“Tongue-in-cheek” or accurate appraisal?

9 05 2008

So the new edition of Rough Guide for England has been published. The comments, at least the ones available on the BBC’s page, paint a very mixed view of England. According to the book, no other country is as “insular, self important and irritating” as England, and the “hearts of many towns- and increasingly their outskirts- consist of identikit retail zones”.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, “it’s also a country where individuality and creativity flourish, fuelling a thriving pop culture and producing one of the most dynamic fashion, music and arts scenes to be found anywhere.” and some places, such as Bath, Oxford and Newcastle come out of the book well.

The point that struck me was the comment at the bottom of the page, with a spokesman insisting that the book was written “tongue-in-cheek”, and reflected the famous British sense of humour. I for one do not buy that line. According to the BBC’s page, the content of the book seems to be quite accurate. The brief excerpt from the book that is here is equally accurate.

It all paints a rather odd picture of a country struggling with its own national identity, with its people adrift in a sea of celebrity induced apathy, content to drink home-brand lager from the nearest off licence, yet with such a rich culture and heritage that is not easily surpassed anywhere else in the world.

So I will float the question out there, what do you think of England? Is it more accurately described as a country of “overweight, alcopop-swilling, sex- and celebrity-obsessed TV addicts”; or is it better described with  “the classic images [that] are found in every brochure – the village green, the duckpond, the country lane and the farmyard”? Or is the final conclusion perhaps the most apt, “England isn’t just one place, but a perpetual collision of culture, class and race…the only certainty for visitors is that however long you spend in England and however much you see, it still won’t be enough to understand the place”.

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