I think Bill Bryson summed it up best when he pointed out that if you tell an American an asteroid is going to hit the earth in eight weeks and end all life on the planet, he’ll say something like, “Wow! Then I’d better sign up for that macramé class right away.” If you tell a Brit the same thing, he’ll say, “Wouldn’t you just know it. And have you seen the weather forecast for this weekend?”
The financial world has collapsed, people are out of work and for the Brits this is an opportunity for a good old fashioned grumble. It seems they can’t be happy about anything. When the royal wedding was announced, it was only a matter of minutes before it was denounced as a show put on for the sake of the population to cheer people up during the hard times.
I recently read the book, Whoops! by John Lanchester, a thoroughly readable account of the banking disaster and its ramifications. Ironically, and rightly, he thinks people aren’t angry enough. These people (banksters, he calls them) played fast and loose with our money, and now real businesses are going bankrupt, real people are losing their jobs and real lives are being ruined, while they continue to collect billion-pound bonuses. But all the British publics can think to do is say, “Wouldn’t you just know it. And have you seen the weather forecast for this weekend?”
Where’s the passion, the anger, the outrage? Any of that would be preferable to depressing grumblings and a laundry list of doom. It was so bad, I was actually glad to see the student become incensed enough to riot—until I realized it was just an excuse for a pack of yobs to vandalize and desecrate.
There I go, being British.
2010 was not a stellar year in many respects. There isn’t a lot we can do about that. But believing 2011 will be worse isn’t going help anyone. 2011 will be worse if you expect it to be; believe it will be better and maybe, by embracing a bit of optimism, things will improve.
There I go, being an American again.
There's a fine line between being an optimist and being an ostrich with its head in the sand, but I think Americans have it right this time. Yes, there's a depression going on over here but people aren't talking about leaving the country for pastures greener, which is what I hear from many Brits. Recent UK government statistics show record numbers of Brits emigrating "for a better life" as if the rest of the world wasn't also blanketed by fairly hard economic times. I personally know a handful of families who have left the UK in the last few years alone – some have even gone back home already!
Sometimes the American "every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining" approach can get irritating to a Brit who likes the occasional grumble, but I'm often glad I'm not living amongst so many "moaning minnies" in England right now. The UK isn't the only country having to tighten its collective belt - people are having a hard time everywhere, but they're not declaring their countries doomed, finished or down the toilet, nor are they jumping ship or wishing they could. Despite the devastation that the USA has experienced in the last few years (home foreclosures, corporate failures, job losses, not to mention natural disasters like hurricanes, forest fires, floods and oil spills) I have never heard a single American saying they've had enough of this country.
Come on Britannia! Where's that stiff upper lip? Let's rise like a phoenix in 2011!
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