The English used to be world leaders in chauvinism, said Ben MacIntyre in the London Times. For centuries, we took it as beyond question that “Johnny Foreigner” deserved only “blanket disdain.” A Victorian-era travel book described the Portuguese as “indolent, just like the Spaniards,” and the Greeks as immature: “When they are unhappy, they scream like babies.” The Roman Catholicism of the Continent was dismissed as “a kind of Christian religion, but a very bad one.” These “sweepingly negative generalizations and racist stereotyping” came from one Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer, an English travel writer who had never actually left England. These days, fortunately, that kind of ignorant prejudice is behind us. Affordable air travel allows us to “wander in vast droves” and see for ourselves that our foreign neighbors are not so bad after all. Certainly we still laugh at the Fawlty Towers sketch about Germans—“Don’t mention the war!”—but in an “ironical” way that finds the English more ridiculous than the Germans. And while Britons are “as likely as ever to complain that the French smell of garlic and the Germans have no jokes,” deep down we “know the stereotypes are not true.”
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