the doctor told me I should be in intensive care as I had less than 40% lung capacity.  My manager at work had earlier that day told me I wasn’t at all ill and was making everything up; although my coughs had been reverberating round the office for weeks, I had never complained of being unwell.  The doctor told me if I don’t go to hospital then I should be off work for 2 weeks minimum.  Not being wanting to be thought of as being a wimp I compromised and had the next day off work before going back to the office terribly ill and being told I was a wuss for visiting the doctors.  The sad thing is, I probably was!   

Having my hair cut the barber asked if “‘it was alright”.  I nodded but it wasn’t by Johnnytightlips2

This happens to me all the time.  Okay we are paying for the cut but after they have spent all of 10 minutes doing your hair there is no way in the world you can tell them to their face you hate it or they haven’t done it right.  Just pay your money, thank them and hope to God they didn’t see your face in the mirror when you were disappointed for the split second before you told them how wonderful it was or even worse imply they could do better.

Yesterday I arrived at a mini-roundabout simultaneously with two other drivers from other directions. We’re still here.  By Redditjamie

This is a dilemma.  Do you obey the highway code or be gentlemanly / ladylike.  I have to say that I do find it amusing when this happens and the person who does have right of way is too polite to use it after which cars from the other 2 roads nip in as they are legally allowed to do if the first person is dithering and then the original driver gets in a huff and comes out when they shouldn’t and nearly causes a crash.

Traffic warden

Traffic wardens, one of the many bane’s of modern life.

 

I said thank-you as a warden handed me a parking ticket by Superblinky

I should think so too.  They are only doing their job.  The fact the laws are stupid and it costs £10 to park for 5 minutes in a legal car park in London is neither here or there.  The laws may be stupid and wrong but we wouldn’t be British if we didn’t obey them to the letter, if we didn’t we might turn a little European which would be frightful!

A man in the supermarket was browsing the food I wanted to browse so I had to pretend to look at food I didn’t even want until he left. By MadreDois

This can be annoying when one is in a hurry, especially if both you and the other party have a trolley as to make sure the existing shopper is actually standing in front of the food you are interested in it is necessary to walk on both sides of them.  Once this has been established then you immediately start looking over goods you are not interested in as we don’t want to pressure the person who there first.  Heaven help someone who politely asks them to move out of the way.  This of course never happens at lardy-dah Waitrose or Marks and Spencers but has been known to occur in Aldi and Lidls where the riff-raff don’t really know their place.

People who don’t leave one step empty between people when going up the escalator  by Captain_Salmon

Incredibly there are people who don’t understand basic commuter etiquette.  On a practical level standing on a step right in front of someone means that when the escalator goes up the bend then your bag or even worse, body will get seriously close to the person behind.   Also the spare steps are useful for people who decide to run up the left side of the steps and then after 100 feet run out of breath and have squeeze in on the right for fear of getting trampled by the fitter crowd behind them.  I say don’t let them in, they might suffer an asthma attack at the top but at least they will have dealt with the scenario like a man.   The real problem of standing next to someone on the escalator or on public transport generally is that you might touch someone which of course is a total no-no.  We might be importing lots of strange customs but unnecessary physical contact will always be a step to far, even for people who show emotion in public.  No touching, eye contact or anything else unless you are a blood relative and only then if unavoidable or drunk.

The police in Dartford are now driving around in Smart cars and I now cannot take them seriously. by Wabbithunter68

Understandable, perhaps that’s reverse psychology on their part hoping to embarrass criminals into going elsewhere where the odds are more even.  Or perhaps they just like parking into very tiny gaps and giving teenagers a sporting chance to evade their tiny roadblocks.

Smart Car

Would you take your police seriously if they were in cars as small as a motorbike?

The email from the National Lottery gets my hopes up too much by Memoriae.

The main problem here is being optimistic, not a very traditional British attitude to have. This is easily solvable and I discovered it just days after the first lottery competition 20 odd years ago.  Don’t buy any tickets.  By doing this and not entering even the basic draws I am about £2,000 better off and never live under the false illusion of making a quick buck.

