Your culture brainwashes you


You’re brainwashed. You’re a product of your environment and your culture.  Where you grew up totally shapes everything: from how you relate to people, to what you desire and what you fear.

Very British Problems started as a Twitter page.

It broadcast the unsaid rules and absurdness of how British people act. We avoid expressing emotion at all costs. We never say what we mean. And we carry a heavy burden of embarrassment wherever we go.

Very British Problems has just been turned into a TV series which is fantastic.

My aim here is to say the unsaid. I want to point out the ridiculous things we take for granted and accept as normal.

Why? Because I think cultures can be very oppressive. And if we are to be happy, healthy, free-flowing people we need to understand ourselves. Therefore we need to how we’ve been influenced by the culture around us.

So you have some respite, I’m going to move the spotlight to the French.

The French typically only have two emotions. Melancholy and love.

These are the cultural staples.

French melancholy, ennui, silent suffering – is tragically beautiful. Just watch this clip.

Then there’s love. When I did the French Exchange at 13, the French girls were huddling and fighting over which boys they’d marry.

When I worked in an estate agency in Spain, there was a french man who was going to buy his wife a Spanish holiday home. For the main purpose of being able to shag all his wife’s friends in Paris.

Americans on the other hand, have a different scale of emotion. This ranges from optimistic to bullishly optimistic to manically deranged optimism.

As an American man you are supposed to BE THE MAN.

You’re supposed to be a super-alpha, incredibly successful, talented and handsome . You’re supposed to drive an mammoth sized SUV from your palatial McMansion. As the Senior Vice President of Packaging you’re an important important man with a very important job.

As an American woman you can never age. There is not a single american woman over 46. You married a very successful man who pays for your tennis lessons and boob jobs. Your packed-out schedule of beauty appointments, lessons, cooking, mothers meetings, would put the Kardashians to shame.

Ultimately this leads to a great sense of inadequacy and insecurity in Americans. Because you’ll never be as successful as those on TV and films, you’re left with a constant sense of failure. You overcompensate for this by bragging and exaggerating your success.

Any sadness, grief, worries and fears can never be expressed among Americans because people will judge you. You hold up a mirror to the things they don’t want to see in themselves.

Then there’s the Spanish who are, well… wonderfully simple.

I don’t mean that in a negative way. But I mean they’re very straightforward. They’re very direct and immediate.

While Americans want to prove their success to you, the British want to avoid anything with any emotional content, French old men want to get you into bed – the Spanish are comfortable with themselves.

It seems the only agenda here is: to live well. Friends, food and love are the most important things in the world. There’s an honesty and directness.

You’ll be in a shop and they’ll say “Dime!” – Speak to me!

At first you interpret it as rude. But then you realise they’re very blunt. The Spanish are very clear about what they want, and ask for it. There’s no timewasting. No beating around the bush.

So what does this mean for you?

My agenda here is to share what I’ve learned, distill it and then entertain and inform you. Therefore empower you to live a happier, healthier life.

  • 1. Your country’s culture can be quite oppressive, so take it with a pinch of salt. People have expectations and “boxes” to put you in. To be accepted and fit in: you can only show a certain amount of yourself.
  • 2. Your desires and shaped by the cultural norms. American chase success. The French chase love. Brits pursue being liked and not offending others.
  • 3. Because of these cultural norms. You never really get to know yourself. So you might be better off living somewhere else in the world?
  • 4. Therefore, travelling is one of the best ways to understand yourself. Because in the unfamiliar you discover who you really are and what you really want.

Then again, I think Brits feel most comfortable with disappointment. Tim Henman, rainy summers, delayed trains and unhappy marriages – this is what gives many British people a sense of security and comfort.

It has it’s charms too.

But that doesn’t work for me though. I find it stodgy, dull and claustrophobic. Which is why I’m happier in Spain.

Your culture brainwashes you. To travel is to see.

St Truffle’s school for boys: The most oppressive place in the world

Posh English schools are probably the most oppressive places in the world. Second, maybe,  to North Korea.

Here, Mrs Winstanley gives her view on good parenting.



Hello. Henrietta Winstanley here, headmistress of St Truffle’s school for boys.

Since our establishment in 1602, we have been providing an education of distinction to the most privileged boys in our area.

Here, I’m going to give you some pointers about parenting, for those with standards.

1. Let them go. Don’t listen to their whimpering, whining or snivelling. When most of the 5 year olds arrive they usually cry and say “it’s like a prison”. Take none of that nonsense. The best thing you can give your brats is damn good discipline from an early age.

2. Let them fight. In Rome’s coliseums their gladiators would fight the lions. Sadly we’re not permitted such activities since the unfortunate incident with Timothy Baker. We stick to cricket now. Your boy will return from St Truffles as a mighty fine competitive urchin.

3. Keep them away from girls. One does not maintain such high examination results by dilly-dallying with members of the opposite sex. When they reach puberty, you must ensure they refrain from such daft pursuits and heaven forbid, any Godless debauchery!

4. Get them to a good university. Oxbridge simply adore the boys we send their way. Your boy will become a shining specimen of a man that recruiters in the City and Civil Service clamour for. You can rest assured your grandchildren will be fortunate enough to be sent to St Truffle’s too.

5. Let them make friends themselves. My favourite book is Lord of The Flies. Young boys are perfectly capable of looking after themselves on a desert island. Some might not survive, but Darwinism in action is what makes strong men and a strong society.

6. Beat the strange ones until they know what’s good for them. Occasionally we have a delusional oddball who won’t join the others. Usually the other boys see to that. However, sometimes the cane must be administered. Disobedience is simply not tolerated at our institution of excellence.

7. Don’t listen to their stories. Some boys are so desperate to avoid hard work, that they claim some of our senior male teachers buggered them. I’ve heard that one too many times. It’s the new “dog ate my homework” excuse. If your boy comes back with such stories, remember they’re trying to get one over on you.

We look forward to seeing your boy in the new term.

The joy of sitting

Madrid apartment salon

I find there’s no better feeling in the world than sitting at home in a comfortable chair. You might have a cup of tea, or a good book as company. Or you might just sit there and take it all in.

The most satisfied I ever felt was on one Sunday afternoon in our apartment in Madrid. The other flatmates were away for the weekend, and I had this magnificent armchair. Its arm was a bit broken, the years had faded it’s fabric with sunlight, dirt and dust.

Madrid apartment entrance hall

It was just like the apartment, basking in the faded glory of yesteryear. I stared at the creaky floorboards then at the walls with our homemade art. There was one that my flatmate had painted of a pinata. And there was another montage I’d made from an old lady’s letters that had been dumped on the street.

We adorned the rest of the walls with empty frames of various sizes.

That moment was simply perfect.

My phone and laptop were off and in the other room. Nobody wanted anything from me. And for once, I wanted nothing from the world.

I was happy just to sit.