Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Below is a guest essay by our Dutch correspondent Michiel Mans. It’s a cross-post from his own site, where it was published earlier today.

By Michiel Mans


I think reincarnation is bollocks but if I am a reincarnation of anything, I think at some recent point in time I was British. Probably English and vaguely Scottish on my mother’s side. That was one of the reasons I watched BBC’s Panorama about Britishness with more than a passing interest. I saw parallels with Dutchness as well. And what is Britishness?

British? “Indian…”
Goodness Gracious!

Sometimes one cannot give a definition. Like with Britishness. Yet, anyone knows when one stumbles upon something or someone British. Or recognizes a lack of Britishness. ‘As British as the Queen’, some might say. A real Brit would give you a sardonic smile at such a revelation of Britishness and add “apart from her sausageness that is”. Yet, it is true. In all but cases like episodes of Blackadder and the like, her Majesty is British.

Don Warrington

Though not being able to capture it in a clear definition doesn’t mean there are no keywords. Phlegmatism, a preference for subtlety when describing otherwise somewhat unpleasant things or stressful situations, an indestructible sense of humour and, according to the rest of the world, a very bad taste. In food that is. And, of course, gallons of tea will sort out just about anything that has gone wrong. Perhaps that is why the mayor of Amsterdam pours barrels of it when there is trouble. Alas, it is not the liquid itself. Maybe he should have a cup with London’s mayor to find out more. Apparently, lots of tea used the British way over longer periods of time, produces stiff upper lips. Gallons of ale, beer or spirits, in particular Scotland’s finest, give the British their courage. This, strangely enough, they call Dutch courage. No idea where that one comes from.
- - - - - - - - -
Adrian Lester

An inbred hate for the French, seems to be part of the British make-up as well. In spite of Entente Cordiale and the import of more edible foods. To some extend this courtesy befalls the Germans as well. Actually, some British see any Johnny foreigner as… mmm… yes.. not sort of… British. Yes that is it. Not British. Can one become British is an obvious next question? And, as some might think now, does one have to be white? The answer is ‘yes’, and ‘no’ to the second part.

Boris Johnson

Those from Goodness Gracious Me, who created the old guy who always said “Indian” to whatever was presented to him, are actually quite British. Don Warrington in and outside BBC’s Man Child, is British. Adrian Lester (Hustle) is British. Even Boris Johnson, his blood full of Turks, garlic and sausages, is British. Actually Boris seems to have reinvented the upper class eccentric variety. And a fine one he is indeed. Yes, you can become British. It is not easy but then, what is?

Frogs, not British
French Frog

So, there is no real (racial) prejudice or limitation hindering Britishness. However, I do not see any serious Muslim ever become British. Be honest, that was what Panorama was about. It is not just their silly (female) dress code, which means a lot more than just folklore. Even if it would just be folklore, don’t forget that the Scots had some difficulty in getting their Kilt being recognised as British as well. The wrapping up of women is however far, far more evil than occasionally showing your private parts on a windy day. Actually, the female Muslim dress code is an oppressive and obsessive prevention from exposing private parts. Every inch of female exposure can change men into sexual berserkers, or so is the ‘reasoning’ behind this wrapping up. And unlike the Scots, no jokes please, or else…

True Brit?

The problem with many serious Muslims is that they are, and according to their faith, must be above all else, Muslim first. Their Qur’an teachings make it impossible for them ever to become British unless they overcome the British. The teachings of the Prophet are alien to Britishness. Can anyone imagine a devout Achmed Blackadder taking the piss out of Muhammed?

And that is just a first step.


Afonso Henriques said...

Well, I liked it. It was funny to read in spite of my difficulty to unlock the meaning of a few dozens of words... however, that's only my ignorance and fault.

I have to say that I disagree with the bulk of it. Why? Because I can never immagine me being English or an English thinking of me as an English under any circumstances imaginable...

But because I am no one droper, I believe that, given some very especific circumstances, my prole could indeed "became" English.

Perhaps you people do not have contact with emmigrants. I do, little, but enough to tell that only those who do not speak the language and to whom one parent is a local can - sometimes!!! - consider themselves to be... let's say... "english"!

And I have known many emmigrants, from Australia to Canada and from Argentina to... well, Poland. And in non western societies too. Those I know who consider themselves "French" consider all the muslims there to be French as well.


But again, British is a whole more inclusive term!!! Is it not!?
I thought that the program "Spare me Lord" was a good caricature of this. This and Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

El said...

if there are two things i hate, it's people who judge other people on their nationality - and the dutch!


Fjordman said...

Regarding "Dutch courage": I don't know where that came from, but from the late fifteenth century until the early seventeenth century, the introduction of hopped beer to England was largely done by Dutch and Flemish immigrants, not by native Englishmen. Which means that at the time William Shakespeare was writing his plays, the Dutch ran much of the beer industry in London.

I know because I am 90% finished with my 20,000 words history of beer, from the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia to Carlsberg and Guinness. I'll complete it and publish it at some point, I just have to publish the 20,000 words history of medicine first, and a 20,000 words history of optics afterwards.

