The tabloid press loves to tell us how our country – well, England at least – is, as the Daily Mail’s unfunny and talentless churnalist likes to put it, going to hell in a handcart. And part of the problem, they will tell you, is all that binge drinking and consumption of horribly fatty food. They will tell you about all those grossly overweight folks roaming our seaside resorts.
João Magueijo's home town, Évora. Nobody openly drunk or throwing up can be seen
Stories of violent behaviour are routine, despite the overall level of violent crime falling. Yes, we in England are appallingly badly behaved, and the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate tell us about it week in, week out. So it must be, even if in the smallest of measure, true. But then someone from another country says more or less the same thing, and it’s all very different.
You may not have heard of João Magueijo. He is a cosmologist and professor in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London. He is also a pioneer of the varying speed of light (VSL) theory. But Senhor Magueijo is not British, but Portuguese, and he has written a not totally serious book titled Bifes mal Passados ("undercooked beef") about the British. The press is not happy.
The Mail was aghast: “A best-selling book written by a Portuguese academic has offered a dismal portrayal of English people, calling them 'unrestrained wild beasts who eat food so greasy it needs detergent' ... He moans 'It is not unusual to drink 12 pints, or two huge buckets of beer per person ... Describing a four-hour wait in a Blackpool hospital's A&E department one Sunday afternoon, he says 'it looked like a field hospital after battle'”. And, as the man said, there’s more.
On some people’s eating and drinking habits, he observed “Even a horse would get drunk with this [on 12 pints] but in England it is standard practice. In England, real men have to drink like sponges, eat like skeletons and throw up everything at the end of the evening'”. Just as the Mail has been saying for years.
His claim that “Oral sex is not considered a sexual act among the English. It is something a woman can perform on a stranger whose name she doesn't even know...No one cares”. Anyone thinking about that Magaluf shock horror expose from earlier this year? The Mail just forgot about it.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet at Telegraph blogs is not at all impressed: “Back in his homeland, this tome is a bestseller, which is a real cheek. For Brit-bashing is a French pursuit, thank you very much”. So the dastardly garlic-crunching French can slag us off, but those from the country that has 365 different recipes for salt cod (joke, Portuguese people) cannot.
João Magueijo has a point: in his home town of Évora, or in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, folks do not behave like that. Some Brits do. We just don’t like foreigners saying so.