No manners, please, we're British

Never mind being polite, these days the British are almost as loud, rude, obnoxious and ignorant of the language and local customs as the Americans are abroad. But who cares?

January 09, 2007

No manners, we're British

Despite having a reputation of being "reserved", the British are often seen as being a people who shout a lot and drink a lot

Since we have been having fun with rude Parisians (external - login to view), it might be a good moment to lament a new menace in our midst: the loud Brit.

I wonder if others are struck as I am by the uncouth behaviour of many British visitors to France and the rest of the continent. I am not just talking about Little England characters or young football supporters who get plastered before their Eurostar train has left Kent. The offenders are from the comfortable classes, though they tend to be on the younger side, under about 45.

This is not the rant of an expatriate gone native. Friends, French and otherwise, comment on the trend. I am talking about the way that some Britons -- and not just the English -- act as if they own the place when entering shops, cafes or just walking down the street. This attitude is replacing the older stereotype of the British middle class abroad as unassertive and overly apologetic.

Possession of the all-powerful English language and more spending money seem to confer a sense of superiority, as they did for Americans in Europe before Vietnam and, more recently, Iraq.

Part of this is cultural. As we discussed the other day (external - login to view), a casual "hi", a grunt or a shrug suffice as greetings in modern Britain while the French expect a clear bonjour at least. Often, I see Brits demanding service in blunt English with no greeting and no apology for the foreign language.

Then there is noise level. Britain has a higher threshold of tolerance -- not just abroad, as a visit to any UK city pub will attest to. In a restaurant in London's Notting Hill the other day, a Paris friend was amazed by the raucous yelling at a table of young City types -- male and female. "I thought the English were considerate," said the friend, who has only visited the UK a couple of times.

Twice in the past month, waiters have sought my help to ask British groups in small Paris brasseries to keep the sound down. On both occasions they were a youngish, professional crowd who did not notice that their high spirits were annoying the locals. Both times, the response was irritation rather than apology and the volume went back up as French customers moved table to get away.

"Why do they make so much noise?" wondered Alain, the waiter at my local lunch place on the Boulevard des Italiens. Alcohol is part of the answer. The British fondness for heavy drinking amplifies the excessive behaviour. Alain also made a point that you hear from Parisians. In the old days, the Americans stood out among the visitors, for dress and behaviour. Now les anglais often draw attention to themselves while the Americans -- on the defensive in France -- try to blend in more.

My Paris-born daughter, aged 13, was on holiday in Val d'Isère, in the Alps, on the New Year weekend. The hotel warned her and her friend to stay indoors. "It could be dangerous because les anglais will be partying in the streets," the staff said. Back home she asked me why les anglais were different from everyone else.

Mobile phones and eating on the Métro are another problem, but maybe I had better stop. I don't want to exaggerate. Much British behaviour is just high spirits on holiday or business trips. Some Brits may be obnoxious, but there are many quiet ones who are sensitive to the native culture.

And there is not much really new about this. The 1944 wartime guide for British soldiers in France -- republished last year -- advises servicemen to tone down their behaviour and avoid over-familiarity in France. The French took a dim view of the uncouth behaviour of ordinary anglais from the middle ages onwards. In the early 18th century, Montesquieu, the great essayist and admirer of England, wrote: "The English have too much to do. They do not have time to be polite." All those travelling gentlemen and milords of the 18th and 19th centuries helped improve the image but we now seem to be drifting backwards.

Anyway, I'm ready to be shot down. Who's first ?

If the Frenchies can't stand a few young British people shouting in a restaurant, then how will they do in a war when there are bombs exploding and people shouting from all directions?
Last edited by Blackleaf; Jan 9th, 2007 at 01:23 PM..
it's bad to eat on the metro?
Apparently, it is if you're a Brit.

Maybe the French are so busy tucking into their frog, garlic and snail salad that when a Brit sees what they are eating he vomits his fish and chips over the lap of the person sitting next to them.
it seems weird to me since ive seen people do much worse than eat on the metro. it's not really a place condusive to eating anyway

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