The British are often depicted as reserved, and inclined towards self-deprecation. Boasting about one’s achievements is considered impolite. My first reaction to the question of this article was, as you can imagine, indignation that anyone could suggest that we in the UK are unusually tolerant of arrogance. It was only when I thought more deeply that I recognised my reaction for what it was: an example of arrogance.
British arrogance doesn’t always exhibit itself in the brash boasting one might (quite unfairly) associate with America. Instead, it often manifests itself in quiet assumptions. For instance, the assumption that we couldn’t possibly be arrogant. Brits abroad are famed for assuming that everyone they meet will speak English. Some are even proud that they are monoglots – as if it is a mark of subservience to explore another culture. Thankfully not every Brit feels this way.
Private school smugness
But there is also another kind of arrogance – a rather more ostentatious form – that seems to stem from archaic elements in the British education system. About 93% of children attend free ‘state schools’; the other 7% go to private schools, which charge fees and often involve students living at the school during term time. It is a popular belief held by a number of Brits that this “private education” encourages a sense of entitlement. Our Eton-educated Prime Minister David Cameron is a good example of this: not arrogant exactly, but supremely confident in his own skin. At the extreme end of the spectrum, there are a minority of privately educated students that are insufferably overconfident and – though not boastful – so smug as to qualify them as arrogant.