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Stiff Upper Lip

The characteristic English pose involves keeping the head held high, the upper lip stiff and the best foot forward. In this position, conversation is difficult and intimacy of any kind almost impossible. This in itself is a clue to the English character.


Puritanism has always found in the English its most fertile breeding ground. For hundreds of years their children have been brainwashed with trite little sayings - "Silence is golden", "Empty vessels make the most noise" and, most telling, "You are not put on to this earth to enjoy yourself".

Small wonder that they end up, as adults, acting rather like the three wise monkeys and emotionally in traction.

But still the English defend their character and behaviour against all comers. Perhaps that is because Puritanism with its punishing work ethic assures them that their reward for all that restraint will come at a sort of school prize-giving ceremony in the world to come.

If it is the latter, they are forgetting that since God is also English - a firmly-held belief - any hedonism in the next world will probably be accompanied by mugs of bromide.

Nevertheless, the English continue to bask in this certainty to the general astonishment of the rest of mankind.


If there is one trait that absolutely singles out the English it is their shared dislike for anyone or anything that "goes too far".

Going too far, as the English see it, covers displaying an excess of emotion, getting drunk, discussing money in public or cracking off-colour jokes and then laughing at them noisily. Beyond the pale altogether is the man or woman who regales one with his or her titles or qualifications. The only acceptable place to air these is on an envelope.

To the English the proper way to behave in almost all situations is to display a languid indifference to almost everything, though one may be seething underneath. Even in affairs of the heart, it is considered unseemly to show one's feelings except behind closed doors.

A Good Sport

If an English man or woman refers to you as "a good sport", you will know that you have really arrived. For to them it is a qualification normally never awarded to a foreigner and by no means within the grasp of all the English.

The term is not exclusively a sporting one. It describes the sort of behaviour both on and off the playing field that characterises everything the English really respect. In all physical trials, the good sport will play without having been seen to practise too hard and will, ideally, win from innate superiority. He of she will then be dismissive of their victory and magnanimous towards the loser.

It goes without saying that the good sport will also be a good loser. There will be no arguing with umpires or outward signs of disappointment. On the contrary, a remark such as "The best man won!" tossed airily to all and sundry, and never through clenched teeth, is obligatory even in the face of crushing defeat.

This does not really fool anyone, for the English are fiercely competitive especially in matters sporting. They would rather be crossed in love than beaten on the tennis courts, but to let it be seen would be going too far.


It is the apparent colossal self-confidence and moral certainty of the English that is paradoxically one of their greatest stumbling blocks. For both qualities are, to a certain extent, only illusions. Whilst they may appear fearless and calm on the surface, deep down the English suffer from agonising self-doubt, feeling that in many areas of human activity they just cannot cut the mustard.

All the time there were countries to be conquered and foreigners to be governed, the English could sublimate all their clamouring uncertainty. The scent of success served as incense at the altar of their self-assurance.

But with the helter-skelter slide from Empire to Commonwealth and ever downwards, their doubts, like itches, have begun to plague them and it is considered bad form to scratch in public.


The English have a strong sense of history. Because their past was so infinitely more glamorous than their present, they cling to it tenaciously. Mix this love of bygone ages with an unrivalled sentimentality and you have a heady mixture which can be sensed in every aspect of the English life.

Antique shops clutter up every town and village. English homes are filled with old things not only because please the eye but because there is a feeling that anything that has stood the test of time must be better modern counterpart.

The English generally distrust the new-fangled or modern. Shininess is vulgar and the patina of age lends respectability. Thus they cling on to old furniture, old carpets, old chipped china, old kitchen gadgets and garden implements long after common sense dictates that they should be replaced.

"If it was good enough for my grandfather/grandmother, it's good enough for me!". The English cry goes up and each new invasion from the future is greeted with the indignant question: "What was wrong with the old one?".

And as far as the English are concerned, there is no answer to that.


The English are endlessly resourceful and inventive, but rarely profit from their inventions. The inventor in his garden shed turning out gadgets and widgets tends to be almost exclusively male, lacking the more practical female genes in any great numbers.

Often perceiving needs in daily life which have gone unobserved by the rest of his compatriots, he will beaver away 24 hours a day creating such indispensable items as the perfect egg boiler or the self-creasing trouser.

Occasionally, though, he will come up with something with real promise like the hovercraft which will then be ignored by his countrymen and taken up by foreigners.

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