When I chose to be a citizen of the United Kingdom, I knew at the time that the country was a bit “eccentric” at best in certain areas. Perhaps ‘eccentric’ isn’t a fair term to use, but after this long as being British, I don’t think I can think of another term.
I, as you know, actually live on the island of Mallorca, which, as you also know, is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. And although where I have chosen to live is over 1,000 miles from the country I chose to be my home, due to the proliferation of technology, I can receive English television at Sol y Mar. And herein is the first example of eccentricity.
If you read the first two paragraphs carefully, you will have noted that I British, but can watch English television programming. This is one of those cultural nuances that is often missed by those who are not immersed in them. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and although it is a country, the country is comprised of four separate countries; England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. I am not English, although when I lived in the UK, I always lived in England. I am British. If you were born in Wales, you probably identify yourself as Welsh, and possibly would acknowledge that you are British. A similar thing would occur if you were born in Scotland. You would be a Scot, and might be willing to acknowledge your British-ness. But for some reason, people born in England tend to think of themselves as English. Period.
This whole ‘belief’ thing sounds even more eccentric when you consider a speech I gave to a business group not long after I arrived in London. After an extremely complimentary introduction, I went on the stage and opened with, “Thank you. I am very pleased to be here in Europe, and…” Before I could even go on, a man in the audience raised his arm and said, ‘’Excuse me.” I was a bit caught off guard, never having had that happen to me in the past. I stopped and looked at the man with a confused look on my face. I said, “Yes?” desperately trying to figure out what was occurring. He said, “You said you were happy to be here in Europe. Europe is over there (pointing to what I assumed was sort of south-east). This is England.” I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, just trying to give a talk that would make the group who was paying me think they were getting value for their money, and this person who was obviously up-his-bum with his English-ness mucks it up before I have barely begun. What a tosser. I couldn’t resist and replied, “Sorry. My fault. I was raised in a school system where one of the required courses was geography. In that course, we had this very large map of the world, and the multi-coloured land mass just to the east of the Atlantic Ocean was noted as Europe.” No more comments from him that day.
English television programming can also fall into the category of “interesting.” There are several programmes that I have told you about in a previous letter that are pretty special. One of them is “Coast;” another one is “New Tricks;” and of course, there is the BBC’s “Have I Got News for You.” I do try to make it a point to see these. But then there are several programmes seem to be rather bizarre. In that category are programmes such as “Lambing Live” – a programme from a farm in Wales about sheep giving birth. Right. Not exactly something that I would find entertaining, but I can send you the satellite channel number if this is of interest to you.
I used to watch a programme titled “Master Chef” in which chefs – both amateur and working – are given cookery challenges over a series of weeks until the “Master Chef” is crowned. This programme used to be pretty good, but this year it has degenerated into just another reality-type programme, full of those pregnant pauses when someone is kicked off the programme each week. Too bad, as I really liked learning dishes that even I could prepare. About the only other programming offering that I consistently watch from the UK is the BBC news. Of course the stories seem to be slanted occasionally, but as least when they say ‘world news,’ they mean news from other parts of the world.
Other television programmes that might fall into the category of ‘car-crash-telly’ include; “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” – a series about the over-the-top weddings of British travellers (gypsies) with the highlight (highlight?) being a 17-year old getting married in a 20 kilo (44 pound) wedding dress complete with built-in lights; “Pop Goes the Band” – an incredibly innocuous offering in which old pop groups will be transformed with the help of fashion stylists, trainers, and plastic surgeons. My all time least favourite British telly offering is “Deal or No Deal” in which a tv presenter tries to convince the game show participants that they really do have a chance at winning lots of money. I could probably go on and on about the lack of any sense of culture in some of these programmes, but I did spend countless years in a country that produced “Hee Haw” and “Jersey Shore,” so best I end this ranting now.
There is, of course, Spanish television. I used to try to use Spanish television as a key learning tool so I could increase my capacity to speak and be understood here in the country I have chosen to live in. But admittedly, I have decreased my time dedicated to watching local programming but – this is a good thing – have increased my time dedicated to listening to local radio programming. Not just music stations, as the ratio of English-language songs to Spanish-language songs is probably in the 4 to 1 range or more. I have instead been listening to local talk radio programming, and whilst I do not understand every word the announcer or programme host says, I do get the drift of what the conversation is all about. This is like reading Spanish newspapers. By getting an understanding of what is being talked about, it is very helpful in seeing how some words are used in context, and even what some words are.
The big thing in the United Kingdom that is generating interest in the next month is the wedding of HRH Prince William, and Kathryn Middleton. William and Kate, as the whole of the British media call them, really do seem like a neat couple. Of course, the last time there was anything this big in the UK was the wedding of Prince William’s mother, Diana to Charles, the heir to the British throne. Already you can purchase commemorative plates; cups; thimbles; swans (I have no idea how anyone would possible rationalise buying a commemorative plastic swan, but as the saying goes, ‘there is one born every minute); reproductions of the dress that Kate wore when their engagement was announced; T-shirts with a photo of the happy couple emblazoned on the front; serving platters; and my favourite (said extremely sarcastically)…a commemorative wedding mouse-pad for your computer. As one website said, “we have never seen so much wedding crap for sale before.” Spot on observation.
Right. One more thing, the reference to Blighty. Blighty is the term used by British troops that served overseas that has been appropriated by ex-pats to refer to where they were born. In my case, this would be the country I chose to consider my home…except for the weather…and the politics…and the taxes…and mushy peas….and…………
this chapter's mandatory envy photo
the flag I chose to call mine
europe, as known by everyone except some twat
one of the stars of Lambing Live
one won't be smiling when he is sent away I'll wager
can't believe this mousepad either
a wet view of the Houses of Parliament in London
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, James B. Rieley