Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bus Stops and the Blitz

Due to its versatility, the British word "bollocks" has been called “the Swiss Army Knife of andrological profanities.” Maybe I’m out of touch with the nuances of my native tongue, but I find “bollocks” rather limited. The term "bullshit" is both more pungent and more polysemous. Like “bollocks,” “bullshit” can mean “nonsense, lies,” as in “He’s talking bullshit.” But it can also refer to something that is unacceptable, as in “I’ve had enough of your bullshit” or “The war in Iraq is bullshit.”

The difference between the two terms reflects a difference in national character. The Brits don’t have a word for that which is unacceptable, because their nature is to accept. This trait can be noble (the Blitz) or foolish (the inefficient plumbing). But, for better or worse, Americans tend to expect things to go their way, and to be outraged if they do not.

Take the way people ask for things. On my visit to England over the holidays, a woman approached me as I was taking a shopping basket in the supermarket and said: “Excuse me, would you mind doing me a favor, please? Would you pass me one of those shopping baskets too?” She spoke as if she hardly dared expect her request to be granted, as if she was asking me for a kidney or my firstborn. An American would have used less than half as many words: “Would you grab me a basket, please?”

But perhaps because the terrible weather has forced them to be this way, the Brits are adepts at acceptance. A few years ago I was waiting for a bus in London. As it approached, the people waiting dug out change for their tickets and formed a line. Then we watched as, at the last moment, the rogue bus turned down a different street, trundling out of sight. Americans might have started fuming and saying “This is bullshit!” Without looking at each other or saying anything, the English, with resignation in their eyes, stiffened their upper lips and started walking.


Blogger Tommy Barrett said...

Why are you hating on Americans? That's BULLSHIT!


12:18 PM  

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