Maybe I'll eat at some point as well.

Conservative Swede said...


Maybe I'll eat at some point as well.

Have a Guiness, it's like food.

Graham Dawson (Archonix) said...

Ahh, Michael Caine...

Actually, for all his flaws and wants, Al Murray had a fairly good definition of us. All the other nationalities have nice, pronounced, affirmative names. French! American! German! But we don't. We're British/ It's the ish that counts. We're a bit... ish. We don't make a fuss about who we are, we just know it's true.

Afonso, you're mixing up English and British. Britishness is largely defined by the English since we English have dominated the isles for so long but, it isn't exclusively English. It' s Sciottish, Irish, Cornish, Welsh...ish? I dunno, but the point is, Britishness is rather unique. It's an island thing, I think. The native peoples of the British Isles share Britishness, even if they aren't all the same nation. We know where our land is in a way that you continentals don't because our boundaries are defined by nature.

The result is, we know British when we see it, and no, it isn't "inclusive". To be British, you have to be, well, British. You see? You can become British but it means living here for your entire life, and in the process you have to realise that you aren't British before you can become it. It's a bit zen, I suppose. A little bit contradictory. Until you're willing to put aside your determination to be British you'll never be British because being British is about not being particularly bothersome about the fact that you're British.

Of course you can't start out not intending to be British. In order to put aside the goal of being British you first have to have it in mind. Someone who comes here and says "I'm not going to be British" hasn't found some secret short-cut to Britishness but merely an embarrassing lack of suitable attitude.

For all these reasons a muslim cannot be British. If he becomes British, he stops being a muslim because to be British means believing that those feet in ancient times really did touch this green and pleasant land, that Britannia really does rule the waves and that god really will save the queen in some indefinable way when you sing that anthem. And to do that you'd have to stop being muslim.

It's about assuming the mind of a people who have always known precisely where their land is. The confidence of knowing, at an instinctive level, that your land is forever defined and unchanging. Most of all, though, it's about having the ability to talk about the weather, know what it's like still believe that the bank holiday weekend will be sunny in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Paul said...

Just to inform MR. Dawson,
Ireland is not British never will be and never was. Britain is one Island and Ireland another, easily seen from an Atlas, the EU and Olympics.Must we keep reminding you dear Neighbour? The age of empire and claiming others property is over.

Though we tip our hat to your humor, invention of steam power and soccer, the aqueduct and sanitation :-)



Afonso Henriques said...

Well Archonix,

I believe I understand perfectly whay you say, and, if I don't understand more, it is because I only could do it if I were British.

I do think I understand you. After all, there is also one thing called Iberism or Hispanicism that I recognise, respect and support, though I am fiercely opposed to the imperial Spanish State. - It's like, you know, "Britishism" would be stronger if instead of Great Britain, we simply had Scotland and Wales and England and Ireland... And Yes, Ireland is British! At least in languahe, there are the British Isles, and Ireland is the second biggest of them! That's why we call Albion the Big Britain, Ireland is the small Britain.

Coming back to Hispanicism, I am reading a zen, cosmic, metaphisic book - you name it! - called Magical Places of Portugal and Spain and the Hispanicism can be felt in the same way. After all, if it weren't for the bloody muslims and the bloody French, we true Hispanics, wouldn't be so backwarded!

And the Pyrinees act as a border too. So I understand that feeling that you Brits also feel in relation to Europe:
"Europe is the everything that is nothing".
Though we're of course Europeans, in the same way, we aren't.

We, you and the Russians are not the same of those bloody Continentals now, are we?

latté island said...

Re: Dutch courage, I always thought it referred to Dutch gin, I think it's called "genever" (not sure of spelling). It's drunk straight and is distilled from juniper berries. I once tried it, it was okay, but I don't drink gin so I don't know how to evaluate it. I could be completely wrong about this, it's only what I know from my brief tourist experience in Amsterdam 30 years ago.

Felicie said...

This is another culturalist point of view. I don't agree with it entirely. I find the whole dichotomy - nature/culture - false. Culture, I am sure, is inseparable from nature (i.e., we have developed a certain culture precisely because we have a certain nature), although there may be other influences, such as geographical. I would grant the point that a person of African descent born and bred in Britain is more British than an African from Africa. But is he completely British? To me, no. For starters, culture is very influenced by one's underlying temperament. The underlying temperament is genetic. The famous British stiff upper lip personality may be the result of the high concentration of the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain that is typical for someone with British genes (I don't know that - I'm just speculating). It would be logical then that someone with a highly volotile and excitable temperament, who is low on GABA, would not be a good match for the host population. But if you inject too many people with a genetically different temperament, the temperament of the British, as a whole, will change transform as well and become something other than it is. And temperament is just one component of the natural personality that shapes culture. There are other things, such as general intelligence, a certain character of thinking (I don't think it's simply a historical accident that the British tend to be pragmatists, the French - rationalists, and the German - idealists), bravery, resolve, organization, etc., etc... We have not yet identified all the brain centers responsible for different patterns of behavior, but we will, given enough time. And the more we discover, the less of "culturalists" we will become. But then it might be too late. The genetic make-up of the populations will be irreversibly altered.

