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Opinion - Jeremy Clarkson
The Sunday Times October 23, 2005
We are a nation in rude health
Soon it will be illegal to make derogatory remarks about people from other countries. But it isnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t now. So we begin this morning with an observation. ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s possible, I think, to sum up the people of every nation on earth with a single word. The Americans are fat, the Spanish are lazy, Germans are humourless, Russians are drunk, Australians are chippy and the Greeks are homosexual.
Fine, but what word, do you suppose, would people from around the world use to sum up the British? I guess if theyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve been exposed to our football team or some of our holidaymakers that word might well be Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“hooligansĂ˘â‚¬? but I really do think the vast majority would describe us as Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“politeĂ˘â‚¬?.
ThereĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s a sense that we spend all of our time in bowler hats, standing up for ladies and offering our seats to elderly and disabled people on trains. But the perception is far removed from reality because actually, when it comes to politeness, I think the British slot neatly between the Israelis and the leopard seal, a blubbery and vicious bastard that kills penguins for fun.
Last week ReaderĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Digest provided some evidence to back this up. Its researchers toured the nationĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s biggest cities, allowing drivers out of side turnings to see if they were thanked and deliberately dropping bags of shopping to see if anyone would help pick it all up again.
Each city was then awarded a courtesy rating and, with the exception of Newcastle and Liverpool, pretty well everywhere did very badly. Birmingham was branded the rudest city of them all; drop your shopping in the Bullring and chances are you will be killed and eaten.
Good. Birmingham is what Mr Blair would call a multicultural city and the research shows that the recent arrivals are getting the hang of what it means to be British.
First and foremost it is critical that you do not know the name of your next-door neighbour. Why should you? Living on the same street as someone is no basis for a friendship. In fact the only time you should be noticed by your neighbours is when youĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve lain dead in your kitchen for nine months.
That is a uniquely British tradition; the ability to rot in peace. In Italy you wouldnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t even be cold before half the town was beating down your door to see what was wrong.
And IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m not just talking about cities. From my office window I can see half a dozen houses dotted around in the countryside and IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m proud to say I donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t know who lives in any of them. And according to Bill Bryson, things are no different in Yorkshire, which is always billed as a friendly place. HeĂ˘â‚¬â„˘d lived in the Dales for years before someone from the village wearily waved a hand to acknowledge his presence.
Disagree? Well just try walking your dog through a field full of sheep and see if you like the rural welcome Ă˘â‚¬â€ť which will come steaming towards your pooch from the barrel of a 12-bore shotgun.
If any tourist wanted to experience, first hand, a typically British exchange they should head for the GrabĂ˘â‚¬â„˘nĂ˘â‚¬â„˘Go shop at the BBC. Here I am able to buy a bottle of Diet Coke, some cheesy Quavers and a Picnic chocolate bar without exchanging a single word with the cashier. She takes the products, scans them into her machine, points lazily at the amount on the till, takes my money and I go away.
Think how much time this saves. It could be argued, in fact, that Britain conquered a quarter of the world simply because no one was wasting their lives telling everyone they met to Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“have a nice dayĂ˘â‚¬?.
This brings me neatly on to my postman. I see him every morning, come rain or global warming, and the only thing IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve ever heard him say is, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Can you sign here?Ă˘â‚¬? Actually nowadays weĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve moved on from that. Now he just points at his form, I write my name on it, and he gets back into his van. Brilliant.
ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s said that true silence can only be found these days in a desert, but that is simply not true. If you want to experience absolute peace and quiet, just step into a crowded British lift. I did just that yesterday, in Birmingham in fact, and not a single sound was made even when the doors closed and the damn thing failed to move.
And where else in the world do you read in the newspapers about neighbours going to war over a hedge, or a borrowed hosepipe that was not returned? Can you imagine anyone in Switzerland getting road rage?
They say New York is a rude place, but compared with Britain itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s just a very tall, noisy version of Lucy ClaytonĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s.
Is there any city outside Britain where young men, and quite a few young women, go out at night specifically to have a fight? Where else can you can have your head stove in for looking at someone, or have a pint glass rammed into your neck for spilling someoneĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s drink? Nowhere IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ve ever been, thatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s for sure.
WhatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s more, this is almost certainly the only country in the world where a major newspaper would carry a piece that began by calling the Americans fat, the Spanish lazy and the Greeks homosexual. So on that basis Birmingham should be proud to be voted the rudest city in Britain. Because that makes it the most British city of them all.