Nationalities by Eric Foggitt

Aug 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Articles, Eric Foggitt, Regular Posts by OMBS authors

eric foggit

I commute frequently between Holland and England and sometimes I don’t behave as I should. In Amsterdam I find myself saying “sorry” (in a Dutch accent) just for approaching a door at the same time as someone else; back in the UK I forget to step to one side in a corridor – even though there is ample room for the oncoming trolley and myself, but it’s what one does in England.

The English tendency for overt politeness (which in Enneagram terms is an expression of the Type 1) is clearly in sharp distinction to the Dutch “If it works, do it!” approach, in which overt politeness is more likely to be construed as being pretentious or snobbery.

I know people who have lived and worked in Japan and been “weirded out” by some of their customs – memorably depicted in the film “Lost in Translation”. In France, it’s fairly easy for Brits to become frustrated by the Gallic tolerance for individuality in everything from eating to driving, as if the right to self-expression were an inalienable right of every French person – very much a Type 4 characteristic. I have been amazed at the disciplined politeness of drivers in the US, such that cars stopped at 4-way junctions take it in strictly-observed turns to go, like some choreographed dance routine.

These are the way things are done and if you travel it’s important to learn the “When in Rome…” rules, in order to avoid upsetting people unnecessarily.

Recently I’ve been wondering whether this may partly explain why nations like, loathe or love each other – or just ignore them. They might tell you that it’s all due to a war back in 1753 when “that lot” deceived and betrayed “our ances­tors” but I suspect this is just rationalisation for a deeper, more visceral conflict at the level of the instincts and energies which the Enneagram is all about.

Talking of visceral conflict, what about Scotland vs England? Those of us who remember the annual “Home Internationals” football tournaments (they were abolished in 1983) will recall the venomous anger with which some of the contests were conducted. This had nothing to do with the style of football and everything to do with rivalry, enmity and animosity at a cultural level.

And, to move onto the political stage, I suspect that the cultural dif­ferences between England and Scotland partly explain the hunger for independence in a third or more of the Scottish people. Take, for example, the statements coordinated a few months ago by the major UK parties deny­ing Scotland the right to use the pound as currency after independence. The issue is of course vital, but the reaction in Scotland, even among some “No” voters, was striking; as if an older brother had been caught denying his younger sibling the right to have a go on the X-Box. Several very negative buttons got pushed and I know of several people whose opinion changed from “maybe No” to “probably Yes” as a result. People who feel bullied don’t like to be bullied. In some 40+ years of observing politics, I don’t think I’ve seen a more serious political misjudge­ment, or one which more spectacularly backfired.

It works both ways. Alec Salmond, the wily and verbally-able SNP leader knows about these cultural buttons and very ably presses them to his advantage. He speaks about the UK Prime Minister being unwilling to enter into face-to-face debate because he is “feart” – simultaneously using an overtly Scots term and also hinting that he is braver than the PM – bravery being very much a Scottish cultural merit: not for nothing was Mel Gibson’s hagiographic film about William Wallace entitled “Braveheart”.

When I lived in Scotland I learnt that overt expressions of niceness and kind­ness (in Enneagram terms, qualities often associated with Type 2) are as de rigueur as expressions of politeness (Type 1) are in England. For years my col­leagues rigorously observed one unspoken rule about holidays: bring some­thing back for your colleagues. It could be just a fridge magnet or a key fob, but just do it; it shows that you were thinking about them. At Christmas we were awash with cards at work: all the team brought cards for everyone else and the wards and departments couldn’t miss us out, so every available surface was covered in cheap cards – sometimes from peo­ple we didn’t know. Seen with Dutch eyes, this is nothing short of bizarre – not only because in Holland peo­ple don’t send Christmas cards but also because it seems like a meaningless ritual.

Scottish sentimentality (again a Type 2 quality) is well documented and histor­i­c­ally deep-rooted: the Kailyard school either side of the turn of the 20th century (whose most famous member was Peter Pan’s J M Barrie) perfectly expressed this tendency, as did Rabbie Burns in his weaker moments. On the other hand, “dour Scottishness” (a type 5 characteristic probably best exempli­fied recently by Gordon Brown) is mostly reviled in England but seen as worthy seriousness in men north of the border. (Brown remains very popular at home, but largely forgotten and not missed in England.)

The fact that we can discuss (and no doubt sometimes disagree about) these cultural matters says something important about Scotland in general and the Indy debate in particular: most Scots are powerfully aware of their Scottishness and that’s more than you can say about the English and their Englishness. In addition, there is in Scotland a large consensus in favour of social fairness and justice – which is not the case in England, but it’s deeper than just ideology or politics: it’s about national identity. For the stalwarts of the “Yes” to independ­ence campaign, the bigger brother has been putting down the younger one these past 400 years; England is a land of rules and politeness, whilst the Scots are people of kindness and bravery to whom many English people seem fake and arrogant. I simplify grossly, but I hope that you get my drift.

Ironically, the same politicians who are denying Scotland independ­ence are yearning for it for themselves: the growing anti-EU sentiment recently ex­pressed in polls gave UKIP huge gains and the Conservatives big headaches. People are sick of Brussels telling them what to do; they didn’t elect them. Scots “Yes” voters are sick of Westminster telling them what to do; they didn’t elect them. When I hear Nigel Farage’s clever dictum: “We want our country back” I hear Alec Salmond too, and I expect he wishes he had coined it first.

But while I suspect Farage and his followers are anxious about a loss of identity in a multi­cul­tural world (what is it to be English anyway?), Salmond and the “Yes” voters feel pretty sure about who they are and are looking for a chance to express it in full-blooded nationhood. I can’t see anything wrong with that!


Leave a Comment