About Bill Bryson:
Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and lived for
many years with his English wife and four children in Yorkshire. He and his family recently moved
back to America. He is the best-selling author of The Lost Continent, Mother Tongue,
Made in America, Walk in the Woods, Notes from a Small Island and
Notes from a Big Country.
Summary of Notes from a Small Island, Black Swan Book, 1999:
Bill Bryson is American who puts a mirror in front of the British to show them what particular
people they are.
When Bryson arrived in Dover in 1973 for the first time, he was intrigued by
the way how differently people lived and behaved, although speaking the same language (almost) as
him. The 'strange ways' of the British manifest themselves in all walks of life.
Being an American Bryson had never before heard of Tesco's (supermarket chain), trunk calls
(long distance phone calls), Christmas crackers (favourite Christmas gifts that pop up), bank holidays,
Poppy Day (Remembrance Day) or L-plates (Learner) on the back of a car. It also struck him when shop
ladies addressed him with 'love' and men with 'mate'.
Bryson makes fun of the English whenever he can.
So when he was once travelling by train and wanted a British rail guard at Manchester Station
for some directions, Bryson says about him, 'It was unfortunate for him that there was no station in Britain
called 'Fuck Off' because that was clearly what he wanted to tell people'. Bryson also wonders that
the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was founded some 60 years before the National Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, by which he obviously wants to show the English people's
fondness of animals. In Bryson's typically humorous way of describing the British, he says that British
walkers wear shorts even in wintertime - 'always a sign of advanced dementia in a British walker'.
On the positive side, Bryson is amazed about the great number of well educated people from unprivileged
backgrounds. Thus in the TV programme 'Mastermind' it is cabdrivers and footplatemen who are the winners.
Therefore he has been wondering whether England is a country where engine drivers know about Tintoretto and Leibniz
or a country where people who know about Tintoretto and Leibniz end up driving engines (like many graduated Americans
ending up driving taxis).
What Bryson admires above all about the British is their 'innate sense of good manners'. He says that 'deference and
a quiet consideration for others are fundamental parts of British life. Any encounter with a stranger would be started
with the words I'm terribly sorry but followed by a request of some sort like could you tell
me the way to Brighton? or get your steamer trunk (Überseekoffer) off my foot.
When one day Bryson checked into a hotel he observed a woman at the reception saying 'I'm
terribly sorry but I can't seem to get the television in my room to work'. He had obviously never seen anybody
apologizing to a hotel for their TV not working...
Notes from a Small Island is not only about the British character, but also about the British countryside, as Bryson
travelled extensively across Britain.