Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple

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Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple

Category: Humour
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: A mildly amusing novelty book based on Temple's @soverybritish Twitter account. Stereotypes abound, but some of them will ring bells and raise chuckles.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? No
Pages: 288 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780751552591

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Are you compelled to apologise multiple times a day – even when you are not at fault, or even to inanimate objects? Would you subject yourself to great inconvenience rather than confront someone who is sitting in your reserved seat on a train? Have you been known to commit desperate acts in the search for your next cup of tea? If so, you may be suffering from Very British Problems.

This moderately amusing novelty book is based on the best entries from Rob Temple's @soverybritish Twitter account, which now has over 500,000 followers. Accordingly, the bulk of the text comes in the form of witty one-liners that attempt to capture English attitudes towards driving, restaurants, office life, drinking, train journeys and so on, charmingly illustrated with Andrew Wightman's black-and-white cartoons. All are phrased in the second person, as a list of symptoms leading to a diagnosis of severe Britishness.

A few of my favourites are: 'Switching from 'kind regards' to 'regards' as a warning that you are dangerously close to losing your temper'; 'Summarising that you, 'Wouldn't say it tasted great,' to indicate it's possibly the most revolting dish you've ever encountered'; and (from the 'Glossary' section) 'Sorry – Uttered more than any other word in a Brit's vocabulary, as an expression of apology, as a greeting or simply for no reason whatsoever.' These give an idea of the kind of silly sound bites you should be expecting.

I have long since been disabused of my initial notion that the British are actually polite robots that run on tea (though I am now as fond of a lovely cup of tea as the next resident of these Isles), but Temple's generalisations still prompted the occasional chuckle. His stereotypical Englishman is unassuming and self-effacing, a master of the art of understatement and, when hard done by, externally mild-mannered but inwardly seething. He is also clinically dependent on both tea and beer, and obsesses over queuing etiquette and 'highly problematic meteorological phenomena'. Wightman depicts him wearing a black suit and bowler hat, as well as a perpetual half-smile of mild embarrassment, sometimes morphing into downright consternation.

All national stereotypes have kernels of truth to them, of course, so readers of Very British Problems will certainly recognise some of their friends and family members in the behaviours here, if not themselves. Nevertheless, clichés are a fairly crude form of humour, wilfully ignoring the truth that people are people no matter which country they hail from – with divergent habits, contradictions and seeming perversities aplenty.

In fact, many of the attributes Temple labels particularly 'British' could equally be applied to introverts, whatever their nationality: not wanting to make a fuss, avoiding conflict or public speaking, and hiding emotions behind that proverbial 'stiff upper lip'. The British may have a reputation for being reserved, but individual Brits can be both assertive and effusively friendly. Especially in this modern work culture, which prioritises group thinking and self-promotion, introverts are at a disadvantage and must at least pretend to be more confident and sociable than they normally are in order to succeed.

Perhaps the most diverting chapter, even though it is also the most stereotype-ridden, is the third, which contains a 'how British are you?' self-evaluation. Such tests always rely on exaggeration, but it is still entertaining to see certain patterns of American or continental versus British behaviour emerging. As an American expatriate myself (I have now been in England for eight years in total), I was interested to take the test, rudimentary as it might be, and see what nationality my responses suggested. Well, according to Temple, I have almost fully assimilated into European life: my replies were over one-half British, plus one third French, while only one out of my 15 answers indicated 'American'. Again, though, this may be more a sign of an introverted personality; I tend toward solitude and diffidence rather than to your typically American brashness.

It may be that I expected too much from a book that is, essentially, a Christmas stocking stuffer. You might buy a copy to sit on the coffee table or beside the loo, or send one off with a British friend who is leaving to live abroad. Whatever you do, though, do not (as I did) read the book all the way through, beginning to end, in a few sittings. If you do, the rapid-fire Tweet style will soon grate. Some of the topics are repetitive, and the informality the Internet-targeted format encourages means that there are relatively frequent typos and grammatical errors. Temple has not quite managed to convert the Twitter formula into a coherent book, so do not attempt to read it as such. Instead, dip in and out at random, letting serendipity guide you to those snippets that will elicit a laugh.

The book's combination of fondness and self-deprecation makes for a pleasant tone, though this sort of thing has been done much better in the past – two of my favourite 'finding the British' books are Brit-Think, Ameri-Think: A Transatlantic Survival Guide by Jane Walmsley and Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson.

Provided you are after nothing but a bit of fluffy fun, you should not be disappointed to learn that you have very British problems.

Further reading suggestion: For another witty recent take on British etiquette, turn to Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig. If you're looking for a slightly more serious guide to surviving modern life, try How to Keep Calm and Carry On by Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman.

Buy Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple at Amazon.com.


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