Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Could It Happen in Britain?

After the killing spree in Arizona, columnists in Britain are asking questions "Could a similar incident happen in Britain"? Mary Riddell in The Telegraph points to the student riots, citing them as an outbreak of violence and hatred that might lead to worse. I disagree. Student anger (whether right or wrong) has always been a feature of every country. In France, student riots happen frequently, and not all are reported in the British press. If the government requires you to fork out a small fortune for your university education, (which in other European countries, like Germany, the state actually FUNDS you to undertake) then disquiet is certainly understandable.

No, the real anger, hatred and potential danger does not lurk there. I have only returned from Britain last September, so my impressions are still fresh and up to date. In no other country in Europe have I ever encountered such widespread dissatisfaction, bad-tempered every day life, such venom in exchanges, such loathing of any diverse opinion. The fury British people feel can easily be traced in the comments section of any online newspaper - not just the Daily Mail - I'm always shocked and dismayed to see how viciously and hate-filled Guardian readers treat each other.

Nowhere else in Europe do car-drivers make a habit of driving straight at pedestrians crossing the road. In Britain this is a daily occurrence - incidental of all the pent-up frustration people feel. Racing off after having scared a poor person to death - Ha! what could be more satisfying!

Britain, unfortunately, has become a country where everybody loathes each other: North vs. South, poor vs.rich, men vs. women, the obsese vs. the non-obese. And yes, it is THAT way around, alas. Everybody feels slighted, everybody feels they're the underdog, unfairly treated by forces unseen - and is hell-bent to get their own back: I'll show them! That'll teach'em! (Which is unfortunately exactly the attitude that leads to mindless massacres.)

Political correctness prevents you to say what you really feel about immigrants, ethnic minorities etc.? No problem, just lash out against women drivers, the EU, people who think they're better, stick insects etc etc - and nobody will blame you. And voilá, all your hatred and loathing has been subliminated into a wonderfully warm bath of crowd-agreement.

Increasing poverty, an infrastructure that doesn't deserve this name anymore, fear of unemployment, fear of not being able to pay your mortgage - those are all contributing factors. But they aren't everything. Uniquely (modern) British is a mind-set that feels slighted, unappreciated, resentful, and deeply angry - without knowing quite why. And that maybe dangerous (although if nothing else - gun laws in the UK will probably prevent a massacre), but it sure as hell makes for very unpleasant living.


  1. Such a wonderfully well written, dare I say it, cool-headed assessment of the puffing red cheeks of anger in modern Blighty. The nation that was once famous for its reputed politness seems to have become a nastly little centre of pent-up resentment, but with little ability or remit to express itself. A nation at east with itself? Hardly. "Pandoras boxes" should remain firmly shut. Thank G it's an Island. Amen.

  2. Wow Margit. I am surprised at your experiences. They sound awful. I feel England, or maybe London is the only place, where you so much as wave a foot near the "zebra crossing" and all cars come to an abrupt halt! I've often thought that many other countries view pedestrian crossing as mere obscure patterns on streets, nothing more :) Seriously, I was always impressed by the obedient behavior of London drivers. Where in England were you?

    I really don't think there is so much aggressive loathing, grumbling maybe but not loathing. Everyone grumbles everywhere though. I think many Londoners are polite and often very funny. Again, I wonder where you lived?

    And Edward, that the British have become "a nasty little centre of pent-up resentment" - that's such a sweeping generalization and dangerously judgmental. You are summing up some 60 million people after all. Thank G it's an island? That's sad. It's that kind of prejudice that causes a lot of harm.

    As for the crazy masacre, I think the guy who did it, is mad. Completely "off his rocker." Could something like that happen in Britain? Maybe - because insane people live in every country of the world. I don't even think the papers should speculate, though I imagine the readers don't mind.

    Margit, this is a controversial but very interesting article, thanks

  3. Believe me, Jackie,I know Britain inside out. This is a micro-analysis on what has changed in that country. It's an ethnographical approach based on observations, daily conversations, soul-searching, and looking for explanations. A tourist perspective about London based on a long-past experience forming the basis for telling others what it's REALLY like isn't very relevant, sorry.

  4. Margit, for a self-proclaimed intercultural commentator your writing seem strangely limited to highlighting the grim side of British affairs.

  5. Margit, next time you should check out Hungary :) Reading your article I really felt it was about Hungary... sad but true