Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. You can also find out more about his struggles and adventures in Spain over at myspanishadventure.com.
Being British, for me, never struck me as something particularly peculiar. At least not until I began travelling and living abroad in my early-twenties. That’s when it hit me.
Before that I must have imagined the whole world as largely the same entity. Weekend evenings with people pouring out of the chippy, short summers spent with picnics on the river, fights in the Stella-soaked streets, that kind of thing. I’m sure Runaway Brit shares similar sentiments? Little could I imagine then, way back in my teens, that halfway around the world lives were being lived differently, in ways directly opposite to mine.
Never could I comprehend, for example, that somewhere out there a queue was being jumped, an apology falling afoul, a cup of dreadfully stale tea making its way to an unsuspecting office desk.
Could all these glorious British things be so tragically neglected? What nation of people would be so barbarous as to do such things?
Thanks to travel I’ve opened my eyes to such abuses. Not only has it helped me to see just how deliciously “British” I’ve become, but also what a moaning little xenophobe too.
The question that gets me most though: why must I bring my country with me when I travel?
Say No More, Gov’ner
It’s a question that’s no more apparent than now here in Spain. After all, this is where I find myself, nestled in the wild, barren, plains of Extremadura, not a single St. George’s cross nor village green in sight, flipping, with no cheese and cucumber sandwiches to save me, the hell out.
Those little things we often take for granted outside of our fair isles? Those more commonly shared bonds? They’re now all flooding back to me in waves.
It’s here, for example, that I can’t cross the road for fear of having my bones crushed. I look left and nothing’s coming, I fail to check the right.
It’s here I can’t switch on breakfast TV to find the kindly face of BBC news’ Bill Turnbull. I look furiously for his little pug-dog face, but he’s never there, only ever a big-breasted Spanish reporter.
I can’t even pop down the local corner shop and buy refrigerated milk.
It’s a disgrace. Or rather I am. I’m playing to that stereotype all to well. My nationality? Entitles me to a bloody good moan. Travel only brings out in the best in it.
Begging Your Pardon
It’s not like I haven’t tried to adopt less of the “why-can’t-they-be-more-like-us?” school of thinking. But this mentality, I’d like to argue, lives heavily inside of my makeup. I just can’t help but take around with me all this unnecessary travelling baggage. And I don’t mean the Louis Vuitton kind.
But what is it about us Brits that turns us into a nation of blithering travelling idiots? Is it cultural teachings? Like the way we’re brought up to profusely apologize for things that aren’t even our fault? Like apologising for not having a Tesco Clubcard for example?
These habits, you’d have thought, I’d at least have broken here in Spain, where apologies, if anything, are few and far between. But no. Here Cáceres, where barely a soul speaks English, it’s just been the same.
How many times have I found myself being bumped into, shortchanged or mistaken (for what I can only imagine) as a dashing Spanish lothario, only to respond with an “I’m ever so sorry” English grumble? Too many.
Apologising, though, is only one part of the bargain. For everything else we take with us on our travels there’s an awful lot more we have to contend with too.
I’ll Have a Pint of your Finest
This is where I’d like to posit my theory that as a nation we must have the largest amount of stereotypes out there than any other. We all know the most common one. You know won’t be surprised to learn it’s the same one I’ve had thrown at me most here.
Yet it’s curious. The last time I checked drinking wasn’t reserved solely for the land of the wind, rain and incredibly short summers. I mean I’ve seen plenty of Germans, Americans and even Asians enjoy a good pint in my time too.
But the Spanish associate it solely with us.
Granted, so one only needs to look at them, stylishly quaffing and knocking back their wines, cañas and whiskeys on their terraces to see what’s really at play. It’s not so much that they think we Brits drink. It’s more that we lack one important thing. Style.
Where does this leave me however? Well aside from the overarching expectation that I’m nothing but a filthy, scraggly, alcoholic, the truth is: I’m not that concerned. I’ll just turn to other parts of my identity instead and engage my bigger preoccupations: like how to get my fill of Stephen Fry and iPlayer while I’m on the move. Like how to get hold of a copy of The Guardian. Like where to get some bloody fish and chips!
If I’m going to get stereotyped I might as well and be the one leading the way.
And as for when I travel? I guess I do like to take Britain with me.
Is that such a crime?