The goodwill and bonhomie of the 2012 festivities seem to have worn off pretty quickly in Britain.
Not long ago I returned from an extended stay away from the UK – away from all things Royal, Wimbledon and Olympic. More than once I’ve been told what a great show I missed, what a great spirit in the country, smiling volunteers, cheering crowds, street parties and bunting everywhere. All in all, apparently, the old place has been transformed.
I’m not big on street parties and bunting at the best of times, but before everyone gets carried away with slapping themselves on the back and thinking how fantastic this is, just take stock of the more usual way things are done here. Maybe the country did rise to the occasions, but if it needs a big event to make people smile or be polite, then guess what? There’s an awful lot of days without big events and a lot of ignorant, unsmiling, rude people around.
It starts at touchdown. True, an overnighter across the Atlantic does not set you up too well, but that’s my excuse. Have the immigration officials also been up all night, dozing between airline snacks and weak coffees to be woken by ‘waffles or omelette’? What’s their excuse for such miserable faces, such lack of courtesy? Not a hint of a smile, no ‘welcome home’, not a trace of ‘safe journey’; not even the dreaded and insincere ‘have a nice day’.
They really seem to begrudge letting me in. And I travel on a UK passport, goodness knows how they treat foreigners. Well actually I do know, because I briefly hosted a genuine visitor who was held for hours and threatened with being sent home, mainly because he was young and apparently wasn’t carrying enough money.
Yes, there are far worse places in the world, with far worse immigration procedures and grumpier, nastier, more bureaucratic and downright corrupt officials. But hey! don’t look good compared to the bad and the ugly, look good compared to the best.
And please, don’t tell me how wonderful it’s been while I was away. Frankly, it’s hard to believe, especially when I listen to the treatment the coach drivers give to people whose first language is not English. Shameful and embarrassing. Or I arrange to get a simple job done on my car only to find ignorance and rudeness. But that’s for another time.
Meanwhile go easy on the back-slapping, it’s a work in progress at best.