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Monday, 10 November 2014

George Orwell on the English: As Others See Us - True or False?



Another bargain from the local second-hand book-stall, "The English People", by George Orwell, 1947. How much have England and English attitudes changed in 67 years? Perhaps better to ask some foreigners, rather than continue to make subjective generalisations and try to imagine their "probable impressions" and how "they" see "us".




Some excerpts:

"It is worth trying for a moment to put oneself in the position of a foreign observer, new to England, but unprejudiced, and able because of his work to keep in touch with ordinary, useful, unspectacular people...with his fresh eyes he would see a great deal that a native observer misses, and his probable impressions are worth tabulating. Almost certainly he would find the salient characteristics of the English common people to be artistic insensibility, gentleness, respect for legality, suspicion of foreigners, sentimentality about animals, hypocrisy, exaggerated class distinctions, and an obsession with sport.

As for our artistic insensibility, ever-growing stretches of beautiful countryside are ruined by planless building....attractive vistas are blocked by hideous statues to nonentities- and all this without any popular protest whatever. When England's housing problem is discussed, its aesthetic aspect simply does not enter the mind of the average man...

The traditional English xenophobia is stronger among the working class than the middle class...The difference in habits, and especially in food and language, makes it very hard for English working people to get on with foreigners. Their diet differs a great deal from that of any European nation, and they are extremely conservative about it. As a rule they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regard such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unlivable to them unless they have tea and puddings...

Travelling abroad, speaking foreign languages, enjoying foreign food, are vaguely felt to be upper-class habits, a species of snobbery, so that xenophobia is reinforced by class jealousy....

Hypocrisy is so generally accepted as part of the English character that a foreign observer would be prepared to meet with it at every turn...

They (the English) must stop despising foreigners. They are Europeans and ought to be aware of it...

There are immense educational possibilities in the radio, the film, and - if it could be freed once and for all from commercial interests- the press".

George Orwell, 1947.


One could start a modern investigation by reading "La Reine, la City et Les Grenouilles"


Others who have written about the English in more recent times include Jeremy Paxman and Kate Fox

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