Another characteristic

I was somewhat surprised that ‘fairness’ did not rank among the characteristics singled out by people as among the best features of being British.  We do tend to have a strong sense of what is fair and what is not.   It is possible that one characteristic that was mentioned – tolerance – is a consequence of an innate sense of fairness.  We do not believe in picking on people (‘it’s not fair’).  Neil M in a comment on the previous post refers to our practice of queuing.  We queue because we believe it is wrong to jump the queue – it is not fair on those who arrived first. 

I appreciate not everyone exhibits this characteristic – that is true of all the characteristics selected – but I think it is a distinct feature of Britishness.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to Another characteristic

  1. ladytizzy says:

    Barrier ropes for formal queuing have been a presence in larger banks and post offices for decades – were they brought in due only to foreigners?

    Around the same time, when new houses were built with gas boilers in an external lean-to (no, me neither), there was a particularly cold winter which froze said boilers, meaning no heating and no cooking for most of the area. Having coughed up for a gold/platinum service by British Gas (no competitors back then) I was a bit put out that my house was not the priority as promised. Patience became frayed when the time given for the arrival of an engineer passed by some margin. Upon ringing, I asked where I was in the queue. “Tenth”, I was told, along with a new time. That passed and another phone call. Where was I in the queue, I asked again and, after a half muffled conversation with a co-worker starting, “It’s her again”, he replied “Nineteenth”. After another new time came and went, I phoned again telling them I could smell gas. Within ten minutes, an engineer arrived. Not my proudest moment but I was as warm as all the others who had figured out how the queuing system worked.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: barrier ropes make for more efficiency in queuing, enabling space to be used effectively. Without them, people would still queue – but in a straight line.

      Your experience with British Gas demonstrates my point; their treatment of customers was clearly unfair since they failed to implement a proper queuing system.

      • ladytizzy says:

        I concede that humans roped off like cattle waiting for the stun gun does allow for more of us to sweat it out and make life-long friends by sharing sandwiches and a Thermos whilst moaning about that it was never like this in our days, a thoroughly British past-time.

        That British Gas devised and/or operated a system that was open to abuse is irrelevant; the actions of its customers is what mattered, surely?

  2. Stephen MacLean says:

    I wonder what you make of the rather amorphous characteristic of being ‘informed’ by history, much as Socrates said he was a child of the Athenian laws, so could not flee the city to escape his punishment.

    Canadians were especially vexed by the question of identity in the late 80s — during debates about free trade with the United States — and often listed universal health-care and our social services as distinguishing characteristics. Of course, the problem is that if the American behemoth were suddenly to disappear, Canadians wouldn’t know who they were anymore!

    On a more serious note, though, there are many countries that provide universal health-care, which doesn’t make them Canadian nor us Swedes, Danes, &c. And most, if not all, of the characteristics you’ve named are not sui generis British.

    Yet if one takes a Socratic approach to the question of identity, both positive and negative (for those unmoved by monarchy and Shakespeare, for instance), then the respective historical development and record of various nations are what truly accounts for national character.

  3. maudie33 says:

    Your place in a ‘Q’ or line, as in the US term, can be very deceptive indeed. Disney World has it so you stand endlessly in those roped zig zag insults and after four hours waiting find you still haven’t made it half way to the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course this serves them well, as you then can’t take the rides you expected to and so, relentlessly, have to return, to go the rounds once again. Good marketing? Must be, their lines are never empty.

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