Spain would be a prime example of what I am thinking about. It is a country with a rich history, a strong national identity, but which suffers amidst the economic crash and thrum of market forces beyond its control. Most importantly it is absolutely swarming with foreigners, bent on escaping the mundane reality of the dismal countries they found themselves being born in. The United Kingdom.
It really is hard to explain to someone who has not lived in the UK for most of their lives quite how dismal this country can be. We spend so much time talking about the weather because it is our collective natural enemy. It blights our ambitions, even though it brings life to the soil beneath our feet. To the average British person, a warm sunny day is their loftiest ambition. Its absence is their one source of utter betrayal. And that is always the price of doing business in the United Kingdom.
It seeps its way in to our character and results in a collective lack of optimism which I find woeful and beguiling in equal measure. I don’t think of the British as a happy or contented people, and I think that the weather has done this to us. We are a nation built on a wellspring of resentment.
Starfish cannot survive in fresh water. I find this fascinating. I am not about to say that a British person cannot survive being in a place which is not dismal. More that it strips some of the innate Britishness out of them. The local culture seeps in to their bones and soothes a primal ache.
Other countries handle the weather better than we do: colder countries have their infrastructural shit together, and can deal with what the British would just consider to be “Bad” weather, and sack the day off; hotter countries have a nap in the middle of the day, and design their buildings in a way that allows them to cope with the heat. We’re always playing catch up with what the weather does.
It’s almost as if we’re surprised by the weather: we were expecting it to be sunny, but it’s raining; we were expecting it to be warm, but it’s blowing a gale out there; we were expecting it to be dry, but we are knee deep in snow. And then it changes. It always changes. And that is where the anger comes from: if the weather would just make its fucking mind up for five fucking minutes I could go about my business without having to change my clothes / put on a hat / de-ice my bastard toes.
I can’t imagine people in Mexico, for instance, having such a complicated – and, I dare say, petty – relationship with their atmospheric conditions. Then again, that could be an unconscious stereotype I am picking up on. At least my knowledge of Spain is grounded in reality. I just assume that the people in Mexico have more important things to worry about: earning a living; raising a family; walls.
The English-speaking countries have a lot to answer for, I’ll give us that. Not only have we colonised the world with our far superior language, but the financial systems he have built tend to fuck things up for everybody else. I’m not saying the French would have done a better job of it – I literally can’t imagine a Francophone world being a success – it’s just that we are quite self-centred, by and large.
We are focussed on the constant expansion of all of our interests, with scant regard for the local need; we see it as our birth right that we should rule the world, and that the natives should fall at our feet and rejoice at the arrival of the white saviour. And we feel all of this because we have taught ourselves all of this, generation after generation. They were doing quite well without us.
Sambal is a spicy condiment, widely used in the countries between Australia and China. That’s not the best description, but I have failed to think of a word for the area. Kimchi is a spicy side dish, loved beyond words by Korean families. Chilli sauces of various kinds are loved all over Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Not so much in Europe, until now. Now we are chilli fiends, but this is very recent.
I have always taken the view that very spicy food – chilli sauces, Sambals, Kimchi, curries, were first used as a response to a hotter climate, and that alcoholic spirits were first used as a response to a colder climate. It’s an assumption, but look at the cold countries of the north, and how much they drink, versus the hot countries of the middle, and how spicy their food tends to be. We get drunk.
National character cannot simply be a function of climatic conditions, but the two are linked. What would the Canadian character be without all that ice to muck about on? What would the Spanish character be without all of those warm evenings to frolic in? The British are equally honed by the weather we endure: I think it speaks more about what is going on here than our politicians can.
Herbs stuck between the teeth; a faint yellow stain on a tie; hair, unseen, flapping in the breeze. These are all things which indicate not quite having it together at this moment. Go and tidy yourself up, and come back to us when you’re ready to be a professional, the world tells us. But this is the United Kingdom; we’ve been in this too long to particularly worry what we look like. We’re old now.
At the time of writing this post we are three weeks away from the date when we are supposed to be leaving the European Union for good. And, like the vagaries of our national climate, the notion of Brexit is on the back of the national mind, nibbling away at our frayed ends of sanity. In the same way that someone in permanent pain may lash out more readily than someone who isn’t, Britain is kicking the living shit out of inanimate objects right now, and we can’t even explain why we do it.
Yes, I’m blaming the weather, but I am also blaming the gut-wrenching envy we hold against every country in the world who isn’t burdened with our weather; the sensation that they are – somehow – doing better than we are, even though we are the lords and masters of all which we survey. Indeed.