Conservative Swede said...


Culture, I am sure, is inseparable from nature

Thanks. Such a simple and obvious truth. But people are unable to see it. People are trained to think in drastic extremes. If it's not the one extreme, it must be completely the other. Balanced, proportional, combinational thinking is alien and far beyond their horizon. Also in this forum I estimate that some 90% end up either in the culturalist or the racist camps.

I think the background for this is that people do not reason using science style thinking, but using purity code. Combinational thinking is not "kosher" in their minds, as it were. From highly ideologized positions they deem certain things to be dirty, vicious, the root of the evil, evil as such, etc. Having that in your mix is seen as pollution to them (or poisoning). This is how they end up in extremes. In the end it's only one pure thing that can be ideologically accepted. (I should also add that the driver behind purity code reasoning is not logic but fear.)

The extremist thinking also has roots in the French Revolution. The ideas coming from the French Revolution are very heterogeneous, and go in orthogonal directions, but they are all extremist. That's the common factor of the French Revolution: extremist thinking.

latté island said...

CS, I agree being in one camp or the other lacks subtlety, but you left out something. It matters where you live. I often call myself a racist, but that's mainly because I live in an integrated neighborhood where, if I don't think racially and cross the street when I see certain types of people, I'll get the c**p beaten out of me by people who are genuinely racist. When I lived on the whiter side of town, I was much more "balanced."

Graham Dawson (Archonix) said...

Paul, I'm not arguing with you, I'm just going to point out that Ireland is part of what is generally referred to as the British Isles.

Toodle pip. :)

BlogMann said...

Last year I joined The England Society which promotes a form of civic Englishness which sort of meets what you are talking about. I like it because it's open to all without diluting the essential Englishness of all. Maybe this is the way forward - you can join our culture as one of us, just make sure you want to belong. Oh, and try not to blow anyone up. Just my 2d.

pasta said...


Thanks for pointing me to the England Society. How many members does it have already? It seems to be still in its early stages. I couldn't find a Wikipedia entry about it, either.

It resembles an idea which I had myself recently, to make a religion out of our ethnic identity, in order to create a community of our own and implement a group strategy for surviving in a multicultural society in spite of a hostile stance of the government. We western people must overcome our individualism.

Afonso Henriques said...

"I estimate that some 90% end up either in the culturalist or the racist camps."

I don't agree. Maybe it is the world English or British that is too strong.

There are of course a path to be traveled. As Felice pointed out and well, an African born and raised in England is more English than an African born in Africa.

The point, I think, is not extremism but the meaning of the word.

To some, like Babs, someone who has walked half the path to Britishness is already a Brit. To others, the only British are the ones who have completed the path to Britishness.

I think Babs view is not as right as the other because, in that stance, one would have some British more British than others... that is, after all Multiculturalism and "informal"/"formal" Identity El was talkng about...

Stephen Gash said...

I'm English not British.

I will never be British.

English forever! British never!

Conservative Swede said...

Neither Latte nor Afonso seemed to fully get what I wrote.

Latte, when I say balanced I do no refer to tempered personal attitudes, but a cognitive balance in combining two components in your thinking. (My interest resides in the intellectual world, not in the world of personal attitudes).

And Afonso. I do not get what you say. But it does not seem to be related to what I wrote.

Conservative Swede said...

Stephen Gash,

I'm English not British.
I will never be British.
English forever! British never!

It would be interesting if you would elaborate on that. For a non-English like me it's not clear what connotations you make to the two concepts. But I guess 'English' is connected to the nation of people, while 'British' is connected to the state and the (once) empire and (still) commonwealth.

The funny thing then is that the BNP, in spite of its name, is English but not British.

Afonso Henriques said...

Conservative Swede, in my view the BNP is predominantly English only because of the English dominate the British (World) Isles. The BNP has come to the point in which they have understand that they better preserve what is European and British all together against third worldism. If I were to live in Britain, I wouldn't consider myself English nor British (or wanting to) but would think about becoming a non-British member of the BNP.

What I said earlier is that the defenition of "Swede" (for instance) may have a gradual meaning.

You, for instance, may not consider a Australian Aboriginal who lives in Australia Sweden, meanwhile consider me somehow more "eligeble" to be Sweden than him.

On the other side, you can consider an Australian Aboriginal with Swedish Nationlity to be more Swede than me. You can consider Larson more Sweden than the AA. You can consider Ibrahimovic more or less Sweden than Larson; you can consier a black who's father is a Swede to be more Swede than...

But, you can consider yourself to be more Sweden than them all.

There has to be a point in which you consider someone Swede or not. You can consider a half Swede half French more Swede than the half black...

"Swedishism" would be gradual, some would be more Swede than others as some Americans are (precieved to be) more Americans than others by their own Asian, African or Native American minorities.


There are some Brazilians I qualify as black, others as Mexicans, others as Brazilians and others as white.