Saturday, 2 July 2011

National nonsense.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

So, poor Andy Murray lost at the tennis and suddenly he is Scottish again. Apparently, he is British when he is winning. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s a trope the media adores.

One gentleman, splendid with indignation and mad to generalise, wrote on a message board on one of the nastier newspapers:

The Scots hate the English. They are so rude that my wife and I no longer take our holidays there, but go to Spain instead.

I think: the Spanish are welcome to him.

I’ve always been a bit wary of national generalisations. Can you really say what every one of the five million Scots are like? On the other hand, there do seem to be national cultures. I just read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, and he has a fascinating section on the South Korean tendency to deference and very formal manners. He also explains crime in the Appalachians by looking at the cult of honour that the original Scots Irish immigrants bought with them.

From spending a lot of time in Scotland and Ireland, I have noticed that there is a very long Celtic memory. History is remembered in a much more vivid way than in England; the Hunger and the Clearances might have happened yesterday.  The English tend to forget their history, and why would they not? All that running round invading places and declaring themselves King of France for no particular reason. There is a wail in one of the papers today that there is to be no triumphalist celebration to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo when it comes in 2015. In a classic piece of ministerial speak, Baroness Rawlings told the House of Lord: ‘There is likely to be some commemorative activity at associated heritage sites.’ Where do they learn to speak like that? Is there a special government school?

On the other hand, it’s quite a British thing to do. A bit of commemorative activity, don’t make a song and dance out of it.

The other thing that interests me about this national generalisation lark is how it seems to apply to some nations and not others. Many people, it seems, have very firm opinions about the French. They are, as every fule no, intellectual, arrogant, elegant, and keen on le sexy sex. It’s also odd how stereotypes get spun in good and bad ways. So, some people consider the vaunted French attitude to mistresses and cinq à sept tremendously sophisticated and grown up, while others think it slightly tawdry.

Meanwhile, other nations get no strong feelings at all. While some English, like that cross fellow, might deride the Scots, have you ever heard anyone say: well, it’s the Uruguayans I can’t stick? Or: it’s the Indonesians who drive me nuts? I know what the generalisation for the Italians is: volubility, love of food and family, the Mafia. I have no idea what it is for the Portuguese.

Sometimes, I’m not sure what nationality even means. I am Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, French, possibly American (one of my grandmothers was a slightly unreliable narrator, so we are not certain), and Danish. I am, like most Britons, a mutt.

This is where I should come up with my definitive final paragraph, where I draw all the strands together. That is what my lovely history teacher, Mr Woodhouse, taught me to do when I was fifteen. But it turns out I don’t have one. Sorry about that. This is, I suddenly realise, the first post I have written since my father died which is about something other than my emotional state and my own tiny little world. There is a reason, I see now, for that. It’s because my brain is still not quite firing on all cylinders. Still, the very fact that I wanted to talk about something other than my bashed heart must be a Good Sign, even if it’s not the most polished, articulate thing I ever wrote. Or, something like that.


Here is what lovely Scotland looks like, anyway:

The beeches:

2 july 1

The sheep:

2 July 4

The coos:

2 July 4-1

More sheep, very Jane Austenish:

2 July 5

I adore this old metal fence. I imagine there are hardly any of these left now, but they are so elegant:

2 July 6

Up the avenue we go. The second dog is my sister’s poodle, who is staying while her humans are in the south:

2 July 7

The honeysuckle is in its vulgar phase:

2 July 11

I used to have many foxgloves in the wild part of my garden. Then, one year, they all disappeared. I found this one in the woods, dug it up, and planted it. I hope it will survive its transplant:

2 July 12

The philadelphus is suddenly flowering:

2 July 12-1

The dogs roses are wild this year:

2 July 13

Up close, these lovely long grasses are the colour of straw, but from a distance, they look like waves of purple:

2 July 14

Slightly wistful Pigeon:

2 July 15

Today’s hill, from a distance:

2 July 2


  1. Generalization applies strongly to US regions as well. Once when I was visiting my mother in Seattle I went to a grocery store and a woman behind me in line made a derogatory comment about my Texas driver's license, which encompassed her loathing of the state of Texas, Texans, and the very concept of Texas in general; everybody knows we're arrogant, Republican, selfish, etc. Right to my face. I didn't tell her I'd spent the first 23 years of my life 12 blocks from the grocery store in which she was insulting my adopted home; and I didn't tell her what Texans think Seattleites are like, either, but I should have. I think she would have found both facts instructive.

