How the English deal with the embarrassment of Cancer

Being a “little bit under the weather” highlights the very essence of being English. Our national character trait is to be self-depreciating and crazily understated.  We would rather chew off our own tongue than be accused of the heinous crime of boasting. Luckily we disguise any whiff of a boast under the cover of “one downmanship” which we show off when discussing anything remotely serious. But… it is still not enough to shrug off our predicament in a dismissive manner; it must also be done in a witty or amusing way. 

How fortuitous for the English then to posses all the perfect characteristics to tackle the jaw dropping embarrassment of having cancer, or worse still talking to someone who has!

It is absolutely forbidden for example to answer the polite enquiry” how are you?” with a “not very well, I have cancer”.  This will be met with nervous coughs and raised eyebrows.  You will have to be English to appreciate how utterly discomforting those coughs can be.  So a better answer perhaps would be “oh, not too bad, had a bit of the bowel and liver out and my body looks like it has been stitched together by the local reception class, but mustn’t grumble, had a few days off work!”.

Humour is our favourite coping mechanism and it strikes me we are at our best when we are laughing right in the face of adversity. So give me a dollop of irony, humour, mockery or gentle teasing any day of the week please.

5 thoughts on “How the English deal with the embarrassment of Cancer

  1. Think Uncle Mac (man who came to live with us for 2 weeks when we were children… and stayed for 12 years!) was the ultimate in ‘one-downsmanship’?
    mum: ‘Rachel has measels.’
    Uncle Mac: ‘Yes yes – think i had them last week Keren.’

  2. You’re right, Rachel – where would we be without phrases like “a bit” and “quite”? For us Brits, “That was quite nice” is an expression of almost euphoric appreciation. Understatement is definitely under-rated!

  3. Yes, well, there is a lot of truth in what you say, excuse me while I think of the next cliche, ah yes, and interestingly while we are hopeless about talking about health issues we love to talk about toilets, particularly those in the lands governed by Johnny Foreigner.

  4. This is funny. I read this: “not very well, I have cancer” and laughed, but then instantly felt terrible for laughing, proving your point!

  5. Rachel so true but I’m sitting here red faced thinking I embody a lot of what you are describing about us Brits! 😉
    With laughter being the best medicine and, given our delight for toilet houmour in spite of our other sensibilities, here goes. “What smells funny?” CLOWN POO! Gets me chuckling every time…
    Lots of love xx

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