The Weird and Wonderful Things that Unite us
Britain is an island nation full of eccentrics, whose curious behaviour captivates and confounds many all over the world.
Whichever corner of this green and pleasant land one may hail from, it is true that us Brits all find a common ground with certain quirks and traditions. A shared feverish passion for pork pies too.
Here, Penhaligon’s presents its unofficial rulebook to being British. We rather consider ourselves an authority on the matter, after all. Should you be visiting Blighty from abroad this summer, one would be well-advised to seek out this handbook to avoid any instances of discombobulation.
1. Conversation Starters
Many a visitor to the British Isles will discover that the Brits are masters of art of chit-chat. Over the centuries, gassing about absolutely nothing has been perfected as an artform, delivered with the dazzling assurance of a professional improv troupe.
An easy-to-follow formula for some polite small talk might include remarking on the ghastly weather, the extortionate price of fuel, or the inflation rate of a Freddo.
If in doubt, apologise profusely. Not that you’ve done anything wrong, of course, we’re just quite privy to an apology and this might open the door for a conversation.
2. Keep Calm and Carry On
Stoicism was drummed into us at an early age – nanny never stood for any namby-pamby nonsense – and we are particularly well known for making light of disastrous and dire situations, After all, the national mantra has been ‘keep calm and carry on’ since the wars.
Therefore it's highly unlikely you will catch us shedding a tear over, well, anything, from receiving an awful bit of news to national football failures (we’ll win eventually, we’re sure of it).
Instead, it’s a stiff upper lip, a jaunty whistle and cup of tea (more on that below) as we merrily repress any kind of emotion.
3. Making Sense of Our Language
Some say English is one of the hardest languages to master, but how would we know – we haven’t attempted to learn another.
Though you might keep the Oxford Dictionary to hand, our many colloquialisms can be tricky to make sense of. From Cockney rhyming slang to our many riddles and idioms, there is no real way of knowing if you’re blending in seamlessly or talking gibberish.
In fact, much of our language is rhetorical. For example: if we ask, “You alright?” we aren’t in fact expecting an answer, and may eye you strangely if you attempt to give one.
4. The Art of Acclimatising
With such unpredictable weather, packing for a trip to England can be a near-impossible challenge. Take a long weekend, for example: you could feasibly expect scorching heat on Friday, buckets of rain on Saturday and snowstorms on Sunday. There might even be all three within in the same hour. As mentioned, at least it gives us something to talk about.
We suggest overpacking one's suitcase to suit every season. Of course, we should apologise for unflattering tan lines and soggy socks in advance.
5. Prepare to Queue
The queue is perhaps one of the most famous British idiosyncrasies. People may remark that we appear to enjoy it, given our propensity to form an orderly line at any given opportunity, although this isn’t quite right. We just hold queuing etiquette in the utmost regard, and view line jumpers akin to the worst kind of criminal.
In fact, jumping the queue to a ticket machine in a London Underground station is actually illegal and you may be arrested and prosecuted. Perhaps even taken to the Tower of London, who knows. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
6. A Cup of Tea to Cure Everything
Morning, noon or night, the sound of thousands of kettles whistling can be heard across the country at a remarkable rate – about 100 million of them in 2021, according to some people who counted.
From a Yorkshire cuppa to Builder's Brew, English Breakfast to Oolong, a cup of tea solves everything. It is frankly unthinkable that tea was only available to the aristocracy in the early 18th century, before eventually spreading amongst the masses.
Before that, everyone just drank gin instead. Monday morning would certainly be a lot more interesting…
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