Friday, October 5, 2018

Bill Bryson on Small Pleasures

Photo by Salt Water New England
Wrote Bill Bryson <http://amzn.to/2cAVAuw> in Notes from a Small Island  <http://amzn.to/2d2vbuj>:
One of the charms of the British is that they have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their happiness. You will laugh to hear me say it, but they are the happiest people on earth. Honestly. Watch any two Britons in conversation and see how long it is before they smile or laugh over some joke or pleasantry...
And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, Rich Tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavourful... Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly...
All this is completely alien to the American mind. To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright...
[G]radually I came round to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier. 

27 comments:

  1. "There'll Always Be an England"

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  2. Insightful observation about American culture. Since much of our culture comes from Great Britain, it makes one wonder about how such a vast discrepancy between the two has emerged. One culture hesitates at excess, the other embraces excess and overindulgence as a birthright. Where did that hairpin turn away from our cultural roots occur?

    There are so many examples of excess -- from overeating to unbridled consumerism to the current political situation. It seems baked into the culture. I often wonder if it will be our undoing?

    Aiken

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    1. You know, the question about where North America diverged from Europe in relation to mass consumerism likely was not that long ago - in relative historical terms. I offer, as my proof, exhibit "a" an albeit singular example of same. A god friend of mine's mother was a young girl during the depression. At that time, and for the remainder of her life, she held the idea that corpulence was the physical embodyment of wealth; mainly because many went without during those lean years. One can, thus, trace the fork in our roads to that period. It's ironic - though certainly not an exception to human behaviour - that our perceptions of what is correct/or should be thus is based on negative experiences, which swing the social pendulum from one extreme to the other. Meanwhile, the healthiest place to be is in the middle...

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    2. To Aiken and Anonymous October 6, 2018 at 12:56 PM,
      what I would give on a 2 AM warm summer night, the back drop of crickets soft song, smell the last smoke of BBQ, citronella candles…to have you both well fed and almost soused on very fine liquor…all reserves removed, delving in ferreting out debating questions of the universe, all cosmic wonders. That would be something….
      The comments typed here is why I come.

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    3. Aiken, I wonder too if it will be our undoing. I think it IS becoming our undoing. Perhaps I will not see it undone, I hope.

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  3. We have so much to learn from them.

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  4. From a reply that I received on another forum I frequent:

    And bluetrain: your comment remembers me again of the American genius with words.
    As an European I need to write this long winded text. You come on with this ultra dry statement: ,, Rust is not patina, it's just rust ''. Could have saved myself hours of careful composition.
    Darn you Yanks. :D

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  5. Enjoyed that book. Such restraint (and such sarcasm). I have enjoyed some of Bryson's other books, as well. Particularly "A Short History of Nearly Everything." I picked it up thinking it was going to be a traditional book about world history (silly me) and it was about science! And I understood it! Read it twice.

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  6. Bill Bryson is describing life in the English towns and villages. In our big cities, instant gratification is the norm too. Our high streets and shopping centres are dominated by the same big brands. I just wish that good Lord could rid us of Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Krispy Kremes. After all, he did it with Woolworth's and Border's.

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    1. Ken, my "prayers" are with you! Good point, and isn't all the sameness sad? My fondest memories of my days in New England are those that recall unique, locally special, one-of-a-kind shops, places, experiences. It's all so homogenized now, so dull.
      Suzanne

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    2. Ken, I - for one - must say that I truly appreciate your comments here. You informatively provide a native's genuine and realistic insight into today's diversified British culture. It's very different from the romanticized and idealized versions often portrayed in the media (although many of us remain unabashedly hooked on that!)

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    3. Thank you for your kind comments. The reality is that British culture is, especially in urban and suburban areas, not much different to that of the US. We have imported much from the you (especially clothing, food and drink) and copied a lot more. There were more differences, e.g. humour and entertainment, in the last century but they are disappearing fast too. Simon Cowell and his band of philistines have a lot to answer for.

      The "old" Britain that Bill Bryson loves still exists in the smaller cities (e.g. Canterbury and Winchester) and the market towns (e.g. in Cotswolds and North Yorkshire). The middle classes are increasingly moving from big cities in search of that traditional life style. With violent crime and burglaries rising dramatically, they are seeking safety, security and better education. Those problems have spread to my local area (one of the richest in London) recently and I will be joining the exodus if it gets any worse.

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  7. Bryson is one of my favorite writers, and this is one of my favorites of his books.

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  8. Three times I recall someone handing me something and saying, "You will like this". Not probably and not maybe. One was Angela's Ashes by Frank McCort, another was Jorma Kaukonen's Blue County Heart cd and the other was a tape of Bill Bryson reading The Lost Continent . I've been a fan of Bryson ever since - books not tapes. I liked the book and cd as well

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  9. And all this time I thought it was the Danes who were among the happiest on Earth.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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  10. The first half dozen pages of this book are among the funniest I have ever read.

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  11. Paul Theroux's "The Kingdom by the Sea" precedes Bryson's book by about a decade and is another perspective on British life from an American traveling about the United Kingdom. Like Bryson's 1995 book, Theroux's account is a bit dated socially and politically (especially regarding Northern Ireland), but I found both books to be entertaining and informative.

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  12. I really enjoyed this book of Bryson's, but much funnier (IMHO) was YOU ARE AWFUL (BUT I LIKE YOU): TRAVELS THROUGH UNLOVED BRITAIN, by Tim Moore, a British travel writer whom THE TIMES called "A rare comic talent."

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  13. Following the Great Depression, which lasted arguably 10 years, and WWII, Americans were sheep being led to consumerism slaughter. Deprivation and competition merged to create a society of gluttony which has only slightly ebbed with the economic crash of 2008.

    Americans still don't save for a rainy day, much less retirement. Sad. I don't claim to be better or smarter than anyone else. I just desire to be self-reliant, happy, and quietly comfortable.

    Peace.

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    1. But why do you think the Americans were led so easily to consumerism? The Brits endured the war for two years longer than the US and then endured a post-war privation as the country worked to rebuild?

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    2. "We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture," wrote Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers. "People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man's desires must overshadow his needs."

      http://uk.businessinsider.com/birth-of-consumer-culture-2013-2?r=US&IR=T

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  14. Found in some book I read years ago about the eating habits of French women, the phrase that comes to mind is "there will be more". No need to indulge as though you'll never taste it again, as tomorrow, and the next day after that, there will be more.

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  15. No offence to anyone but I have visited Britain, France and Germany and I will take Germany first, if for no other reason than their English is better.

    I've also been to Oklahoma.

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    1. every night my honeylamb and I,
      Sit alone and talk,
      And watch a hawk,
      Makin' lazy circles in the sky....

      listening to the sound track thanks to you, very cheerful.

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  16. What was that Brit saying during WW2 about Americans? Over sexed, over payed and over here!

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    1. The response was that the British were under sexed, under paid, and under Eisenhower.

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