Trying to be a little less “British”

Andrew Calderwood

The North-South Divide is a topic of conversation that is often discussed within British society. The subject matter involved within these deliberations will generally focus on the lack of parity in respect of the levels of pay, variance in the standard of living, and inconsistent job opportunities between the two regions. A theme that is also examined, which may be deemed a more trivial matter, focuses on the perception that those from the Northern section of the divide are far more personable and hospitable than their Southern neighbours.

A case could be made in support of the formation of a sub-culture in the North, whereby striking up conversations with strangers is not unheard of and going out of ones way to offer a helping hand is graciously appreciated, rather than met with a view of caution. Unfortunately, the majority dwelling in the south do not appear to welcome the spontaneous acts of kindness and goodwill that those beyond the Watford gap adopt, often fearing the motives behind these actions.

One who is unfamiliar with customs in the south of England would be forgiven for thinking that its occupants have evolved an aversion to friendliness and have yet found a cure to what is not far short of a crippling disease. They appear inherently unable to embrace the versatility that liberal behaviour can provide and which in turn can help to break the often monotonous actions of everyday life. In the South it is noticeable that people are far colder towards one another and less likely to interact on a prolonged scale. People often give the impression that they are worried that any friendly actions will be deemed abnormal and somehow provoke a negative reaction. The old adage that a smile costs nothing, while embraced by the northern kin, is a preaching which, it could be said, generally appears lost on those in the south.

As I am currently experiencing, Canadians are more closely related to those residing in the north of the United Kingdom, habitually taking warm greetings to the next level and upholding an innate friendliness that appears to be adopted in unison from all sections of society. Everyday it is hard not to be caught off guard by the sea of smiles and chorus of pleasantries that greet your arrival. Whether it be a passerby on the street or the proprietor of a bar or restaurant, the depth of their amiability remains alien, no matter how hard one tries to embrace it. When originating from a society in which you are encouraged to focus your eyes on the floor in order to avoid impulsive social interaction, or to stick to a pre-determined script of brief pleasantries when forced to interact with others, becoming accustomed to progressive social attitudes can take time.

Unfortunately old habits die hard and while it may not be possible to alter behavioural traits overnight, the actions of others certainly make a welcome change and a great accompaniment to the clean air, blue skies and breathtaking scenery. But these attitudes and behaviours, however pleasant they may be, still feel oddly foreign. This is perhaps a result of a strand of DNA within the genetic make-up of an island race, causing the brain to question why people are acting in such an unfamiliar manner. A situation is thus created whereby a negative connotation is attached to positive actions. The good intentions of others often being dismissed as containing an ulterior motive that is the driving force behind their actions becomes difficult to overcome.

As an example, even if the sociable actions of others are derived from a work protocol, why should this be criticised and labelled as disingenuous conduct. Such a situation should allow the opportunity for one to indulge the amiable aspects of their personality without the fear of reprisal or rejection, which is far too commonly instilled in people who are reluctant to open cordial dialogue.

It is perhaps an inherent negativity held within the core of British citizens (or at least southerners), which leads to a content willingness to complain about cold days and bleak, dreary weather. Ignoring the fact that if we were to adopt a more optimistic and approachable attitude, this often downbeat outlook on life could be negated. Reluctantly, this only highlights the much-maligned truism that the British are only happy when they have something to complain about. In view of heightening stress levels and the increasing commitment to working life experienced throughout the nation, people should be implored to fight against the negative characteristics residing within, that sociologists would attribute to societal nurture. An inversion of the often-promoted ideology, healthy body, healthy mind, could encourage greater social interaction, more desirable community life, and improved social happiness. A more enlightened outlook towards public interaction may well mean that we all see a few extra silver linings amongst those ill-conceived clouds.

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