King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt,1415 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Against Anglophobia

The English should stop sucking up to people who dislike them

Artillery Row

Whilst travelling around Indonesia recently, I was suddenly hit by the sense that no one likes the English very much. It wasn’t the Indonesian people who gave me this impression, but others from Europe also on their travels. Over dinner Danes talked to me about the mistake of Brexit, as though I would join in as they rolled their eyes at my silly country. Did they really mean “Britain”, though? Then there were my compadres from western Ireland who let the odd anti-English comment slip, followed by reassurances that I was one of the okay types. I don’t want to single them out as I enjoyed their company, but let’s just say I was under no doubt about the Motherland’s global reputation.

The most common criticisms tended to be that we have bad food

Feeling curious after the trip, I logged onto Reddit — fountain of wisdom and honesty — to find out how anonymous internet users view the English. I searched for “views on the English” and “what do people think of the English”, but most of the results were about Britain — reinforcing my suspicion that outsiders overly use it as a synonym for the former. One user, for instance, posted their view that Britain “consists of London, Birmingham, cottages, and rain” and another said it was “Basically just Downton Abbey”. In these forums I learnt that we are “all Martin Freeman”, “sexually repressed” and “uncultured, barbaric, savages”. The most common criticisms tended to be that we have bad food and drink too much.

They say that knowledge is power, and I certainly felt emboldened by this cyber trawl. But before I had time to implement my Harvard-research-level findings, I found myself caught up in what felt like a real life simulation of those Reddit forums. To give a bit of context, a few weeks ago I tweeted that UK immigration is too high and rent will go up until young adults accept this. Soonafter, an American commentator called Joey Politano decided to criticise my views, clearly being much more of an authority on the UK than I am from his base in Washington, DC. Proving his familiarity with net migration statistics, he argued Brexit was a failure because it “cut immigration” — and now the joke was on Brexiteers with their higher rents.

I retweeted Joey, saying that he reminded me of a genre of man I have become accustomed to online, whom I’ve dubbed the “White Paper Mansplainer”. It was as if I had pressed the nuclear button; soon I found myself subjected to what can only be described as a “nerd army” of young mostly-US-based men, wanting to defend Joey and tell me that my “ideas are bad”. Quickly their criticisms evolved into something else, distinctly more personal, ultimately domestic. Comments arrived such as “You are a simp for a poor weak Britain falling ever further behind”; “Britain continuing its slide into irrelevance whilst former colonies leapfrog it”; “You’re British” and “you fell off worse than the UK”.

One palpably enraged San Francisco soul named Armand Domalewski told me, “Your country nuked its economy because it was so terrified of plumbers with last names ending with ‘ski. Give me a break”, before suggesting that I am an anti-immigrant xenophobe. Below his post someone added: “She’s got the Anglo face if nothing else”. The irony, not to take away from Joe Biden, is that my ethnicity estimate (DNA) comes up as 54 per cent for Ireland.

Too often we take Anglophobia lying down

Still, I am English, and the subtext to this tirade was obvious. It was no longer a case of “stupid woman, let’s put her right” but “ooh, a punchbag for England”. Whilst the Nerd Army took pains to tell me that I was racist and xenophobic, Sigmund Freud would have told them that they were “projecting”. Emboldened by the fashion for hating Brexit, their trail of thought was obvious: “Brexit means British, by which I mean English, so here’s everything I hate about Brexit/you.”

For an English lass or lad to say, “hang on, I’m not sure I like all this! Isn’t this a bit … Anglophobic?” is like asking the school bully to punch you again, harder. Have no doubt — even if the worst crime an English fellow ever commits is a sambuca-fuelled snog in Magaluf or flashing their “bad teeth” for their work headshot, somehow he or she will always become an emblem for every evil of England, from Jack the Ripper to Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran.

The problem in England is that too often we take Anglophobia lying down. The fallacy is thinking that rejecting our identity makes us more likeable. As Orwell said, “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” There was an irony to Mae Muller, Britain’s Eurovision star, once tweeting, “I hate this country” (by which you can bet she meant England) only to come second to last in the competition. No doubt thinking herself too liberal and sophisticated to be “English”, she soon found out that the rest of Europe had other ideas.

Far from self-flagellation, and the Ian Hislopification of English identity (“oh what are we like!”) making us endearing, it has merely made everyone hate us more. Why wouldn’t they? Add “pathetic” and “desperate to be liked” to the list, along with “bad teeth, and you have something worse than “uncultured, barbaric, savages” — a nation of simps after all! Placation in the face of endless hostility does not a patriot make.

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