After two terrorist attacks in two weeks in the country I’ve called home for 15 years, I renewed my British passport this week. Because no matter what, I adore this country and its people.
Despite the nationwide act of self-harm that is Brexit.
Despite being led by the loathsome Theresa May, who had the audacity to call an election (when she already had a majority) yet is too cowardly to partake in debates herself.
Despite the incessant mocking of the way I pronounce “France” by every single upper-class Twit of the Year.
Despite all their flaws: I adore this country.
Why? One word: Funny.
For many years, the “about” portion of my Facebook profile contained just one sentence: “English people make me laugh.”
The Brits have many talents, but the capacity to turn the most mundane experience – from watching rubbish on Youtube, to working in an anodyne office, to car-sharing – into a side-splittingly hilarious work of art is their greatest skill.
Monty Python was born here for a reason.
Politicians can destroy the public infrastructure, rising sea levels can erode the shoreline and drunken hooligans can hinder my ability to see my grandmother for Sunday dinner.
But I will not leave this city. Why? The people.
All of my Toronto friends bark, “You are crazy! Why would you move somewhere stupidly expensive? The summers are dismal! You’ll never own a house! Why?”
Then they visit. And all have the same reaction:
“Ohhhhh. English people are hilarious. I get it now.”
Laughter is worth its weight in gold. And therefore, my passport is invaluable.
So after terror struck a live concert, a bustling market and the iconic London Bridge – what will happen to British humour?
Nothing has changed, and nothing will change.
I live about as central as you can get. St. Paul’s Cathedral is a 20-minute walk from my flat. London Bridge is a 30-minute stomp.
From my perch, I can tell you nothing has changed. Brits are not more stoic.
Hipsters still drink flat whites. Old-age pensioners still feed the birds.
Nothing has changed – which is as it should be.
Yes, that firm spine and stiff lip is there: The Brits are endearingly upright in the face of rivers of mud (Glastonbury), explosions of nails (the Troubles) and terrorists with vans and knives (now).
Portraits of stoic Brits during the Blitz are adorably misleading. Honest accounts of the time reveal a population blind-drunk and irretrievably slutty. A far cry from the image we’ve been sold, of the ivory-eyed “Keep Calm and Carry On” gent.
C’mon, let’s be honest: In that situation, what would you do? If faced weekly with the threat of your street being reduced to rubble, never knowing what the next night held, I assure you that you, too, would have been cross-eyed nightly.
Tell me I’m wrong.
But it was this week, when I went to a play in London, that showed me the the depths of this city. A Quebec playwright demonstrated more than any pundit, pontificater or politician could on what causes terrorism, how it can happen anywhere and why London is and always will be magnificent. Robert Lepage of Quebec City took centre stage at the Barbican – one of London’s most elegant venues – with 887, a one-man show about growing up in Québécois society.
He read the entirety of Speak White by Michèle Lalonde – an incendiary, understandably outraged passage of French-Canadian poetry on English entitlement and prejudice.
Instead of perplexed Anglais befuddlement, as one might expect, Mr. Lepage was given a standing ovation.
He deserved it. The author is brave – and in London, he has the space to be brave.
It’s possible that the only person in the entire audience who wasn’t surprised by the audience’s reaction was me: a girl with a French-Canadian surname, who loves London from the depths of her soul because it is, above all, warm.
Rome may be the eternal city. But London is, and always will be, the one with an open heart as well as mind. Long it will continue – whether anyone likes it or not.