Skip navigation

John Chuckman



I find this piece a bit muddled.

The simple fact is, as anyone knows who has read enough 20th century British writers or followed British history, that varying degrees of xenophobia have long been part of the British national character.

So much so, it is almost a cliché. Jokes and remarks about the French, for example, are part of the fabric of traditional British culture. During WWII, many British people made jokes about Americans, such as: “They’re over-paid, over-sexed, and over here!”

You may observe mild xenophobia in many cultural artefacts from writers to politics to a television series such as Fawlty Towers.

In a more serious vein, Churchill made some quite rude remarks and used epithets about people from other places, as did a number of other politicians and public figures.

It seems clear they did not fear ridicule or being disparaged.

The fact is that xenophobia works on at least two levels, and not all the parts are automatically bad.

On one level, there is simply love and affection for the culture you have and no wish to see it change, including mild joking about the influence of others who will, ipso facto through their presence in any numbers, change it.

At the other extreme, there are the louts of football clubs who go abroad and get into fights, insulting foreigners and making themselves repulsive.

Theirs is the set of attitudes you would certainly find in what used to be called “naavy pubs,” there being an example of a word used by Orwell that has largely disappeared.

In light of Britain’s becoming, as virtually all modern nations are destined to become, more cosmopolitan with migrants from many places, I’m sure these things gradually are changing.

And there is no use pretending otherwise, enough change and you are simply not the same place anymore.

The smaller the size of the country’s population, the more this is true. America’s more than 300 million can absorb many with no visible effect, although America’s long prevalent xenophobia has always worked against newcomers, one of the great ironies of a “land of immigrants.”

Denmark’s five million or so cannot, which explains some fairly tough legislation in that country concerning migration. All other countries fall somewhere between.

However, much of what the world thinks of as British will pass away with substantial migration. Just look at British spelling and grammar under the onslaught of American culture, as in the very newspaper you are reading. A great writer such as Graham Greene already reads as a bit antique in his language. So also, George Orwell, and neither of them is in any way ancient, being both contemporaries of at least some people still living.

The Britain of umbrellas, bowlers, fry-ups, careful language, and eccentrics, including truly eccentric comedy, is already in large part gone.



%d bloggers like this: