My friend Diane, who some of you might know, is currently in the middle of an epic “Little British Things” tour of Britain to celebrate the essence of Britishness, and raise £10,000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the process.
Talk about an adventure! From Cornwall to Scotland this 80-day tour of the coastline will see her travelling to iconic locations, tasting favourite foods, interviewing locals and meeting strangers, taking pictures and reporting it all back via email postcards, so we can all be there with her… including people like me who’d never dream of going on such a journey, and of course people like you, who would be most welcome to join the tour crew: you can sign up here to receive postcards.
The reason I love this project – aside from the cheer boldness and originality of the idea – is that it invites us to reflect on the little everyday things that make us who we are; these small habits and objects that may seem insignificant but give us a sense of our own roots and identity.
“Little things” are the first you notice when you travel to a new country or region – the different foods, clothing, houses, the odd way people speak or behave. Some of those things might puzzle you – what is considered normal here might seem weird in your country, and reciprocally.
After a while, if you look carefully, those unassuming everyday things begin to give you clues as to the culture that created them. You catch a glimpse, as if looking through a keyhole, into the way other people live.
If you travel frequently, or spend enough time at your destination, many little things that seemed weird at first start to make sense in their context. What you regarded as “right” or “wrong” or “silly” or “appropriate” slowly begins to shift as you soak in our new environment.
(There are things that I found surprising, even annoying, when I first moved to London, that have now become very much part of my own make-up, and that I miss whenever I travel elsewhere).
The more you dig below the surface of “little things”, the more you realise that people are the same everywhere – the very things that appear to set us apart are so many expressions of the same universal needs, like food or shelter.
You end up seeing different cultures on a continuum and related to each other, rather than in isolation. “Little things” talk to and echo each other from one culture to the next. They travel and evolve as they cross borders and time. We aren’t so different to our neighbours after all – sure, some countries might prefer tea and others coffee, but pretty much everywhere offering someone a hot drink means a warm welcome.
Rather than rendering those “little things” insignificant, being able to compare or place them in a wider universal context makes them even more precious. First of all, wouldn’t it be awful if we traveled half-way across the globe only to find things exactly the same as at home?
Plus, isn’t it awesome that even though we humans are one same species, we came up with such a multitude of answers to just about every aspect of our daily lives? The array of languages, dishes, craft or art available is dizzying.
As for Little British Things, some of them I never got used to in 12 years of living in London (such as beer drinking or dressing lightly in cold weather) and some of them I’ve made my own with delight (like constant tea drinking and the Sunday papers).
Maybe these habits will only last as long as I live in this country, and be forgotten as son as I leave. But I have a feeling that I shall always long for a pub lunch, baked beans or the BBC whenever I can’t have them. And nothing will ever be quite like the delightful politeness, the celebration of eccentricity, the genuine curiosity for foreign things or the warm welcome I have always found here as a French Londoner.
All those little things will be sorely missed. Except maybe for the Great British weather…
Click here to support Diane’s tour & help the RNLI save lives at sea.