If foreigners want friendly they should go to America
Apparently the rest of the world now sees Britain as a much friendlier place, thanks to the Olympic games. This won’t do at all. We are a cold and remote people whose natural instinct is to spurn friendship as though it were a rabid dog. And I think that, if they are honest, this is how other countries would wish us to remain. They knew where they stood with us before, you see, especially the former colonies. They might even have taken a certain masochistic pleasure in our frosty demeanour. All that withering contempt. All those barked orders. Britain was the global dominatrix.
I can appreciate that it is important to attract visitors, for the economy and all that. But there is always a balance to be struck between encouragement and grovelling. If Johnny Foreigner wants friendly he should go to America. There the natives are capable of wishing you a nice day without even a hint of irony. Here if someone approaches you with a wide smile and an outstretched hand you feel not warmth but deep suspicion.
Here’s a good example of English reserve. My grandfather had 10 siblings, some of whom emigrated to the new world. One of them, James, found himself in the same American town as another, George, whom he hadn’t seen for years. He thought he would drop in on him and say hello. Instead of rushing over and hugging him like, well, like a long-lost brother, George finished the shave he was in the middle of, then asked: “What do you want?”
I think the problem might be that other nations have confused the sense of humour we demonstrated in the opening ceremony of the Olympics with bonhomie. It’s much more about self-deprecation, which in turn is a reflection of our innate self-loathing. We are at our happiest when we are laughing at ourselves. Witness the joy created by the horsemeat story this week. The jokes were doing the rounds within minutes of it breaking. “I went to the Tesco cafe and they said: ‘What do you want on your burger?’ I said: ‘A fiver each way.’”
Our greatest comedians, meanwhile, have been right old misery guts, from Tony Hancock and Rowan Atkinson to Jack Dee, Jeremy Hardy and Stewart Lee. They don’t want to make friends with their audience, they want to grind them into submission. There has, moreover, always been an element of cruelty in British humour. Think how many Monty Python sketches ended with the weak and pathetic protagonist being flattened by a 16-ton weight. As a nation we want to laugh at, not with.
The greatest exponent of cruel British humour was Peter Cook. He was one part comedian, two parts Gestapo officer. If only New Labour had thought to put a large photograph of a scowling Peter Cook in the arrivals lounges of Heathrow and Gatwick, they wouldn’t have had nearly so many problems with immigration. Those stary eyes. That downturned mouth. You can come in, the face would say, but don’t make yourself too comfortable.
No, even better, and more appropriate, would be a large picture of the Queen. Now, I bow to no man in my admiration for Her Majesty, and I think she has a lovely, becoming smile. But what I like best about her is her frown. No one does a grumpy face quite like QEII. It’s magnificent.
I really must lay off the performance-enhancing drugs. I had the strangest dream last night that the Tour de France was going to pass through Wensleydale in Yorkshire, where I grew up, on its way to Ripon, the place of my birth. Can you imagine!
What do you call 100 transgender people protesting outside the offices of the Guardian Media Group?
I don’t know, what do you call 100 transgender people protesting outside the offices of the Guardian Media Group?
A fine example of civil protest and direct action in the face of unwarranted and unacceptable discrimination against our transbrothers and sisters.*
(*This punchline has been amended on legal advice.)