Politeness was also agreed upon as typically British, though this was also considered by some to be a front for reserve and an “uptight” approach to social situations. There was a widely-held perception of the British as strongly individualistic and politically independent, a trait especially noticeable in the country’s somewhat ambivalent relationship with the rest of the European Union, its unwillingness to join the euro and its stubborn insistence on continuing to drive on the left.
Interesting that our driving on the left should be seen as a stubborn insistence — it’s the rest of the world that’s wrong!
The only downside as to how we are viewed abroad is for ‘imperial arrogance.’ This contrasts with a review of the Absent-Minded Imperialists I read in yesterday’s Sunday Times. In it the author, Bernard Porter, argues that empire grew by accident rather than design and that for the most part, the Victorian Britains at home were completely unaware of it:
In 1883, Sir John Seeley published The Expansion of England, in which he famously observed that the English (or did he mean the British?) seemed to have acquired their far-flung empire in what he called “a fit of absence of mind”. By this he did not mean that the imperial conquerors and proconsuls did not know what they were doing, but rather that the majority of their fellow citizens showed not the slightest interest in, or often knowledge of, these overseas ventures and expanding dominions.
(Makes note for possible future reading material when out in paperback.)