Very British Problems

“It’s the Cliff Notes to my wife.”  Eric explained to his mom and sister as we straw-sipped Bloody Mary’s on Saturday night, avec BBQ.  “If you want to understand her, watch it.”

I smirk at how Eric thinks this entire series sums me up.  All these silly habits and customs of mine aren’t just because I’m me, Yvette Durham, but because I’m British.  As such, like the rest of my countrymen/women, we are afflicted with Very British Problems.

‘Very British Problems’ is, in fact, the name of the comic series currently on Netflix, depicting and decoding the strange qualities of Brits.  Eric and I have belly-laughed our way through every episode.  Eric watery- eyed in recognition of his wife’s until now cryptic behavior and me, when not laughing, cringing in silent admission to these VBP’s.

For instance, last year we had quite the fiasco at Christmas.  Over?!  Mashed potato.  Eric’s mom and sister wanted mashed potato as part of our Christmas lunch.  I said no, at Christmas we always have roast potatoes.  Why?  Because it’s traditional.  Sarcastically-laced emails were punched back and forth until Eric threw his hands up in the air declaring he now hated Christmas.

Me, usually being such an accommodating, people-pleasing sort of a gal, was even perplexed by my own behavior.  Why does it bother me so much to have mashed potatoes?!  ‘Very British Problems’ explained this very thing in the Christmas episode.  We Brits are a nation of tradition, no more than at Christmas.  To exemplify, a Canadian comic, now calling Britain home, had what she now sees as the audacity to bring a yummy strawberry cheesecake to a Christmas lunch with a bunch of Brits.  She soon discovered that we would much prefer to eat Christmas pudding-whether we love it or loathe it- simply because that’s what you eat at Christmas.  You just do.  Even if every member of the family detests sprouts, by goodness, we’ll still cook ‘em.  Wouldn’t be Christmas without a sprout, would it?!

I go to huge efforts to source sprouts and scour shops for the illusive parsnip since being in the USA. I also spend ridiculous import taxes to have my Christmas pud, brandy sauce and ‘Celebrations’ selections box.  None of which, in fact, my family is that enamored with.  In fact we all dislike Christmas pud, which usually gets shoved into the back of the pantry to collect dust.

We Brits are a nation of routine, which is why we feel so utterly discombobulated during that week between Christmas and New Year.


There was so many more raised points I sunk into resonance with, if not me personally than my British family:-

1) We Brits never say what we feel. I am unusually very open emotionally.  However, I will say in five sentences what my American fellows will say in five words.  I do like to skirt.  We Brits-me being no exception- are very fond of euphemisms.

2) As Stephen Mangan stated, “We would rather eat a plate of cold sick than complain in a restaurant.” Ha! Another comedian, James Corden, said his mum would suffer to eat a salad-which she did not order-peppered with shards of glass rather than socially faux pas and complain.

I, too, hate complaining.  I thought it was just me, though.  Quite a relief to discover its not.  My dad was terribly British.  He would never take anything back to a store, and he too would tell an inquiring waiter, “Oh yes its delicious!” All the while trying to swallow chewy, cold meat without gagging.

On the other hand, Americans are masters of complaining.  They invented customer service.  I’ve got quite a bit better at complaining, thanks to living here, but I still probably only resort to it 50% of the time that really I know I should.

One very vocal, stereotypical American who is married to a Brit said, of all nationalities, Brits are his very favorite to sit next to on a plane.  Why?!  Because of course he can invade our space as much as he likes and we will Never. Complain.

3) The weather is a Brits favorite subject. It’s a blanket topic, a go-to, that everyone can comment on making it ideal for breaking the socially awkward ice.

4) As is typical of Brits, my dad seemingly found emotions most disturbing things.  He was characteristically very caged with his feelings.  As such they festered and manifested in quirky behavior.  Personally I’m very Americanized when it comes to expressing emotions.  Coming to America gave me permission to cry during a sad movie, just like my husband.  My family however, who indirectly taught me to swallow a lump in my throat during the likes of ‘Titanic,’ found this new splashing about of feelings quite uncomfortable.

Due to the British way of zipping in feelings, our happy face, as Nigel Havers from the show surmised, is really quite similar to our grumpy face, except for the very slightest, almost undetectable, upturn of the mouth with the former.  Oh yes.  This is so true.  I can even feel my stiff upper lip quivering in response.

5) Of course we Brits are very discreet when it comes to potty talk. Eric and I laughed our way through this portion of the show. I remember finding it quite a display of confidence when I first met Eric and he would fart in front of me, or go to the bathroom for a number two wherever we went in a- gasp- public-not-your-own-loo.

We Brits are telepathically told to hold in all bodily noises and functions until we reach a private place, aka, home. Yep, even if that means you’re quietly wailing on the inside with a paralyzing stomach ache.

(We’ve probably the Victorians to thank for this, as well as other VBP’s discussed, come to think of it.)

6) Oh I loved the part when James Corden talked about our alcohol consumption, compared to the Americans. He, a Brit now living in LA, says when you go to dinner over here and have three glasses of wine there’s practically an intervention launched.  You’re viewed as a raving alcoholic, comic license permitted.  However, drink the same amount in Britain and you’ll be asked why so conservative.  “Do you have a headache?!  Come on mate!”

I remember going to stay with my parents during one of my alcohol detoxes.  They looked at me as if I’d given up running water;  baffling.  I invariably always drink more in the UK where every social occasion revolves around alcohol.  That, for the sake of my liver, I do not miss.  I love that America has taught me to find pleasure in being with people, sans alcohol.  We go to yoga, we take an art class, coffee in a funky café. Who knew, right?!

This wonderful series has made me feel comforted, rather than burdened with a  personality issue of stubbornness.  As such, perhaps I can brush it off as being a side affect of my Britishness.  Almost like a get out of jail free card.

Overall I‘m slightly relieved not to be surrounded by a sea of other Brits whom all suffer from the same pangs of embarrassment and social awkwardness that the Americans belly laugh at us for. Yet at the same time, how I’ve changed since being in USA, how I’ve become more Americanized.  I now indulge in all things self help, splosh emotions about, cry in public, have grown significantly in confidence and I’m usually overly busy. In fact, Mum often complains during Facetime, “Can you not sit down for five minutes to talk, darling? Must you always be loading the dishwasher or painting something whilst we chat?”

Of course, being me, I won’t allow myself to sit back with a cuppa and relax into my irritating British ways.  I’ll have to appease the American half of me who wants to therapy through them with a strong coffee and alternative healing strategies.

If you do nothing else today, my friends, tune into Netflix and giggle away.  No need to read my blog, just watch the show:-)