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Health and Hygiene

Health and Hygiene

The French are fascinated by their livers, the Germans by their digestive systems and the Spanish by their blood. To the English, none of these have anything like the appeal of the bowels.

From earliest childhood, the English are brought up to take a keen interest in the regularity and consistency of their bowel movements. The day that does not start with a satisfactory visit to the lavatory starts on the wrong foot, and the English child who fails in this morning duty is deemed to show signs of "crankiness" or to have "got out of bed on the wrong side". It is a preoccupation that lasts for life.

While their continental neighbours breakfast on pastries and jam, the English tuck in to bowls of cereal, rich in fibre and advertising their efficacy through such names as "Force" or "All Bran".

Correctives for bowel disorders throng English bathroom shelves and old-fashioned remedies continue to sell well. "Carter's Little Liver Pills" promise to cure "that out-of-sorts feeling due to constipation". "Califig - Syrup of Figs" is billed as an effective laxative for all the family. Both are less violent and unpleasant than their no-nonsense rival in shirt-sleeves - good old-fashioned Castor Oil.

To correct the effects of over-indulgence in one of the above preparations, "looseness" as the English term it, there is another splendid proprietary medicine. The origins of "J.Collis Browne's Chlorodyne" have become obscured by time. The good doctor's patients obviously got about a bit. One of the ecstatic endorsements accompanying his little bottles boasts: "I have even used chlorodyne with great effect on Mont Blanc."

Reasonably steady on home ground, English bowels suffer exquisitely abroad. Thanks to the appalling nature of local food and water, the English traveller constantly runs into bowel problems. From "Delhi-belly" to "Montezuma's Revenge" or The Aztec Quickstep' they strike him or her in every far-flung corner of the earth.

Many of the English juggle with laxatives and binding agents all their lives in the hope of one day returning to that blissful childhood state when an adult would nod approvingly at the first droppings of the day. For many of them this faecal nirvana is never reached.

None of them can be persuaded to flirt with the ubiquitous suppository so beloved of Europeans. While the French will even treat a headache with one, the English doctor their bowels with pills and prunes.

With more serious illnesses, the English are at their most stoic. Not for them the wailing and gnashing of teeth heard in foreign hospitals. Fortitude in the face of adversity is the thing. Remember Queen Victoria's dying words: "I feel a little better…"


When it comes to hygiene, the English are traditionally inclined. Showers are gaining in popularity but in most English houses the bath still reigns supreme.

Whilst the rest of the world looks on horrified, the English wallow in baths filled with their own dirt and diluted with warm water. But then they do use more soap than any other nation, which, as far as they are concerned, counts for a lot. For as every English person knows, other nations, especially the French, just put on more scent when they start to smell.

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