Stiff Upper Lip
The British Empire was built on the deadpan, the clenched jaw,
the occasional polite smile. Adversity was something to be
confronted with stoicism and sang-froid - there are numerous
apocryphal tales of the phlegmatic reaction of Britons to
The imperturbable refusal to react histrionically to tragedy and disaster came into its own at times of national crisis - the terrible losses of the Great War, the devastation of the Blitz. But the sun has set on the British Empire, and it would seem that in doing so it has melted the famously stereotypical 'stiff upper lip'.
Nowadays, it is thought to be psychologically more healthy to admit to vulnerability and freely acknowledge emotion. This change in public sensibility was nowhere more apparent than on the occasion of the death of Princess Diana, where grief was openly expressed on the streets of London, and the public freely questioned the Royal Family's understated reactions.
But it would be a mistake to assume the pendulum has swung completely in the opposite direction. The stiff upper lip is deeply ingrained in the British psyche, and even at times of national mourning there are many voices raised in protest, arguing that aggrandising feelings of regret for the passing of a public figure absolutely devalues the currency of true grief.
For all the hyped hysteria of reality tv, the crocodile tears of sportsmen, the public wallowing in emotions, the underlying sang-froid of the British still runs deep. The restrained and dignified reaction of the public to the funeral processions of servicemen from Afghanistan in the small Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett is probably a much more accurate reflection of the British character than the lachrymose scenes at the funeral of Princess Diana.
And when the cards are really down - for instance after the tragedy of the July 7th terrorist bombing in London - the British show an implacable tendency to keep calm and carry on.