What’s in it for me? Breeze through Britain with a garrulous guide.
Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island Summary – Picture an attempted bank heist ending with the would-be robber leaving empty-handed after being told to “bugger off” by customers. Sounds pretty courageous, right?
It’s a true story. But as it turns out, it wasn’t criminality that raised the ire of the bank’s customers; it was bad manners. Jumping the queue just isn’t something you do.
Welcome to Britain!
But besides these strong feelings about etiquette while waiting in line, what sets the Brits apart from the rest of the world? What makes them tick?
You won’t go wrong by asking Bill Bryson, a sharp-eyed American observer of the mores, customs and idiosyncrasies of his adopted home. These blinks highlight some of Bryson’s thoughts about the people, culture and geography of the United Kingdom. Read on to learn more about the elements that make Britain such a unique place.
In the article, you’ll learn
- why London’s cab drivers are so proud of their profession;
- why Brits start a conversation with an apology; and
- how a group of untrained miners captured the imagination of the art world.
Britain is a small island packed with memorable places and notable individuals.
After 20 years in Britain, American-born writer Bill Bryson decided to move back to the United States with his family to give his children a chance to sample life in a different country. Before heading back to the States, however, he hit the road for a farewell tour. His aim was to spend a couple of weeks revisiting his favorite old haunts and rediscovering his love for the island that had stolen his heart all those years ago.
At the top of his itinerary were places of personal significance – towns like Virginia Water just outside London. That was where he first put down roots after arriving in Britain in 1973. Initially, he’d planned on simply visiting old college friends. But he soon enough found himself accepting a job in the local sanatorium. It was there that he met the woman he’d marry just 16 months later.
So what does Bryson make of his adopted country?
Let’s start with size. Seen through American eyes, the United Kingdom isn’t just different – it’s tiny.
Take the river Thames. It looms large in history, but if it were in the United States, it would only rank as the country’s 108th-largest river! And the Lake District, a mountainous region in the north of England famous for its many bodies of water, is smaller than the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
It may be small, but Britain is much more densely populated than the United States.
To get a feel of just how tightly packed the country is, imagine adding up the populations of Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Colorado and Texas and cramming them into an area the size of Iowa!
And it’s not just the density of the population that sets the country apart – it also contains an extraordinary number of important sites and notable people.
Take the graveyard in the small village of Sutton Courtenay, near the city of Oxford. While strolling along its paths, Bryson discovered that both the famous author George Orwell and H. H. Asquith, the liberal prime minister of Britain at the outbreak of the First World War, were buried in the same local cemetery.
The tombstones of both men are simple affairs engraved with humble inscriptions. That two figures whose names are known around the world can share the same cemetery with so little fuss suggests that this isn’t uncommon in Britain.
Oxford is brimming with traces of its famous luminaries. The lab in which Edmond Halley discovered his eponymous comet is just a stone’s throw from the racing track where Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. Just around the corner? The old home of Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Britain has an incredibly rich cultural heritage.
Britain might not amount to much on a map of the world, but what it lacks in size is more than made up for by its extraordinarily rich cultural and historical heritage.
The sheer number of important historical sites and buildings in the United Kingdom boggles the mind. Unfortunately………