Being (too) British: Pt. I

An Englishman overcomes his fear of continental laissez faire

On The Town | Ben Maddox | March 2009

Too British for the sauna?

To start with I’m English; this means that I have a different attitude from Europeans. I was brought up in Middle England under the strict rules of Purity, Piety and Hypocrisy (also half-arsed alliteration.) I was taught to treat anyone without a bowler hat and an umbrella with fear, suspicion and a sharpened bayonet.

Anyone with even the slightest trace of a foreign twang wasn’t to be trusted. ‘Johnny Foreigner’ (or Jenny, his sister) were enemies to the fine British traditions of Stiff Upper Lipness, Emotional Repression and Industry Closures. Don’t learn a foreign language, don’t drink the water and for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t eat anything with garlic in it! But even garlic was not as dangerous, not as corrosive, not as morale sapping as Europe’s number one threat to Village Fêtes and underachievement in sport.

The biggest threat was SEX. That was the one thing that could wash away the foundations of Parliament and with it everything we stood for. This one thing was, and still is – that’s right – the one thing we British never do! The European laissez-faire attitudes towards sex are anathema to the straight-laced British, even the English language is riddled with foreign sobriquets for unspeakable acts. The "French Letter," a "Hamburg Tickle" and the dreaded "Upside Down Lisbon Boogie" are all terms to make the schoolboy giggle and the Governess turn up her nose.

‘Then why do you live amongst the devils?’ I hear you ask. The reasons are many and time is short; but suffice it to say I felt that I had grown too big for a small island. I needed to spread my wings, to see new things and to overcome my fears. Also, there was probably a pub in Vienna that I wasn’t banned from (damn "pubwatch" in Britain is ruining the drunken bar brawl as we know it.)

Time has passed though and I have become more European in my habits, I sometimes drink coffee instead of tea and I don’t always drink myself into insensibility and so my attitudes have softened with regards to the European view of sex. I no longer see a continent of rabid sex maniacs. I have never once been jumped on the street – mores the pity.

Still the gleeful acceptance of sexual congress is something I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to. Europeans see the act of love as a natural thing to be glorified and reveled in, not (as is truly the case) a furtive secret act to be referred to, bracketed with giggles, by drunken men in bars. To look at any British ladies’ magazine would lead any foreigner into believing that we are exceptionally liberal, every front cover splashed with headlines like ‘Please Your Man With Only the Use of a Fish Fork and a Rubber Band.’

Marketing people, PR types and reality TV executives bombard the British public daily with cringe-worthy displays of the apparently healthy, frank and open sex lives of our fellow Brits. But within us all lives a tiny Oliver Cromwell screaming in puritanical rage at the mention of bedroom acts. Secretly harkening for an age when "missionary" meant reading out of the Bible and "doggy" was the affectionate name for the family pet.

This is why the British are known to be different from the Europeans; you’ve grown up, accepted aspects of the Human Condition in a far more mature manner than we ever will, and I salute you for it.

Just don’t ask me to join in.

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