Friday, April 9, 2010

But there you are

There is a certain quirk of the Welsh mentality that has always gotten under my skin: the ability to identify something negative -- often unacceptable -- complain about it, and then immediately resolve to accept it without change. It's a behaviour most often punctuated by the phrase, "But there you are." It's similar to the "It is what it is" phrase that's so popular in the American lexicon at the moment, but has a greater sense of finality. It is what it is and it is what it always shall be.

So, for example, Wales will lose at rugby and in the post-match interview a player will accurately identify all of his team's weak points and the areas that need work. He will speak intelligently on the team's failings, showing a full grasp of the situation and then finish his summary with, "But, there you are." Said in a tone of acceptance -- in the same way you might say, "I don't want to go to work," as you are opening the door to your workplace.

You hear it a lot on trains in south Wales. Crowded, stinking and uncomfortable, the trains system is decades behind the needs of its customers -- a fact that is identified by every passenger every day.

"This is totally unacceptable," they will say. "How hard is it to add more cars to a bloody train? Arriva say they won't because the platforms aren't long enough. But extending a platform -- adding 20 feet of concrete to an existing stretch of concrete -- is hardly a Brunelian wonder of engineering. It's been years now since they promised extended trains but here we are still, feeling each other up in a 30-year-old rusted death trap because nothing is being done. But, there you are."

Obviously, there are benefits to this mindset. It means that nothing is ever done about the main north-south road road running to Cardiff city centre from the west side of the Taff. Every day the road clogs up and it can take an hour to crawl two miles. This encourages people to use bike paths and (overcrowded) trains, thus benefiting the environment. Additionally, it is a mentality that helps to keep the pace of life in Cardiff slower than anywhere else I've ever lived. I'm not sure I could handle going back to a world in which people expected me to get things done within a week.

Anyway, on the news today I spotted a perfect example of that mentality. On Wednesday night a Merthyr Tydfil man was found murdered in his home, in the sort of cookie-cutter middle-of-the-road neighbourhood so prevalent in south Wales: not generally charming but not generally dangerous. In an interview, the man who lived right next door to the victim said: "Pretty shocked. As they say, don't expect it to come so close to home. Very, very shocked about that... but... well... these things happen."

7 comments:

Leroy said...

Philosophical acceptance of rubbish situations has long been part of the Welsh mentality; just shrug and get on with it. Perhaps it comes from centuries of Welsh common folk eking out a living in a harsh meteorological environment and dealing with corrupt politics and infighting as a matter of course. If you got too wound up by it, you'd never get anything done! Or you'd move to become part of a more highly strung culture. Perhaps this attitude is why the nationalists never quite got round to an organised paramilitary style campaign against the English - they just couldn't quite get that excited about things. I'm glad we leave that to the Irish...

Robert Humphries said...

My wife complains I'm like this, and she's right. I'm very accepting of general shittiness. It's a coping mechanism. Since I maintain very low expectations, the less crappy aspects of life seem more tolerable, and on occasion, I actually enjoy them.

Carl Morris said...

Very insightful although never heard anywhere in Merthyr described as "cookie-cutter" before. I wonder what the equivalent would be?

Chris Cope said...

Carl -- "Cookie cutter" must be an American term. I simply mean that this part of Merthyr looked exactly like any number of other places in south Wales. It could just as easily have been Pontypridd or Bridgend or Caerphilly, etc.

Carl Morris said...

Yeah I know. It's just a novel juxtaposition.
:-)

Lisa Derrick said...

You really do observe Welsh people well! I agree with Leroy's first sentence. Welsh people want to fix everything with a cup of tea. The 'there we are thens' are like verbal hot liquids, designed to instantly soothe away the bad stuff so normal service can be resumed. On another note, Arriva trains = very bad. My common experience of them is passengers with prison tags and cans of strong alcohol.

bryan torre said...

In my (limited) experience, the British in general tend to put stock in the ability to make do, to muddle through, while Americans tend to think they can do anything, fix anything, be anything.
On the one hand, we in the US have some pretty cool stuff as a result of not being bound by tradition and fatalism. On the other hand, when things really ARE sh*t, and nothing can be done about it, we sometimes founder because we lack the ability to adjust, to accept things for what they are, and move on...