    As for the Scots, I generalize in the opposite direction: I would take all of my holidays there if I could, and have rarely met lovelier people. Except for the man in the Oban pub who was too drunk to pour his beer into his glass and was a hair's-breadth away from smashing his bottle and cutting us with it, apparently because we were tourists. His wife, though, seemed very nice.

  2. Ellie - I LOVE that comment. Esp that last bit about the mad Oban man with the nice wife.

    Oddly, I when I think of Texas I think of artists, writers and great music, because my old friend Sophie lived in Austin for a while and told me tales of it. And it has very happy associations because it is where she met her lovely husband.

  3. Thank you for an educative post! On a lighter note thank you for the honeysuckle. I was waiting for the flowering one to show up and now I know what a dog rose looks like. Was always wanting to know.

  4. Mystica - always so lovely to hear from you. Glad you like the dog rose. They are little hedge roses, which grow wild here, and I planted mine with hawthorn and elder to look as if they had grown up naturally. They are also sometimes called sweet briar, which sounds very poetic. :)

  5. One of the volunteers at work (who is a fine upstanding gentleman and a JP) went into a fine old rant about how much he hated Andy Murray this week. I think the basis of his argument was that Mr Murray needed to have a shave.

    I'm half Glaswegian and half Scouse. By the law of generalisations that should mean that, um, I'm somewhat chippy, prone to arguments and fond of football. Not far wrong...

  6. Alex - people do seem very cross about the shaving. Love your combination of roots.

  7. Do I dare tell all that on my mother's paternal side, we are Fraziers (spelled that way)? The tartan isn't very bright; the "motto" (or whatever it's called)is "Je suis pret." Considering that I just bought myself a "vacation" T-shirt which reads "I put the 'pro' in procrastination" you can imagine how amused I was to discover this...

    Those trees look like something out of a fairy tale: magical!

  8. I'm English, Irish and Scottish. My lovely uncle did hate my Dad for being English at first (according to my Dad) and did exaggerate his accent when visiting England to see my Mum when she moved here with Dad (again according to my father) but he was no fool and saw she was happy. He is really wonderful and lovely and generous with his time, money and emotion.

    I'm marrying a Scot so I may be biased. And my history may make me biased too but I love Celts. I know the long memories can cause problems but get very cross when people say all Scots are rude and (as someone who lives in London and tries to be polite) when people say everyone in that London is rude too.

    I don't think there is a way of summing all of thus up though. Far too many shades of grey. It's not necessarily something that can ever have an elegant summary.

    Glad you seem to be doing okay. And love the flowers.

  9. Oh sorry. I've just realised that parts of my comment read like 1980s literary criticism "As a white, middle-class, late twenties, part Scottish, part Irish, part English heterosexual woman who is marrying a Scottish man and living in London..."

    I apologise.

  10. I seem to remember Tom Lehrer wrote a funny song about nations loathing each other. On my travels I was surprised to find the north Dutch dislike the South Dutch, and the northern Italians see southerners as almost a different race. The same applies to the Scots and English, and Northern Ireland and the Republic - and probably most other countries. Maybe this has deep roots in tribal life of millenia ago!

    I went to school in Scotland aged 12-14 (Falkirk High School) and at first was called The Sassenach (in a teasing rather than bullying way). I solved the problem by adopting a Scottish accent. "She speaks like a real Scots lassie noo!" people used to say admiringly!

  11. Dear Tania, I have to say I never thought Andy Murray would win. Great match though, as was todays.

    I know how you feel about your mind not quite being there. I'm finding it hard to finish anything. Gorgeous pictures again. I wish my honeysuckle looked like that. Love, C xx

  12. Every day I think, the pictures of the gardens and the land and the dog(s) cannot get any more gorgeous than they are today. Then I see the next day's photos...

  13. Tania
    Your workshops this week were wonderful! Thank you for sharing with all of us your invaluable knowledge and information. We were stunned when we left the room yesterday and Jenny could not bask in the knowledge received this week but had to go on to a gig at night and play her mandolin. I feel spurred on to write more and give up timewasting. I now realise from reading your blog that you know Austin in Texas and we visited that lovely city often and in particular loved to go and watch a group from Austin called "The Asylum Street Spankers". Spending six years in sun-drenched Texas made us appreciate the variable climate of Scotland. Your pictures capture the beauty of our Scottish landscapes. Thank you for taking Pigeon to meet us. Thanks once again, the week was SO enjoyable. You gave us so much of you and your wisdom. Fiona


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