Britishly Opinionated

Britishly Opinionated

An observation: I don’t have strong opinions about things.

A second observation: I have strong opinions about a lot of things, and can seem very passionate about them, so that people call me ‘opinionated’.

A third observation: somehow, both of these statements are true.

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m British or whether it’s just me (a phrase that could sum up most of my life), but I don’t tend to exist at one end of a scale or another. I’m not a love/hate kind of person — I’m a like/dislike kind of person. When filling in personality quizzes, I rarely go for the ‘strongly agree/disagree’ options, instead opting for the less strong one.

Yet when it comes to my ideologies, muddled as they might sometimes seem even to me, I feel strongly about stuff. I have an opinion or a viewpoint or a belief, and I’m passionate about it, even if it might change or doesn’t occupy a point at either end of the spectrum.

The reason I think this might sort of be my Britishness instead of just my personality is that I’ve noticed, thanks to the internet and all the American bloggers and online friends I know on here, that on the whole the people I know from the US have stronger opinions — or at least, they express them more strongly. My American blogger friends either love or hate something; books are either good or bad, and it’s far rarer for something to fall in between.

I was having a conversation with a guy on my course at uni who is originally from Chicago and he observed that British people, in a restaurant, will complain to each other if something about the food is substandard but as soon as the server asks whether everything’s okay, they’re quick to say that it’s perfect. If the service is slow, they’ll mutter to each other but never once speak up and actually complain about it.

The Twitter account ‘Very British Problems’ can be summed up by saying, “We’re a country of awkward people who don’t know how to express what we’re feeling.” We don’t like to express how we’re feeling, perhaps, is more accurate. I know whether or not I want a cup of tea, but I don’t want to offend whoever offered me one but turning it down, so I’m non-committal. I pick holes in the books I love and search for good points in the books I hate so that my reviews on the whole are either three or four stars, strong opinions being reserved for special occasions.

With the exception of Marmite (which I always ‘liked’: it was good on toast but not in sandwiches, unlike fruit spread, which was good in sandwiches but not on toast), we as a nation don’t seem to express ourselves in terms of either loving or hating something. We’re ‘fine’. Our weekend was ‘okay’. We guess we could maybe have a cup of tea, if one’s being offered, but don’t go to any trouble. Yes, the food’s fine… Sure, we like to moan, but only when there’s no chance that it’ll actually have an effect.

A stereotype? Possibly, but one I definitely find myself living up to.

Sometimes when reading the blog posts of these opinionated friends of mine (and they are often American, although I think I have more US blogging friends than UK ones anyway, so my samples might be skewed), I’m a little taken aback by their posts, especially those on the more negative end of the spectrum. Wow, I think, you sure felt strongly about that. Except I’m gradually realising that they don’t. It’s just a cultural thing.

Symptomatic of this: the word ‘quite’. I recently learned that in American English, ‘quite’ is usually used to mean ‘very’, so by saying something is ‘quite nice’ you’re saying it’s very nice. But in British English it means ‘sort of’ or ‘fairly’ (there are a few exceptions — I think we sometimes use it in the American sense, but only in certain phrases). So ‘quite nice’ would mean ‘it’s okay, not amazing’.

I feel like that sums up a difference between our two cultures, and how we view the world. As Brits we moderate our praise and our condemnations; Americans, or at least those I know, tend to express it in an unadulterated manner. Perhaps it’s more honest. British people do tend to be quite passive-aggressive, so it can be hard to tell if people are being sincere. I usually assume they’re not.

Another symptom of my reluctance to actually tell people how I feel: the fact that even when I think less socially awkward bloggers are being too vehement in their dressing down of something, or too enthusiastic in their praise, I still don’t say anything because I don’t want them to take it a personal criticism.

Another symptom: my complete inability to have arguments with people because I spend the next half hour thinking of all the things I could have said that would have made me seem much more reasonable and now they probably hate me and I should never have expressed an opinion because look what happens when you do that.

