Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel's as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, And foolish notion
I approach The Guardian daily in the spirit of Don Vito Corleone; keeping my friends close, but my enemies closer. The linked article, however, struck a chord. A regular commenter named Chuckles recently asked me (speaking of my perspective on Britain);
Do you think long spells spent in foreign climes under different jurisdictions and compulsions contribute to this?
Yes, I do. Since I left to work abroad in 1992 I have learned that our national self-image differs greatly from the perceptions of others. We see ourselves as the nation of fair play, but we are widely perceived as dishonest, for example. That's a perception worsened by our political correctness. That nasty curdled version of our once-famous politeness causes Brits to approach issues crabwise for fear of causing offence. It comes over as fake and - frankly - it is. When I discuss issues with foreign friends in a direct way, I wince at the inevitable "compliment" of being told that I am "...not at all like an Englishman..."
The foreign correspondents reporting our election are, delightfully, not as mealy-mouthed as their PC British counterparts. Here's the correspondent of El Mundo speaking of some of the campaign's main characters;
We all miss him [Tony Blair]. All the foreign correspondents ... He's such a greedy guy! And a liar. You know he was just a real politician, an actor, a multimillionaire. He was just such fun ... Whereas Gordon Brown is dour and boring, nobody cares about him...He gets on well with the Spanish prime minister but this is because they are both in a terrible position ... they are like two drunks who are holding on to each other in the street to stop themselves falling over ... my favourite is Mr Mandelson. He's the most grotesque character. I absolutely adore him. He's so funny. And he's such a drama queen. He exaggerates everything. But he's very intelligent – he's the first one to come up with a new catchphrase. And he's always in tune with the mood. He smells the mood around him. Yesterday he said: 'Flirt with Nick Clegg and you'll end up married to Cameron.' Which is brilliant, isn't it? He's just so funny. Funnier even than Lembit Öpik.
He has those guys nailed. The France 24 correspondent, however, seems determined to live up to her national stereotype;
The Conservatives have been giving the best press conference breakfasts; good croissants, excellent pains au chocolat…
As a long-time resident in Russia, I smiled at the perspective of the Moskovsky Komsomolets correspondent:
What is hard to explain is how a couple of phrases from Nick Clegg, about the two other 'old parties', seems to have changed the mind of so many of the electorate. The Russians would find it intriguing that the British public could be so persuadable.
But what of the Germans? Though our ethnic brothers, they are after all the most foreign of foreigners to the English, perpetually in opposition to our barbaric culture and Anglo-Saxon values and with no decent food to compensate for their disdain. Yet the London correspondent of ZDF makes some perceptive observations. She is genuinely puzzled by;
...the fact that Nick Clegg has the same type of background as Cameron and yet he manages to be the Robin Hood of the poor. How did he do that? I think he must have very good PR...
She gets into her stride however when giving our democracy a well-deserved Teutonic kicking:
...no one can understand in Germany why Clegg's party is gaining around 30% of the polls but will only gain 15% of the seats in parliament. I have to say that I think our system is more democratic. Which, considering it was Britain that gave the system of democracy to the world, is quite unbelievable...
The main truth of this election however, is also the main truth about us. Like the British people themselves the campaign is self-absorbed, inward-looking and has an air of unjustified superiority. The campaigners preen and strut as if they were taking part in the world's only democracy. Even the pro-EU LibDems don't dare to mention that there is more to the world than our islands. Our Spanish friend Eduardo Suárez of El Mundo (whom I would love to buy a pint someday) nails both that and the world's response to it:
...you are only interested in yourself. You don't care about anyone else, any other country, you just spend all your time looking at yourself, this is very funny...
Funny, yes. And also sad. No-one is impressed guys. They are laughing because this childish self-absorption is just another sign of a great civilisation dwindling.