According to a book published in Spain, we British are not what we seem to be.
Our invincible hypocrisy is the butt of jokes across Western Europe; we drink like camels (although these animals of burden do not consume alcohol) and the closest many of our marriages will ever come to a sexual thrill is cracking thirteen down in a crossword.
Alberto Letona, the author of Sons and Daughters, has identified three prevailing pastimes: money-grabbing, binge drinking and avoiding any form of intimate touch. ‘The British are considered by the rest of the world as a puritanical culture, little given to physical contact, much less having sex,’ he writes. Doing a crossword together might prove to be the ‘height of the sex life of some British couples’, he claims.
For Letona, the country’s cultural ambassadors are not Adele or the Royal Family but the eccentric Keith Richards, the sleazy John Profumo and the stridently feminist Claire Short. Of the British class system, he derides the middle-class people who in his opinion are more given to hypocrisy. ‘They might say “ring me and I’ll take you to lunch” when it is the last thing they want to do. The upper class do not need to pretend to be friendly.’
Compared with their continental cousins, a lack of personal hygiene is another trait Letona claims the British display. Although British food has shaken off its reputation for being ‘horrific’ in the eyes of Spaniards, we have become gastronomic snobs, he writes, obsessed with healthy continental-style cooking and Spanish wine (he must be kidding!) – however, believe it or not, he finds something about the British which he extols: the benefits of a Sunday roast and fish and chips.
The author, aged sixty, is a former journalist, who lived in St Andrews and London, and is married to a British teacher. After returning to Spain he intended to expel some clichés that Spaniards harboured towards the British, but was also unsparing in his criticism of other foibles. ‘The Spanish think all the British are like the hooligans who come on holiday to Malaga and Magaluf. That is not the case,’ he said.
Cleanliness, however, is by no means next to godliness in the UK, Letona alleges. ‘It is true that the toilets are not as clean as in Spain. British people don’t need to shower as many times as they don’t live in a hot climate.’
Letona contends that the English are undergoing an identity crisis. ‘The English appear jealous of the Scots, Welsh and Irish with their own parliaments. They don’t seem to be happy with their national identity.’
He’s equally critical of Anglicanism which to him is ‘wishy-washy’ compared to Catholicism. (He certainly has a point there!) But overall his perception of the British is far off the mark. The hypocrisy he refers to is more a salient point of the Establishment which is gradually losing its grip as the new generation shows signs of ignoring it. Calling John Profumo sleazy is a rather unkind remark. He was a gentleman who erred, but remained distinguished throughout his ordeal.
The British are not sexually bereft as his book infers. In fact, I think that, contrary to expectation, they are as vibrant in the bedroom as the Latin lovers we read about.
As for British women, most are a delight to be with. Unassuming and friendly, they top my list of the multitude of women I have interviewed all over the world. I have nothing but praise for their ingenuity and ability to converse freely without the least inhibitions in dealing with any topic.
The author ends his book on a more positive note when he says: ‘I tolerate the British capacity for hypocrisy, their practical sense and nobody is better able to convert its symbols into a souvenir culture. I like their eccentric way of dressing which does not play to the gallery.’
But to some extent, I fear Alberto Letona must have lived in a sort of social wilderness while in Britain, for some of his remarks I find to be bordering on the perimeters of hogwash.