Friday, 6 November 2009

Britain - All the Rage

I'm slightly apprehensive about this blog post. Will it result in hate mail? Furious comments? Total silence? We will see.
When I last lived in Britain, it seemed a gentle and tolerant country. People were textbook-polite, often friendly and helpful.

This is my second sojourn, and I have only been here 4 months. So maybe my impressions are wrong, or one-sided.

I would like to emphasize that in none of my examples have I been directly involved. I have no axe to grind. I see myself as a bystander in this country, not a particpant.

Almost every day, I see the most rage-filled exchanges between drivers who feel cut-up, slighted, or are simply furious about other cars. They hoot their horns, shake their fists, shout abuse out of the window.

I hear busdrivers getting angry with passengers for the smallest offense (like presenting their ticket upside-down.)

I observe people in supermarkets deliberately blocking other shoppers' access to the shelf and then furiously hissing at them when they complain.

People are losing their rags. Violence seems contantly under the surface.

I hear about people being deliberately humiliated by their bosses at work, building up hate fantasies.

I read about gay people getting beaten up in town centres.

"You'd find that everywhere", I hear you say. Maybe. But Britain used to be different. Politer. Nicer. Gentler.

Some years ago, the then Prime Minister, John Major propagated "A nation at ease with itself". Is this still true?


  1. Spot on observations. I think you are totally right - anger, rage even, is indeed bubbling under the surface. I see this myself in similar situations - almost a "get out of my way" attitude, or "I dare you to challenge me" belligerence. And it's not just alcohol-fuelled, I think it is an everyday occurence that could flare up at any moment.

    I wonder about the causes - but would like to suggest dissatisfaction with one's lot is a root cause. Unhappiness if you like. Most people in the UK have it pretty tough, don't want to admit it, such is their pride, maybe the rage is a result of supressed feelings of resentment. My musings for what they are worth.

  2. This makes me very sad...
    As a teacher I deal with many parents, who like to constantly tell me how to do my job properly and how I should do as 'they' say. I sometimes see the 'passed on' anger in the eyes and voices of some of the small children I teach and I fear for their futures... as they are not going to make it better.
    I have had an up and down life, with some violence, but I rose above that and became a constructive memeber of society. My lot is OK - could be better, could be worse - if I used that as an excuse for any outbursts of anger and frustration, that would be a very, very poor one.

  3. I go back and forth between Finland, Sweden and the UK quite a bit, and I think UK is the friendliest of the three. By a country mile. And as you know I'm not British, not at all.

    At the moment my daughter is au-pair to two Finnish children (5 and 7) and often comments on their 'shocking lack of manners'. Although this makes me laugh coming from a 18-year-old who I still consider my baby, she is right, kids in the UK are much better behaved.

    That we show a bit more anger and there are problems with anti-social behaviour are just signs of what is happening in the world in general, not confined to the UK. Don't they regularly burn cars in the streets of Paris, for example?

    Good discussion point, though, glad you brought it up, Margit. xx

  4. I think you are right, we are all a lot more openly angry ..
    But I also think it has always been that way its just they are showing it now. But havent the charm of a latin personality

  5. This is very, very true, Margit. It feels like it's happened in the last ten years- I worry that it's people from around my age bracket (the mid-80's kids) that have a lot to do with it.

    There's far too much unnecessary anger in the world. I was at the Samye Ling temple the other day, and a monk told me something along the lines of "If you become angry at someone, they have not caused you to be angry; the anger was always within you and you must take responsibility for it."

  6. I am - as ever - very grateful and very impresssed by my readers' comments. Anonymous put it splendidly, and Ann: I felt that was straight from the heart! Thanks for your additional point, Wildernesschic! Helena, that is so interesting - I often wonder whether finding Continentals "bad mannered" isn't just because they are more straightforward.. would love to discuss that in more detail with you...

  7. Great post Andrew, thanks! I think on balance it is actually the middle-aged people who seem to be simmering with rage the most. Something to do with lost revenue on housing? Only guessing..

  8. I'm so pleased that you've posted this, Margit, because I was beginning to think it was just me who'd noticed. I've been living outside the U.K. for over 10 years now and it seems a very different place to the country I left (rather reluctantly) all those years ago. People seem so ANGRY about everything, and it only takes the slightest thing to push them over the edge. This seems to particularly be the case online. Two recent examples from the twitterverse: the outpouring of hatred againt Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir after her ill-judged remarks about the circumstances surrounding the death of former boyband singer Stephen Gately. As a gay man myself, I found her remarks distasteful and poorly timed, but no more than that, so I was genuinely shocked by the violence of the comments I saw online. Even more astonishing were the comments after some hapless twitterer DARED to suggest that celebrity Stephen Fry's tweets might be a little, well, boring. And it MADE IT INTO THE NEWSPAPERS!!! The mob is a frightening beast, particularly when viewed up close. I have my own theory on this: I think it comes from a feeling of powerlessness. For so long, particularly in the 80s, people were sold the idea that "if you want it, and work for it, it can be yours." People who failed just weren't trying hard enough, or so the thinking went. It's the yuppie ethos that creates an illusion that the individual can control his environment, that YOU had the power. The recent financial crisis showed very clearly that isn't the case, that banks can collapse overnight, that you can just lose your job like that - and there's nothing you can do it. That feeling of powerlessness breeds frustration and anger, and as soon as an outlet presents itself - POP! I don't think this is something confined to the U.K. though. In France, where I now live, I think people feel equally disillusioned, but they didn't have time to buy into the whole yuppie thing, and they still have more government protection from the fallout. That said, the recent spate of work-related suicides at Renault and France Telecom are also indications of an underlying malaise. I'd be interested in finding out if there are signs of this trend of disillusionment elsewhere in Europe? Anyway, I've rambled on for far too long there but it's a subject I'm really interested in. Thanks for bringing it up, Margit!!

  9. I can't really agree that times are more violent than they once were, I believe that age changes our perception of violence. Younger people, its seems, are less aware of their surroundings or at least not as bothered by them. Secondly there is much more general awareness- especially involving children which is a good thing. I remember in first grade it was perfectally accetable to drag a kid out of class by his ears. That said, my grandparents used to sleep with the doors unlocked, who would think of doing that now?

  10. Hm, interesting take, Sarah!

  11. I haven't had a chance to read everyone's comments above but I can see this is such a sensitive topic! My husband and I were discussing this very issue, in context of Mumbai (I've never been to the UK). I recently saw the movie 'Happy Go Lucky' and what you talk about in this post is reflected so well there. Interesting post, and as always, so much food for thought!

  12. Interesting to read a foreign take on Britain Margit. You've summed up how we feel! We are two English 30-somethings (I'm a former primary school teacher and saw all sorts) and saved every penny we could until we had enough to leave and come to Turkey. I don't miss the 'atmosphere' in Britain one bit. As you said, '...violence constantly under the surface.' Very sad.