Heard an announcement at the train station: “We are sorry.” Just that, nothing else by ZynuxIRDC

How terribly nice of them.  If you have travelled on the commuting trains around London though that is all that needs to be said.  They are sorry for you, for themselves, sorry for the crowds, sorry for the delays, sorry for the cancellations, sorry for the extortionate ticket prices.  They’re probably sorry that you can’t even hear their apology over the loud speaker system.

I picked out something that wasn’t in the meal deal so I had to pay full price for everything as I didn’t want to go and change it by heaneyy

Yes that would be embarrassing for you and it would cause a bit of fuss for the server which would embarrass them and other customers.  You did the right thing, being British is nothing if it isn’t the fact that you don’t to be any bother or put anyone else out. If it happens to you, take it like a man as it will be good for your character.  This advice especially applies for expensive clothes or gadgets where either the signs are unclear or you have simply misunderstood.  If you speak up it might save you £200 but then everyone would think you were an idiot or an aggressive shopper who only cares about themselves and their money.

Great British Railway Journeys

Michael this time in a rather loud pink shirt with his Bradshaw guide waiting on a heritage steam train platform.

Michael Portillo is wearing a bright pink blazer over a lime green shirt by spindu

Unlike his political career which almost everyone found objectionable, only some of Michael’s attire is questionable and less still if you imagine he is going to drink some Pimms after filming.  Anyone wishing to take a citizen test should be forced to watch all the series of the Great British railway journeys and not only recite the Bradshaws guide off by heart but also know what colour scheme Michael wore on each episode. Michael is a legend and no doubt his tv ratings prove more people than I like his ability to annunciate clearly and compose proper sentences whilst being dazzled by bright blazers.   

There’s no etiquette for using an umbrella in crowded areas during  wet weather.by Mutius_the_Crow

It’s true.  Do you have your umbrella up and risk poking some-ones eye out or do you run around with a newspaper over your head.  By my experience the first option is the most popular, followed by just calmly ignoring it like I do and accept the fact you are going to get wet in the rain.  It’s only water.

My pre-packed sandwich packet is impenetrable  by Wa_Wa_Wa

Your first fault is buying a pre-packed sandwich. What a waste of money.  The manufacturers are telling you it as bluntly as they can by making the packaging out of airplane black-box material.  Then after struggling for twenty minutes and having worked up an appetite you are more likely to think that awful damp bread with pathetic and slim fillings is worth the £3.50 you spent on it.  I must admit I have the same problem occasionally with my mini cartons of orange juice I take to work to have with my lunch.  The amount of times the straw can’t pierce that little round circle is unbelievable.  Sometimes it dents the straw or after repeated attempts can almost snap the straw or at least leave it with a rupture which you are unaware of until you start sucking the drink.  Other times you jab the straw into the carton and a squirt of juice jumps out and onto your face or in your eye.  The absolute worst I find are the times the straw makes a tiny hole in the piercing and all the juice leaks out everywhere making a real mess.  Such is life.    

I never know whether to say thanks to people that stop at a zebra crossing by Brandaman

You should always say thank-you.  I both wave and mouth thank-you like a rather demented mime artist.  Be grateful you live somewhere where the rules are generally obeyed.  I know when I am driving and I stop at someone using the crossing I expect to be thanked.  If not then I weigh up the chances of driving at them and getting away with it seeing as they are so ungrateful. The chances of this are increased if the local police force drive Smart Cars.

Abbey Road Zebra Crossing

Zebra Crossing at Abbey Road

My cat meowed during the 2 minute silence and I was embarrassed even though I was by myself by InternetTouchesMe

You have no-one to blame but yourself here.  You should have brought up your cat properly.  I bet your Grandad  would be very impressed.  Not!  Your cat may be from mainland Europe too.

I accidentally touched another commuter’s hand on the handrails on the tube today. by Dragodot

I had no idea when I started doing this that things would get so disgusting.  I hope that you both apologized to each otherand you got off at the next stop so as not to make the other person feel more uncomfortable than he already was.

I was looking forward to a nature documentary I recorded but when I sat down to watch it the narrator wasn’t David Attenborough by rabidcelery.

To anyone who doesn’t know who Sir David Attenborough is, he is the epitome of good documentary making.  I heartily understand, how can you learn anything if he is not involved. You poor thing, you probably had to watch one of those cheap Discovery style documentaries with no presenter or worse a presenter that thinks everything is cool in a programme that is entitled 100 great predators or the deadliest 50 animals. Sir David does things properly don’t you know whether it is impressive beasts or tiny organisms, nothing is is fantastic, amazing or cool.

My girlfriend claims to be ‘neither here nor there’ on Marmite. Now I can’t trust anything she says or does. by layendecker

My advice here is probably too late as you will most likely have already separated.  Don’t worry it is for the best.  I have never even tried Marmite but I already know I hate it.  She probably never told you that she doesn’t understand the rules of cricket and probably is a big fan of reality television.  Looking back it was probably the best thing that could happen to you.    

Marmite

Love it or hate it – Marmite

My housemate finished the Heinz ketchup, and replaced it with Tesco own-brand. by PhoneCar

Been there done that.  Well not with ketchup but with Fairy liquid dish cleaner.  We keep the expensive fairy liquid bottle on display but secretly top it up with own cheap own brand stuff.  In the old days or the 1980’s as they are properly known, own brand products were absolutely awful but now they are often made by the producers of the authentic products.   On the other side of the fence, what we do in our on kitchen is no-ones business but if he used your ketchup and replaced with cheap watery sauce then it is very much not the done thing.  Next time by some HP or Worcester sauce.  Red sauce is for wimps anyway.  

 I absent-mindedly walked into the kebab shop instead of the cafe next door. I couldn’t very well admit my mistake and just walk out again, so I ended up having a kebab for lunch. submitted 19 hours ago by tahepoP

This is another problem I have endured.  You can’t just walk out without buying anything.  You would look like a total nincompoop.  We once gave a new shop the benefit of the doubt by going in, lured by cheap advertising.  It was awful.  The shop was almost empty and the foods were cheap and tacky with the only ambient sound coming from the owners flatulence.  Still we spent a good 10 minutes looking around as if it was he best shop in the world.  In fact we were doing the minimum to be polite and also to find something to buy so we wouldn’t hurt the owners feelings.  I think both he and us were relieved when we finally left.   I vividly remember the next 2 months we would cross over the road so we wouldn’t have to look away from the window when we walked past is shop.  Thankfully, the business didn’t last long and once all the stolen possessions were sold or raided by police then that was that.

I hope that you all enjoyed these, if not that I really am terribly sorry.  Wherever you live, if you have a British type problem why not let us all know about it.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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9 Responses to I’m sorry, I’m British

  1. We’re not British (well our bloodlines are), but at crosswalks it’s an unspoken rule to thank the driver who stopped. Interesting post, really enjoyed it!

    Like

  2. Thank-you, I agree. One of my bug bears is where people cross the road with out looking away from a designated crossing point as they know you won’t hit them. Even elderly people. I’m all for being very respectful for the old but as they used to say, I would have expected better from then for jay-walking in such a dangerous way.

    I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

    Like

  3. Oh, my word! If those are Britain’s “problems”, we haven’t really got all that much to worry about, have we?! No wonder we’re a laughing stock to so many Eastern Europeans, and why our country is the envy of so many other countries.  Us Brits really do like to moan about trivial matters, it seems! 🙂 How ever did we have the strength to fight and win so many wars? 

    ‘My girlfriend claims to be ‘neither here nor there’ on Marmite. Now I can’t trust anything she says or does. ‘ by layendecker
    My response: What. The. Heck…???! 
    Seriously, if that is the sum total of what the Brits have to worry about, we should be the happiest country in the world. We’re actually ranked 71st in the world for number of depression cases. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_depression

    Regarding British politeness, I think this is more English politeness than British per se. The Welsh and Scottish have no shame in asking where the bathroom is, and will make a little joke at themselves for being a bit “thick” for not understanding directions the first time.

