Us Brits love to moan. We get a bigger kick out of it than watering our garden during a hose pipe ban, and we’re better at it than even our ability to wallpaper; a bold statement I know.
Despite my overall positive outlook, particularly when it comes to responding to a crisis or having a bad day, I am not immune to this bug. I can roll my eyes at a perfectly reasonable request to do anything like the next person. In fact my default negotiating position when being asked to do something is say no, and then go from there. I start with a feeling of generalised resentment and work up to happy acceptance and a milder, more ambivalent contentment during the execution itself.
It’s part of my overall Britishness, my “oh, I don’t know if I’d do it like that, really, that can’t be right “, and the more laid back Welshness of “does anyone really care about that? Let’s not bother, it’ll be fine as it is.”
I can find fault in almost anything, and this is why I’m often asked to review, to proof read, to be a sounding board for others when they have a problem. I suppose it’s not finding fault exactly, more a case of seeing the detail, both the good and the bad and remaining detached from it emotionally.
When faced with a task or a situation, my baseline is always to ask “is there a better way of doing this?”, although very often I come down on the side of “actually that’s really good, I like it, that’s the best way.” I’m in a perpetual state of being the devil’s advocate.
But I am not alone in this, and I’m convinced that this is partially why us Brits like to moan so much. At the worst, its cynicism, at its best its a desire for things to be the best they can be, to ensure fairness, to do the right thing. Somewhere in the middle, is the need to do the least amount required to achieve a generally acceptable result.
I also think there’s a marvellous commeraderie in grumbling, which cannot be overstated. If you ever want to bring a group of people together, to build metaphorical bridges and shared understanding, then get them in a room and give them something which they can all happily moan about. It will do just the trick. People will rally together as long as they can basically all agree that something else is affecting them all quite badly and they’d all quite like to stop that happening, thank you very much (although this isn’t far off from what Hitler did and I think we can all agree that this was a very, very, bad thing.)
Take a disastrous rail trip I took. An issue on the underground meant that I missed my prebooked train. I had to spend £50 to change my ticket to the next available train.
A fellow passenger, a stranger who I had got chatting to at the queue for the ticket office, who was in exactly the same position as me. On our dash to the train, she asked if I’d been charged an excess fare to change my ticket to get a later train, as she had not because our delay was due to a London transport.
I had no time to go back and complain to the teller, but I was naturally hacked off at the extra money I’d been charged. What was wonderful, however, was this other passenger was more incensed than me. She was completely indignant by the injustice of it and insisted that I should complain. How terribly British! There was no “I’m alright Jack” mentality (another national trait which occasionally rears its head, sadly), but more a sense of “It’s just not cricket!”.
In that fleeting, sweaty dash to the train, I felt a remarkable sense of pride and sisterhood.
At it’s best, moaning gets us Brits into action. We write to our MPS and officials, we join unions, we march, we sign petitions, we come together to declare our unhappiness and civic duty ; we form committees which make our villages beautiful, protect our countryside, create charities and organise fundraisers. Hell, I strongly suspect that our bid for the London Olympics was largely fuelled by a) a deep seated belief that we would a) just do it better than other people, ie ” I wouldn’t do it like that” , and b) the desire to organise a nice committee where we can all get together and draw up some lists over some lovely, pink wafer biscuits.
For us Brits, moaning is the precursor to getting things done, and while it is sometimes misplaced, if that creates a springboard for change, bring it on!