I was interested to read this week the list written by an American of things he noticed about small-town English life, with an emphasis on the differences between English and American society and culture (read the full list, here). The post has gone viral, chiefly because he notes, repeatedly in his list, that there are no guns in the UK (not strictly true of course, but relative to the USA, perhaps largely true), that the police are rather smiley (that all depends, in my experience), and that people are not afraid of their neighbours, or of the government (again, depends what you mean).

In all honesty, I suspect that what we have here is someone seeing a little bit of what he wants to see, specifically in this case quaintness.  He also notes, for example, that we often leave our bicycles unlocked, which for me more or less undermines his entire position.

quaintness – John Constable, The Haywain

quaintness – John Constable, The Haywain

It is a universal truth that visitors to a given country will see whatever they are disposed to see. From a certain perspective, London is all black cabs and red double-deckers, cream teas and pints of warm ale, jolly policemen and pearly kings and queens. It is the curse of branding. Cities have brands, and the brands sell, and the mind of the consumer, in travel as in all things, is highly selective. My first trip to Italy was all pizza and art and warm sun and coffee. My first trip to Paris was all ommelettes outside cafes on the Left Bank.

I recall with fondness the story I read of an Englishman who went to stay with French friends in Paris, and on the first morning he woke up early to go and get croissant and fresh baguette. His hostess asked him where he was going and he told her and asked if he could get her anything, and she shrugged and said ‘we eat cornflakes like the rest of the world’.

Well, we also eat cornflakes like the rest of the world. Our police can be brutal, our governments dictatorial, and our knife crime, if not our gun crime, virulent. But it is still nice to hear someone say that the food here is generally outstanding, and that the beer is not ‘warm’, but served at the temperature appropriate to that kind of beer.