Magazine article The Spectator

Common People

Magazine article The Spectator

Common People

Article excerpt

Vulgarity is now the ruling characteristic of England

When I returned recently from Paris, everyone asked about the strikes, the riots, the violence and the chaos. All I had seen was a queue at one petrol station and a notice of closure at another: otherwise, it was all oysters and Sancerre. My questioners were disappointed.

It was as if the travails of France were the salvation of England.

Much more pertinent to our national predicament is something that strikes me each time I return from France: the extreme vulgarity of the English by comparison with the French. It is as if the English had adopted vulgarity as a totalitarian ideology, a communism of culture rather than of the economy. This vulgarity is insolent, militant and triumphant, will brook no competition and tolerate no dissent. It exercises a kind of subliminal terror to discourage any protest.

That vulgarity is now the ruling characteristic of England, of the prosperous as of the poor, is evident in small things and in large. At the airport you can always tell a flight bound for England by the number of grossly fat and hideously apparelled passengers waiting to board. No man can be blamed for being ill favoured by nature; but every man can be blamed for making the worst of himself, as the English now seem to do as a matter of principle. They are the ugliest people in the world, but this has nothing to do with biology.

Their facial expressions, their gait, their speech, their laughter, their very gestures are crude. The mothers of no other nation known to me address their children in tones so lacking in tenderness and so expressive of shrewish irritability and exasperation, with voices shrill, penetrating and impossible to ignore (except, of course, for their children, who will very soon sound like them).

The choice of reading matter offered to passengers at airports and stations on either side of the Channel is instructive. Perhaps you shouldn't judge books by their covers, but you can judge the taste of the public by them.

The taste of the English public is for the vulgar, cheap and kitschy. Their aesthetic sense seems no more refined than that of magpies.

The newspapers on offer gratis to passengers boarding the aircraft are instructive too. In England they are tabloid, mainly concerned with developments in Wayne Rooney's sex life, and with headlines the size of a proclamation of a state of emergency. …

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