The Silly English

One thing I’ve noticed over here is the English predilection for all things silly. Silly songs and ditties, dressing up in silly outfits, silly practical jokes, whimsical place names and of course English comedy which revels in all manner of silliness.

Not convinced? Consider Monty Python’s “Fish Slapping Dance” or “Ministry of Silly Walks” - why are they hilarious? The fish slapping dance is just stupid - but you can’t help laughing. If you’ve been watching England’s none too inspiring performance in this World Cup you might’ve noticed alongside the obligatory fat-man-without-a-shirt and women with crosses of St. George painted on their faces, that the more creative fans had created bizarre outfits, dressing like Knights Templar or schoolboys. Enjoying a meal just last Saturday on an evening at Covent Garden we couldn’t help notice a large bunch of girls on a night out dressed as devils, and in fact everytime we’ve been to London we’re sure to see some people dressed in silly outfits - although lately it’s been mostly England flags thanks to the World Cup.

And whilst we’re on the subject of football - those silly football songs:

Who ate all the pies?
Who ate all the pies?
You fat bastard,
You fat bastard,
You ate all the pies!

Or the songs that Man. U. chant when playing Liverpool. Because what rhymes with scouse but “eating rats in your council house”? Whilst some of them are vulgar and some hateful for the most part these football songs are just plain silly. I’m always amazed at how much enjoyment English football yobs seem to get from singing songs like “He’s tall, he’s red, his feet stick out the bed, Peter Crouch, Peter Crouch”. All of England’s poetic abilities seem at their best when just being silly or ridiculous, from Stevie Smith’s “Our Bog is Dood” to Spike Milligan’s “Teeth” and Roald Dahl’s “The Pig” - poems that just revel in the ridiculous. Even Shakespeare’s Iago when recommending England to the Venetians in “Othello” can only recommend them for their drinking and their silly songs.

McDonald’s, advertising their wares in this nation of poets have had perforce to adapt and invent some silly poems of their own, referring to their various customers “passing by”: “the Gothy types and scoffy types and like-their-coffee-frothy types”.

Have I mentioned silly place names? In neighbouring Hitchin there’s a “Butt’s Close” , many Australians would be familiar with London’s “Action Town” I mean “Acton Town” and another town in Hertfordshire is the quaintly named “Biggleswade” - which just sounds silly. These are the silly names I can think of on the spot - but if you do a google search: “Little Sodbury”, “North Piddle”, “Puddledock” - there are many more!

So how to explain English silliness? Upon first arriving in England I couldn’t but feel frustrated at the prevailing “can’t do” attitude in all aspects of customer service over here. The country’s sales assistants seemed to take the Mike Atherton “oh well, we did our best” approach to everything when the they have not really made any effort. And believe me, it is even more frustrating than the Australian “she’ll be right attitude”. In fact, one of the lowest points settling in over here was when I bought my first weekend trip to Paris - 700GBP for a Eurostar trip, accomodation in a seedy part of Paris in a Best Western that even the cab driver had never heard of and a day trip to Disneyland. But in the Thomas Cook that I’d visited, it seemed like the service assistant was stonewalling me the entire time; every suggestion that I tried was greeted with a furrowed brow, a wipe of the glasses, some erratic typing and a “computer says no” response. Eventually I settled with the overpriced trip through exhaustion - I’d never left a travel agent so depressed before in my life. Doctors surgeries were even worse. I now book all of my travel arrangements on the Internet and don’t get sick. But on the plus side, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate Little Britain’s Carol Beer without first visiting Thomas Cook, Hitchin. And whilst the English might pride themselves on having the rudest most unhelpful sales assistants in the world, they also know how to “take the mick” and don’t take themselves too seriously - a character trait that Australians could well do with learning.


Arto said...

Hi Tom!
I think you're thinking primarily of Sydneysiders - they're too busy trying to impress the world, so they have to take themselves too seriously, but the rest of Australia isn't as bad. However, Australia's optimism (contra the UK's pesimism) means that Aussies tend to take themselves more seriously than the Poms (maybe also that we have had throughout our history, we have tried to punch above our weight so often that that has something to do with it?!)
Cheers, Arto

Akseli Koskela said...

Yes, Sydneysiders are probably the worst at feeling the need to prove themselves. I think some English silliness probably wouldn't go astray in Sydney.