    As for walking out of a shop/eatery without buying… I can understand a little of the embarrassment, but must confess to having regularly walked into McD’s or Starbucks to use the bathroom, only to walk out without buying anything. I’ve also been known to help myself to the odd (free) salt and pepper sachets, to add to my own packed salad, whilst on the way out of McD’s! 🙂 The Celts are shameless! 🙂 

    I’ll have you know ketchup is definitely *not* for wimps. It is packed with Lycopene , which is a potent antioxidant and good for the heart. Brown sauce is for builders to squirt on their chip and bacon butties at the local greasy spoon caff, whist reading The Sun! Have you no class, man? 🙂

    I must say this is another wonderful article, Stephen. (And that is not just me engaging in British politeness. I state only what I believe.) I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all our “problems” here in Great Britain! 🙂 Looking forward to the next article. x

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    • I agree. When you hear people complaining about everything I wonder why on earth don’t they do something about it and grow a bit of backbone. I think some of it comes from the London centric nature of most of the media as many of the problems here I can’t imagine being given a second thought in some areas or at least someone may imagine it is possible but never likely to happen to them.

      I do think life for many could be improved if there was a better work-life balance and there are undoubtedly problems with lack of affordable housing,overcrowding and congestion and petty laws and fines at least in parts of the country. The political system also could do with some sort of invigoration amongst other problems we have.

      I was going to mention that politeness issue but was too polite to mention it 🙂 I do think it is a mostly English condition though Welsh and Scottish still rate very highly in the politenes rankings from my experience of travelling abroad or indeed at home 🙂

      Coming from the Northeast of England, red sauce is definately seen as the sauce that Southeners have. I know that red sauce is much healthier but I eat junk food so irregularly that I feel I deserver brown sauce on those few times I can find something to eat it with though in truth I prefer neither!

      Thank-you for your great comments, it’s always nice to receive feedback and none more than yours. I take any compliments I can get, how shamefully un-English of me 🙂 x

      Like

    • I agree. When you hear people complaining about everything I wonder why on earth don’t they do something about it and grow a bit of backbone. I think some of it comes from the London centric nature of most of the media as many of the problems here I can’t imagine being given a second thought in some areas or at least someone may imagine it is possible but never likely to happen to them.

      I do think life for many could be improved if there was a better work-life balance and there are undoubtedly problems with lack of affordable housing,overcrowding and congestion and petty laws and fines at least in parts of the country. The political system also could do with some sort of invigoration amongst other problems we have.

      I was going to mention that politeness issue but was too polite to mention it 🙂 I do think it is a mostly English condition though Welsh and Scottish still rate very highly in the politenes rankings from my experience of travelling abroad or indeed at home 🙂

      Coming from the Northeast of England, red sauce is definately seen as the sauce that Southeners have. I know that red sauce is much healthier but I eat junk food so irregularly that I feel I deserver brown sauce on those few times I can find something to eat it with though in truth I prefer neither!

      Thank-you for your great comments, it’s always nice to receive feedback and none more than yours. I take any compliments I can get, how shamefully un-English of me 🙂 x

      Like

  4. Dark Puss says:

    As a northener (Scotland) living in London and spending a lot of my time over the last 30 years commuting to Geneva I totally agree with what you have said. I concurr with the comments made by Celtic Catwoman, whom I’m sure I’ve seen somewhere in the metropolis 😉

    My Yorkshire grandmother, born in late Victorian era, recounted to me a story of how she was brought up to politely refuse things on being first offered them. After a long, hot summer walk as a child to the home of an adult friend/relative she was offered some cool lemonade. Naturally she refused; it was offered again after some minutes had elapsed and she refused again sure that it would be pressed upon her a third time when she would gratefully accept. Sadly she was wrong in that assumption and learnt a valuable lesson I think!

    Like

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