Lost In Translation: Five British Stereotypes That Are Myths

The Ameritish Flag

Hey you! Yes you there! I’ve seen you talking about us behind our backs. I’ve seen what’s written on the toilet stalls in the United Nations. You think the British are just a bunch of uptight, bitchy wet lettuces with appalling dentistry that requires us to boil all of our food. You think we’re a preening bunch of moaning ninnies with an inflated sense of self-worth and no taste.

Well we might be that last thing, but as for the rest? It’s all lies! And here’s why:

“Stiff Upper Lip” vs “Whining Limey”

John Hannah plays a whining limey in 'The Mummy'

What’s going on? The British travel the world telling everyone we’re very repressed people who would rather die than complain, and what happens? We leave behind the myth of the whining limey who has no backbone and would run crying home to Mater rather than stand up and fight for what he (or she) believes in. Well clearly that can’t be true on a genetic or cultural level or we’d have never created the British Empire in the first place. Mind you, we’ve since given it all back, so there is a smidge of cultural diminishment to contend with. We do tend to be sticklers for doing things properly too – if the British had been in charge of Hollywood, all the maverick characters, from Dirty Harry to, well, Maverick in Top Gun, would have been sacked by the end of the first reel – and that’s going to stick in the craw of anyone who, y’know, has a craw, with, er, stuff stuck in it.

Conclusion: let’s maybe get our joint military actions out of the way before we start calling each other feeble, eh?

“British Teeth”

Austin Powers

That’s a weird one. Clearly there have been just enough snaggle-tooth Brits in the public eye over the years to create a reputation for poor dentistry that can’t now be overthrown. It wouldn’t matter if every actor or pop star we send out there had a set of gnashers that would put *insert name of anonymous Hollywood star with very even teeth here* to shame, once that Austin Powers gag had been made, we were all tarred with the same toothbrush. But let’s just stop and think for a moment. Are you absolutely sure that every American has a wonderful set of perfect and pearly spud-mashers? Are you REALLY sure? ‘Cos we’ve seen hillbillies too, y’know.

Conclusion: bad teeth are universal.

“You Can’t Boil Pizza!”

Shepherd's Pie

Ah British cuisine, an oxymoron, surely? How delighted people must be to discover that the most loved British dish is actually curry, from India. Why, even Jamie ‘Bandwagon’ Oliver took nearly 10 years of professional cookery broadcasting to stop automatically making Italian food every time he was asked for a recipe. We don’t squeeze fresh lemons on things when they’re about to be served (apart from fish & chips, and even then, only when they’ve been gussied up for restaurants) and we don’t drizzle olive oil. Have you seen the British weather? We’ve more than enough drizzle to go around already, thank you very much. BUT we do make spectacular pies – steak and kidney being a prime example – and we invented the Cornish pasty, and the Sunday roast, and the fried breakfast, and toad-in-the-hole and cheddar cheese and all of those stodgy puddings that get served with custard (which even the culinary snobs over in France call ‘Crème Anglaise’). Keith Richards lives on shepherd’s pie, and as we all know, that man is unkillable.

Conclusion: So what if we can’t make YOUR food right? We can do our own just fine thanks.

“They’re Too Uptight”

Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in 'Pride and Prejudice'

The British are a chippy race, it’s true. We’re fond of puncturing pomposity and rib-digging anyone who appears to be taking themselves too seriously. But we’re also incredibly soppy and romantic, given the right circumstances. Did you ever hear the story of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards? He was Britain’s sole entrant in the ski jumping event at the 1988 Olympics. He was plainly not very good at it, even though he held a British record (so he was the best of a bad bunch), and even more plainly, found the whole experience a bit terrifying. Had the British been the snark-happy, callous bunch we are often thought to be, we’d have just laughed and left him to get stuck on a tree, but we didn’t. Eddie became a national obsession for a while, people loved the fact that he had a go, and didn’t consider himself to be, like, an auteur of skiing or something. He even got to make a pop record, once he got back. Fittingly, it failed to jump very high up the charts.

Conclusion: We champion the underdog (you can sing this to the tune of Champion the Wonder Horse, if you’re very, very bored).

“British Tabloids Are Vicious”

New York Post

Two words: Perez. Hilton. Yes our tabloids are bad, and we recently had to shut down a whole newspaper for allegedly hacking into the voicemail of a girl who was missing and deleting her messages, thus giving her parents false hope that she was alive, even though she was not. But are we at the vanguard of that wave of bitchy, celebrity-obsessed, gossip-frenzied information? Nope. Did we invent the National Enquirer? Not on my watch. And the vicious attitude isn’t unique to newspapers either. Shock jocks? You started it. Punchy talk shows? We follow, we do not lead. Whole TV news channels devoted to one particular partisan point of view? We haven’t even got there yet. Is “paparazzi” a British word? Nu-uh.

Conclusion: We’re bad, but so is everyone else.

Did we miss anything? Tell us here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine