Tuesday, October 31, 2006


According to a study conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research, reported in The Guardian (October 23), “Britons are more likely than other Europeans to blame young people for antisocial behavior.” Whereas 65% of Germans, for example, say they would be “willing to intervene if they saw a group of 14-year old boys vandalising a bus shelter,” only 34% of Britons would intervene. 39% of Britons would cross to the other side of the road to avoid a confrontation. According to the study, 1.7 million Britons last year “avoided going out after dark” for fear of teenagers. Even here in Kenilworth, I’ve been told that it isn’t advisable to walk through Abbey Fields after dark because of the gauntlet of teenagers—smoking, swearing, and drinking—that I would inevitably find there. Fear of young people is particularly noticeable on this particular evening, Halloween, when—according to an insurance company survey—58% of British homeowners will turn off their lights and hide in the back room to avoid trick-or-treaters.

Many older Britons look with anger and dismay at the Americanization of British culture, including the American gang culture increasingly embraced by British youth. It’s true that Britain has come to share many of America’s bad habits. For example, Britain has the third worst record of recycling in Europe, after Greece and Portugal, and the British are Europe’s worst wasters of energy. A study of energy usage habits across Europe shows that Britons indulge in an average of thirty-two “bad habits” each week. According to the study, 71% of Britons waste energy by leaving electrical devices on standby. Most Britons also overfill the electric kettle when making tea—another distinctively English energy-wasting habit.

Meanwhile, as I said, today is Halloween—a holiday which to many Britons is yet another unwelcome cultural import from the United States, redolent of the violence and the crass commercialism that America has come to represent. According to an article this morning in the New York Times, the growth of Halloween in Britain has been a boon to Sainsbury’s, which now sells hundreds of thousands of pumpkins and tons of candy at the end of each October. But as Halloween has grown into a huge commercial enterprise in Britain—£120 million a year spent on Halloween-related items, according to one report—the homegrown English holiday of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) has faded. When asked if there was a holiday in England that featured fireworks, Peter’s classmates told him, “Halloween.”

There is one good thing about Halloween in England. By turning off their lights and hiding in their dark houses on Halloween, Britons are at least temporarily reducing their consumption of electricity.

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