Queuing, the weather and our obsession with tea...
nglishness. It comes in many guises. For George Orwell it was “solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes.” The American-born poet T. S. Eliot said it “lay in the Henley regatta, Wensleydale cheese and the music of Elgar.” But, if there is one thing that epitomises Englishness it has to be our etiquette. We take great pride in our manners.
Take queuing, for example. While many foreigners are baffled by the phenomenon of the English queue, for us it's just a way of life – we find any excuse to form an orderly line, whether it's boarding a bus or waiting for a table in a café. 'Queue jumping' is greatly frowned upon. And if we lose our place in line, we always keep a stiff upper lip.
A queue is one of the few places where it is not considered bad manners to talk to a stranger without being introduced. The biggest topic of conversation is the weather – come rain or shine, we English folk love to talk about the weather. Even amongst family and friends, nothing gets us as excited as talking about the unrelenting rain, or unseasonal sunshine.
Apart from sunbathing. At the first sign of sun, we strip off. Head to central London on a blue-sky day (any time of year) and you'll find every patch of grass, every wall, lined with people. Their jackets and shoes will be off, their trousers and shirt sleeves rolled up high to expose as much skin as possible.
If sunbathing is our favourite pass time, drinking tea is a close second. The custom of drinking tea originated in England when Catherine of Bragança married Charles II in 1661, and brought the practice of drinking tea in the afternoon with her from Portugal. And it stuck. A mid-afternoon cuppa is a ritual for most of us. And an early-afternoon one, and a late-morning one... We even dress up and go out for tea, often complementing the tipple with scones and cucumber sandwiches. Where ever we go, and whichever tea treats we go for, we always, always mind our Ps and Qs (pleases and thank yous).
Some people might think us quirky, odd even. But we wouldn't do things any other way. We're English and we're proud of it.
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