When I arrived in London last month, I was expecting to see hate-filled Muslim placards on the streets and purple-haired, pierced teens “shagging” in parks. But I saw none of it. Instead I saw a London that is still proud and strong — a little shabby but nonetheless well-kept. The Brits were friendly, engaging and, considering the high price of every single thing plus the coming of a backbreaking 20% VAT tax, positively cheerful. “Mustn’t grumble” was the phrase that seemed to epitomize them this Christmas.
During the Nazi bombings of London, Londoners would say “mustn’t grumble” as they interrupted daily tasks and headed for bomb shelters, smelling the stinking sulfur of falling bombs, breathing the stale air of those dark, life-saving tombs, emerging to find more of their city in rubble, friends dead, but life going on. “Mustn’t grumble.”
Some have called it the British “stiff upper lip.” Whatever you call it, it is something to be admired and something we Americans could learn from. We can’t go one hour without our favorite coffee, soft drink, or bottled water of choice. Nor can we bear variations of temperature without much complaint. We are the spoiled, rich cousins. No wonder they sometimes resent us.
My father was an Army engineer stationed in London during World War II. He had few positive things to say about the “limeys.” There was a snobbery he couldn’t abide that forever closed him off from appreciating anything from the Mother Country. And it was our mother country. I looked up our unusual family name in the Imperial War Museum and found at least two people who had died by that name in WWII.
I experienced that snobbery myself when traveling on a train from Berlin, Germany, to Frankfurt. My friend and I shared a compartment with two British WRACs (female soldiers) who refused to look at us, speak to us or engage in conversation in any way during the twelve hours we shared that small space. That was my first experience with the British.
I have since come to love the British, though, with the advent of the “cowboy” George Bush, I was repeatedly told how much the Brits had grown to disdain Americans.
Maybe it was the Christmas season, but throughout our trip we were met with wonderful exchanges. I think of the woman from Scotland Yard who randomly sat down with us at a restaurant, shopping bag in hand, laughing and commiserating about British “coppers” unable to carry guns. I think of John, our delightful guide on the Jack the Ripper tour; our young waitress, who was eager to fix the best chocolate sundae possible; and the women standing in the long queue for the loo at Queen’s Theatre, sharing quips with me about having only two stalls for all of us. “Mustn’t grumble.”
My five hours at the Imperial War Museum reminded me of what the British endured during two world wars: 60,000 civilians killed in the Second World War; thousands separated from their children for as long as four years to keep them away from the bombing; severe rationing; learning how to mend and reuse everything. And in spite of it all, the women still maintained a selfless encouragement to their husbands and sons to fight for their country.
During another three hours at the Churchill War Room, we reviewed and remembered the grit and inspiration of Prime Minster Winston Churchill, whose motto was “Never give up!” and whose faith in the British people was unwavering.
I’m no longer as gloomy about Britain as I was before my trip. I think the resolve of the old empire — the good part of it — is still there. Don’t write off the British. They are ever our best allies and from them we can ever learn. Especially as we move into difficult economic times and an uncertain future. Let us remember the indomitable endurance of our cousins from that cold, foggy island. Ever resolved, ever cheerful, with a strong dose of “mustn’t grumble!”
Sandy Rios is a writer, a Fox News Contributor, the President of Culture Campaign, and a former Chicago talk show host. The former President of Concerned Women for America, she has been featured in most major television and news outlets and travelled the world from Russia to North Korea. For more information go to www.sandyrios.com.