Why Insulting the British is Such Fun

By A.J. Sefton

‘Britain has forty two religions and only two sauces.’ So said the Enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire. ‘Unmitigated noodles’ said Wilhelm II. Great insults!

In 2013 there was some banter between international politicians. So what, but I was concerned that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, felt that he should have responded to the insult by the Russian president’s aide, in the manner that he did. Cameron listed the inventions and progress (such as the abolition of slavery) that the British have contributed to society worldwide. The insult, if it actually warrants such a word, was: ‘Britain is a small island that no one listens to.’ Such a daft comment deserved a daft response, frankly. Nobody in Britain is offended. It was a mildly amusing remark after all.

This led me to think about other insults that have been aimed at Britain, or more particularly, England. The first one that came to mind was the one from Napoleon when he said that England was a nation of shopkeepers. Where would we be without shops? I did a bit of digging in the dirt and found loads of jibes. Jolly jibes. Here are my favourites:

The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm. – Alexander Woollcott, US writer and broadcaster.

The English public takes no interest in a work of art until it is told that the work in question is immoral. – Oscar Wilde

I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire – God wouldn’t trust an Englishman in the dark. – Duncan Spaeth, US writer, quoted in The Book of Insults by N. McPhee, 1978

The Englishman is a drunkard. – Spanish saying

Englishmen never will be slaves; they are free to do whatever the government and public opinion allow them. – George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1903

The people of England are never so happy as when you tell them they are ruined. – Arthur Murray, British writer, The Upholsterer, 1758

From every Englishman emanates a kind of gas, the deadly choke-damp of boredom. – Heinrich Heine, German poet

The German originates it, the Frenchman imitates it, the Englishman exploits it. – German saying

An Englishman loves a lord. – English saying

England will fight to the last American. – American saying, coined c.1917

An Englishman will burn his bed to catch a flea- Turkish saying

Continental people have a sex life; the English have hot-water bottles.

– George Mikes, Hungarian writer, How To Be an Alien, 1946

A very cold, uninhabitable country with small houses.

– Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, in July 2013

There are, of course, many, many more. But am I offended? Not a bit. Some of these are really rather good. I will read through some more following afternoon tea.

© 2013 A.J. Sefton


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