Martin Parr
Martin Parr

CULTURE CLUB • August 2019

The Club’s guide to British eccentricity

What we lack in size, we certainly make up for in quirks. From our love of an orderly queue to our obsession with tea and the weather, here are the seven eccentricities our Executive Club Members find the most endearing, featuring photography from beloved British photographer, Martin Parr

Sorry, not sorry

Except, we really are quite sorry. Here’s what you had to say about our nation’s love of the ‘s’ word.
Whether it’s “saying sorry when something is not our fault and getting a smile in return” or “apologising when someone else bumps in to you”, we clearly have an “overwhelming need to apologise to everyone and everything, even if it’s an inanimate object we walk into”. As one American writes “the British will even apologise if it’s you who accidentally stood on their toes”. Another member, who recently returned from living overseas, says she missed this aspect of British culture: “I was so delighted when I returned and was met by a flurry of ‘sorrys’.”
Says who: Gordan Roberston, Margaret Rowe, Ali Jones, Donald Bogue, Chelsea Levi, Sonja Watson


Excessive politeness

We British pride ourselves on being polite, but woe betide anyone who doesn’t understand the art of forming an orderly queue…
The Brits’ “good manners” both amuse and bemuse many of us. In a country where good manners “still count”, we go from being too polite to “say what we really think” to using “deathly politeness when waiting to be rude”. From a tendency to use “euphemisms” to our love for a good orderly queue (“after you, no after you please, no really you first”), we can be good mannered to a fault. Although, one Executive Club Member is all for it: “The obsessive politeness is my favourite quirk – long may it last,” she writes. Another is a big fan of the queues: “They make accessing facilities and services very orderly.”
Says who: Margaret Glenton, Demetri Demetriou, Alison Kriek, Ashley Hart, Dominic Fairclough, Angela Forrest, Ron Kitchin, Dan Thompson, Christopher Mashigo


Afternoon tea

The nation’s faith in a cuppa to cure all ills is world famous but so too, it seems, is our fondness for scones and jam with a brew. In fact, afternoon tea is a tradition that can start a very British debate…
Many of you picked afternoon tea as the best British tradition. “It’s genius” gushed one Member, while another raved about “the range and quality” of afternoon teas in London. Fortnum and Mason was tipped as a top spot by one Member, who loves the staff’s “perfect English accents” as well as the “scrumptious cakes and scones”. While another loved historic tearoom Betty’s in Harrogate. As well as the “perfect little sandwiches and cakes”, the “never-ending argument” over whether the cream or jam goes on the scone first is a loveable quirk – it “shows that our passion as a nation is directed in the right place”.
Says who: Lynsey Docherty, Chloe White, Jennifer Wells, Ruth Webb Compton, John Wood, Deborah Ratcliffe 


Summertime traditions

From village fetes to flower shows, jugs of Pimm’s and picnics, the summer season is awash with uniquely British activities.
Summer brings “village fete season” when communities gather to “have a go at axe throwing” or “try the local produce” regardless of “what the weather throws at them”. There’s sitting down to enjoy Morris dancing “with a glass of something cool”. The slightest ray of sunshine, meanwhile, brings “sunbathing in Hyde Park on stripey deck chairs” and “lazy days watching cricket on village greens”. One Member is amused by our habit of settling down “in the car park, when you are only yards away from grass or the beach”, while another notes our “penchant for wacky sports” such as cheese rolling. Then of course, there’s the popular Royal Ascot and RHS Chelsea Flower Show with “Pimm’s, panama hats… as well as celebrity and royalty spotting”.
Says who: Rachel Amphlett, Corina Schiopu, Carol Rouse, Pauline Willby, Phil Axelson, Terry Bunting, Elaine Galloway, Paul Carter


A controversial condiment

Love it or loathe it, Marmite is a quintessential but divisive British flavour…
While most Brits love a curry and chip butty, there’s one distinctly British foodstuff that’s renowned for dividing the crowd: Marmite. This concentrated yeast extract, usually eaten spread over hot buttered toast, has a distinctive salty and yeasty flavour. “You either love it or hate it!”. “Everyone else hates it” notes one Member while another declares “tea and marmite sandwiches” to be utter bliss.        
Says who: David Turner, Michael Doolan and Cara Spence

A controversial condiment

The Great British weather

Just don’t get us started on the weather, another national obsession and the ultimate small-talk conversation maker.
The great (or let’s face it, not-so-great) British weather is generally how most conversations open and end. “People always talk about the weather in Britain” writes one Member. While another notes that it’s commented on “an hourly basis” and another that “nowhere else in the world discusses the weather like the Brits”. While we might be weather bores, one Member observes being a Scout and “always being prepared” has stood him in “good stead for our good old British weather”. Although one wry Member is bemused by the amount of time spent discussing this topic when, in reality “British weather is pretty uneventful”.
Says who: Angela Coates, Sherry Keyamo, Karen Bryant, Marguerite Newman, Kenneth MacAllister, Elaine Shanks, Stephen Gilberthorpe


Food, glorious food

Perhaps surprisingly, Britain’s many and varied food specialities got a lot of love from our Members…
From ploughman’s lunches to Sunday roasts, crumpets to jam roly-polys, British dishes offer comfort like nowhere else. Even the “warm beer” was mentioned fondly. For one Member, classic British dishes are intertwined with fond memories “a damp day at the coast accompanied by the smell of chips splashed in vinegar” and a “Sunday morning walk around Sandringham Woods, knowing when you return home, you’ll be greeted with the smell of that Sunday lunch cooking in the oven”. For one Member, their favourite thing is going for “a slap-up curry”. Sandwiches, too, are another UK stalwart (on “good white bread with lots of butter”). “There are no limits” to what can go in a sandwich, but for all our classics, we’re definitely not stuck in a rut: “British food is now the best in the world: full of local flair, and creativity.”
Says who: Zair Berry, Matt Swerwacki, Robin Collett, Christoper Murrell, Paul Heseltine, Edna Strange, Marion Veal, Keith Tonner

Food, glorious food

This article has been tagged Destination, Culture