This week, David Mitchell writes about the future of “Britain” in the wake of the recent SNP win. Two things in this article are of particular interest to me:
1) But it’s also an acceptable bit of patriotic joshing because it’s basically OK to be French. I know I’m breaking the laws of comedy by saying this, but the French are fine. It’s a lovely country and they’re relatively well-off, so we can take the piss out of them, and concede piss to them, in the knowledge that both nations have the self-confidence to cope….
He then goes on to talk about why you can’t slag off countries that are genuinely in crisis.
…friendly “My country’s better than your country” banter only really works when the point is arguable either way. It’s rude to do it to someone whose homeland is screwed. You can say to a German: “What’s with all the sausages!?” but you can’t say to a Bangladeshi: “What’s with all the flooding!?”
This also reminded me that there are several other countries of the same status as us that won’t engage in this mutual piss-taking. France is often the butt of our jokes – and we of theirs. So while we declare that they are a weeny white-flag-waving country, our actions denote that they are our equals, our brothers, with the same sense of humour and self-deprication as us. They have the self-confidence to cope. Can you see where I’m going with this? Try taking the piss out of the (self-proclaimed) most confident and successful and greatest nation in the world. Instead of a friendly sparring-match, you’ll encounter a nation that breaks into tears when we “insult” them. Sometimes they get so upset that they’ll start a war or 5. So the self-deprecation of the perceived wuss leads to more strength than the He-Man of the world.
2) In response to the SNP deputy-leader saying that she has nothing against England, Mitchell says:
Yes but you’ve got it in for Britain. You may be happily in cahoots with the morris-dancing English and the Eisteddfod-organising Welsh, but my country, the Britain of London where I now live, of Swansea, my mother’s home town where I spent a lot of time as a child, and of Galloway, where my paternal grandparents lived, is something you want to destroy. I’m British, I care about this and I’ve a hunch I’m not the only one.
It’s entirely arguable that there’s no such thing as English. If you’re white, and your last 3 generations were born here, you are still probably French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian or Italian. British, however, being a socially constructed thing, has been demonstrated here as more of a valid identity. It is more about culture than DNA. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a mongrel myself, but the power and value of heritage and cultural…stuff, tangible stuff, is blatantly obvious to me. Scones, shortbread, casseroles, Eastenders, the peaks, the moors, and the valleys are somehow more British than of their composite countries. Just as almonds, fried rice, sauteed beans, mangoes, crepes, daal, and dates (the remnants of Dutch, Chinese, French, African, Indian and Arabian governance) feel more Mauritian than the indigenous Dodo.