Stop crying, you’re British

Cultural Insights — By on February 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

You’ve heard about the British penchant for the stiff upper lip and their disdain for unseemly displays of emotion. But you wonder how true it really is. After all, we live in an age of emotion. People bare their souls on reality television shows and Facebook pages every day. Old habits, though, die hard. The British may be less formal and more emotional than they once were, but they’re stoic and serious compared to Americans. Or at least that’s what they want to believe.

A perfect example of the battle the Brits engage in between stoicism and emotion came in the public response to Kate Winslet’s sobs of joy during her recent Golden Globes acceptance speech. The event – and its aftermath in Britain – is captured nicely in this story:

Britons are a chauvinistic bunch, proprietary about their place in the world and eager to see their talents recognized abroad. So they were gratified in January when Kate Winslet, one of their favorite home-team actors, snagged a Golden Globe Award, her second of the night, for her performance as a frustrated prisoner of suburbia in “Revolutionary Road.”

That is until, failing her own actorly advice to “gather,” she began hyperventilating and burst into convulsive sobs, right there on stage…

Oh my God, was the general reaction in Britain. “Most people watching actually wanted, literally, to die,” wrote Caitlin Moran in The Times of London…

Why were they so harsh? Part of it was that, despite their increasingly American forays into public displays of feeling … many English people still feel repelled by all that capital-E emoting. Instead, said Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, they stick to the old standbys: self-deprecation, false modesty and humor.

“While British actors are dying to get those awards as much as anyone else, they are supposed to pretend they don’t really care and that it doesn’t really matter,” he said in an interview.

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