MADRID – Britain’s love of sentimentality extends from our fondness for greeting cards to sending thank you notes after dinner and belies a deep attachment to the past, according to a new book by a Spanish author.
Unlike some other European neighbours, Britons boast in the success stories of their long history, as they look back with misty eyes on the ‘merry England’ of the past.
An English sky is a series of essays on British life by Ignacio Peyró, the coordinator of the Instituto Cervantes in Great Britain, which promotes Spanish culture abroad.
Writing with fondness for the country where he has spent the past four years, Peyró muses on the adoration in some quarters for Winston Churchill – illustrated by Boris Johnson. The Anglophile also explores what he calls the “wounds of Euroscepticism” and the joys of learning that quintessentially English sport – croquet.
“It was a game where I learned that you could drink some wine while playing. I enjoyed it very much,” he said.
And while the country faces a reckoning over its colonial history, he believes the English aren’t afraid to revel in the past. “Britain has a very big history where you won two world wars, so it’s not surprising that Brits want to enjoy it,” he said. I.
Peyró noted that time is taken to remember not only the famous, but also the unknown, which he sees as a symbol of national sentimentality. “There are benches in the memorial park, something unheard of in continental Europe. Then there will be blue plaques everywhere to commemorate all kinds of famous people,” he said.
Greeting cards – so much a part of British life – are foreign to Spaniards. “Sending gift vouchers is a symbol of British sentimentality, but if you tried to set up a shop like this in Spain, you would starve,” he said.
Britons are bound by a strict social code, the book says, which dictates how they dress and behave when they work in the city, go to church or join a club. Despite this, society tolerates some eccentrics who push the boundaries of this code, even applauding the way some use irony to do so.
Peyró says, however, that modern Britain, like his own country, is becoming less and less of a caricature of itself.
“Spanish people don’t go to watch bullfights all day long, just like Britons drink more coffee than tea these days,” Peyró said.
He takes the time to pay tribute to the monarch he calls the ‘stainless queen’ and one of the ‘political geniuses of our time’, who survived the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1982 Falklands War and attempts by the IRA to members of the royal family and Brexit.
British life has grown on him, he admits, to the extent that he has adopted some typical habits. “British people take the trouble to write you a handwritten note after dinner to thank you. I’m a convert,” he said. “I do use a kettle, which is unheard of in Spain. But I’m still a coffee drinker. I didn’t become a tea drinker.”
His fondness for Britain is so great that Peyró posts photos of the country on social media with the hashtag #beautfulbritain.
He is now considering turning the photos into a new book, which could be published before he leaves Britain to take up his next role in Rome in September.
Peyró says insulting British food is a favorite sport of foreigners and locals like George Orwell. But instead of making easy jokes about British food, he devotes a chapter of the book to sauces of horseradish, marmite, English mustard and chutneys. Peyró isn’t a fan of Marmite, which he dismisses as “filth,” and makes no apologies for disliking the sauce loved by – at least half of – Britain.
“It’s part of the sentimentality of the British, like the BBC’s typography or the red mailboxes,” he writes.