I don’t even know how to conclude this post that won’t be too opinionated. Shall I ask you if I’m right, or shall I just assume I am? Except maybe I’m only right about myself, and I’m generalising British people too much. Or maybe this wasn’t a balanced enough portrayal of people from the US and I should have pointed out that not all Americans are capable of expressing their opinions in a way that British people just … aren’t.

I don’t know.

I’ll leave you with a song that sums up my (wonderfully British) approach to life instead. I opted for Frank Turner’s cover of Noel Coward’s song because I like how he pairs it with very enthusiastic guitar playing. I tried to find you a YouTube version to embed, but copyright, so here’s a link to a site where you can find it: track nine, There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner.

Or, if you have Spotify, here’s a direct link to that. Enjoy!


10 thoughts on “Britishly Opinionated

  1. Interesting post. Generalizations and stereotypes tend to be accurate for some people some of the time, perhaps even for most people some of the time, or, more likely, most times for some people, (well that was confusing), but I think they can’t describe anyone all the time, and that’s where they get sticky.

    I know myself, an American, to be too an odd mixture of opinionated and moderate, direct and indirect. I will gladly tell you my opinion on most matters, if asked, but I love poetry because it is indirect and can convey so much more because of its connect-the-dots nature.

    1. Well, stereotypes exist for a reason, so I guess it’s probably a “most of the time for most people” in cases where they’re based on a large group of people over a long period of time, as opposed to offensive and ill-informed stereotypes based on caricatures. So the stereotype that Brits are a country of awkward tea-drinkers is probably pretty accurate, with some exceptions and some people who fit the mould perfectly.

      1. Does the length of time or sample size really validate or invalidate a stereotype? While it usually holds in science that as those two factors increase the likelihood of the resulting conclusions increases, I think stereotypes may be an exception. It seems to me that offensive and ill-informed stereotypes abound often even after prolonged exposure.

        1. I mean, I guess that’s probably true. But if you’d only met one person from a certain country, and spent very little time with them, you wouldn’t form as accurate an opinion of what people from that country are like than you would if you met a whole bunch of them and spent several years with them. So a stereotype based on the latter, while still not true of ALL people in that country, would still be closer to the truth than the first one.

        2. And I guess the offensive and ill-informed stereotypes persist because people don’t care enough to learn beyond them, or to correct themselves. They could be improved, if people generally decided that was a thing they were going to do, but they don’t bother. Or something. I’m tired and I’ve had a long and emotionally taxing day, so I’m not sure I’ve still got the thread of this comment.

      2. In response to your first response: Well, yes, I can think we can safely agree on that.

        In response to your second response: It may not be exactly on topic, but its still a well-formed thought with veracity. I think it is true that people don’t bother, and why they don’t is fascinating. Since stereotypes are heuristics, and heuristics are awfully useful in many cases, but pretty dangerously wrong in others, people come to rely on them, despite the dangers.

        I guess is the main danger of stereotypes is that when they are used not merely as descriptors of noticable patterns, but as a way to deduce something about someone.

        I hope you’re getting some replenishing, rejuvinating sleep.

  2. It’s really interesting to hear your viewpoint on this! I’m from the U.S., and I think you’re right in your observation that many Americans are very (or quite – we do use the words interchangeably) opinionated. Especially on the internet. I’m not sure why, exactly – maybe because we associate “being loudly outspoken about our opinions” with “freedom of speech”. It’s definitely a culture thing, though. While this can be a good thing, it can also get incredibly annoying. But that’s just my opinion. ;)

    1. Interesting point about freedom of speech — I hadn’t thought of that. And yeah, I’m primarily basing this on my online observations, although also what my friend Liam and the handful of other Americans I know IRL have said to me. So it’s hard to know how much of it translates to the real world but I’m glad that the responses I’ve had to this post so far seem to agree.

  3. As a first order approximation, British people use a great deal of irony and United Statesians don’t. Which can often lead to all the Brits in a room silently marvelling at how someone has weathered such a scathing attack, while the United Statesian hasn’t even noticed the dispute.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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