Have you ever wondered what other people may think of you, not as an individual but as a representative of your nation? We all want to be liked and we all want everyone to know what we’re really like behind the scenes. Thankfully living in the UAE we have an opportunity to find out, sort of. About 60 blogs ago I told a tale about a dribbling drunk and I and the perceptions that we both shared. I highlighted that there are many countries around the world that have stereotypical features, like the Spanish are all Matadors and Argentineans have a penchant for islands. But it’s hard to nail the British. Men in suits and bowler hats, football hooligans, that guy from Shameless or Lord Lucan… Chalk, cheese, metal and Playdo.
The other day I was having a conversation with a Pakistani friend of mine who moved to the UAE from Lahore 3 years ago. His first question was to ask why the English language was so widely spoken, to which I responded with a quick crash course in imperial history. He seemed confused. We then got onto the topic – somehow – of people making explosions. I explained that there was no direct answer but basically it was all related to either a difference in beliefs or political strategy; or retribution for something that happened a long time ago.
We then got onto the United Kingdom and he was exceptionally confused when I started talking about some people called Scots, some people called the Welsh and a bunch of folks from a land called Northern Ireland. He then asked what they were. I said that England and Scotland kissed and made up 300 or so years ago and made a pretty flag, Wales kind of got dragged into it and at one point most of Ireland were involved too, until they said “enough” and we were only left with the bit at the top. The UK is a country that is made up of 4 smaller countries that always get on with each other all of the time.
He then stated that a lot of people in Pakistan believe that “The British” want to invade everywhere and rule the world. I reminded him that we tried that once before and that it didn’t end very well. It got me thinking, is that what people really think of us? I mean, how do you sum up all the Brits and come to that conclusion?
I rarely hear a Scot, Welshman or indeed a Northern Irishman say that they are British. They are Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish respectively, so why is it that the English use the British moniker? If you say you are English instead of British then you are considered to be some sort of massive racist. How?!
I tried to explain to my friend further that the English are fiercely territorial when it comes to their own regions. Northerners don’t like Southerners and vice verser, East Anglian’s don’t like Gloucestershireians, Midlanders don’t like Geordies, Kentists quarrel with South Westerners…it’s a nightmare! I reassured my friend that he shouldn’t worry about us invading him anytime soon since we can barely get our own house in order.
But when I tried to explain to the lad that the assumption of “The British” wanting to rule the world again was codswallop he looked even more confused. “So what do the British think then?” he asked as if there was no other possible answer. I looked bluntly at my feet and answered “I have no idea”. Half of Scotland wants to leave the United Kingdom, but they’re divided, like the Welsh. Things have never been great in Belfast for obvious reasons. Just under half of the English vote Conservative, the other half vote Labour and the day-dreamers in the middle vote Liberal Democrat, no 2 people want the same thing. We are such a mess and all want to go in different directions and the rules change daily.
I told him that most Brits these days probably don’t even know what Pakistan actually is and that they would rather watch football or Big Brother than bother waging a war on a country that they have never heard of. He was surprised, the stereotype of “The British” that he had been led to believe as truth was rubbished. All that he had known about us had been wrong. And then he said “Aha that makes more sense”.
It got me thinking of how will peace ever be achieved if people continue to assume based on a false assumption? Our reputation as imperial crusaders is a bit out of date now; we have given the land that we nicked back (sort of) and have about as much international influence as Amy Childs. Is it fair for us to burden the blame for the actions of our forefathers forever?
Yes, you can burn flags outside embassies, but who are you talking to? Most people watching you are just going to assume your message is for someone else, not them. If someone has insulted you, two wrongs don’t make a right. When you act like that all you are doing is stooping down to the level of poor behaviour you were protesting against, and that makes you a hypocrite.
In the UAE, at least, if there are differences to be decided they can be discussed in a civilised manner, not burnt outside embassies. And that is a lesson certain countries could learn from.
Anyway, an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar…