Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
This week’s referendum on the EU has brought out the emotional, the proud, the sense of the shared cause in people whether they’re about to vote Leave or Remain. At the prospect of waking up in my bed in Spain on June 24th to find we have voted ourselves out of the EU, I too am feeling overwhelming emotions.
Until recently, being English has lent me unearned benefits I’ve milked most of my adult life. It’s played no small part in the career I chose, one which has taken me all over the world and put my name on the covers of books. Jobs for British English teachers have fallen into my lap whenever and wherever I’ve looked, from Spain to Japan to Turkey to The Czech Republic and more. Even in Australia where they’ve got plenty of English speakers to go around.
People, until this whole referendum thing, were in awe of the English. When we open our mouths, instead of our bog standard regional accent and prosaic observations, listeners hear Wordsworth and Shakespeare. Rather than notice our so-so GCSEs and downhill A-level results, they’re dazzled by the borrowed intellect of Oxford and Cambridge. Instead of seeing sallow-skinned, mousey-haired Miss Average, the foreigners I’ve met saw English Rose. I’ve been asked to read aloud to my Canadian flatmate, told by an Australian boyfriend that everything I said sounded automatically more intelligent than an Aussie, and pitched above my weight on the international dating scene.
Non-Brits might associate England with football but they think of the great teams, not hooliganism. They mock our food – undeservedly so – but they all love our fish and chips. We might not always be fully on board with having a monarch, but our Royal Family is loved abroad. I’ve chosen to live outside the UK for most of the last sixteen years, privy to the secrets only a Brit seems to know. The weather isn’t just bad, it makes people grumpy and delights the British love of a good whinge. Our breweries are world class, but our drinking culture is infantile. We’ve got as much culture and history as any other European country, but you can only see it before 5:30 pm.
Unless you live in Benidorm or have taken an Easyjet flight with a stag party, you probably have no idea what the average English town is like, or the people that live there. We owe this masking of the real state of the country to our proximity and close ties with Europe. We light up in the shadow of the rest of the continent.
And we’ll be completely unmasked if we vote Leave.
The rest of the world, already shaking its head in bewilderment that the country so full of Alan Turings, Steven Hawkings, Bertrand Russells, Queen Elizabeths, JK Rowlings and Kate Middletons could be putting aside its cream tea for even a second to consider leaving the EU, is going to find out our terrible secret.
We are just as dumb as America.
Until recently the Americans, who only briefly got everyone’s respect by voting Obama in, have had the idiots running the asylum. Reagan, Bush – twice! TWICE!! How we all laughed – Clinton grovelling on his knees about the intern who was on her knees. It’s looking highly likely to outdo itself with Trump, the President we secretly think they deserve. (We’ve seen Jerry Springer, we know what America is like while, shrouded in our EU cloak of invisibility no-one seems to have made the same Jeremy Kyle-based assumptions about us.)
But leave the EU and we’re going to get all the flak America normally gets. We’ll still have an educated, posh-sounding toff in charge, but one everyone thinks is a buffoon. I’ll be laughed out of Spain, or anywhere else that used to have some respect for the aura that being European bestowed. I’ll have to do that thing American travellers do when they sew a Canadian flag onto their backpacks, hoping to convince everyone I’m Australian.
The rest of the world can’t believe we’re even considering it, let alone voting on it, let alone on the brink of leaving.
Never mind the likely plummeting of the pound in the wake of an economically, legally and politically devastating Out vote, we’ll all be too embarrassed to leave our country ever again, even if we can afford to.