“One of the charms of the British is that they have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their happiness. You will laugh to hear me say it, but they are the happiest people on earth. Honestly. Watch any two Britons in conversation and see how long it is before they smile or laugh over some joke or pleasantry. It won’t be more than a few seconds. I once shared a railway compartment between Dunkirk and Brussels with two French-speaking businessmen who were obviously old friends or colleagues. They talked genially the whole journey, but not once in two hours did I see either of them raise a flicker of a smile. You could imagine the same thing with Germans or Swiss or Spaniards or even Italians, but with Britons - never.
And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavourful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gâteau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it’s unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.
‘Oh, I shouldn’t really,’ they say.
‘Oh, go on,’ you prod encouragingly.
‘Well, just a small one then,’ they say and dartingly take a small one, and then get a look as if they have just done something terribly devilish.”
-Bill Bryson on the British, from Notes from a Small Island