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Why no one lifts a flagon to St George and the dragon

THERE'S something almost embarrassing about being British. Today, as millions of moaning English around the world ignore St George's Day - the closest thing Blighty has to a national day - one cannot help but wonder why a bigger deal is not made of it.

Just look at the Irish and the shenanigans that ensue whenever St Patrick's rolls around. Take a gander at the Yanks who celebrate July 4 with such pomp and pride. And let us not forget the Aussies, who have that enviable distinction of being able to enjoy a cold beer and BBQ as the rest of us freeze in January.

When it comes to St George's Day, which is today, however, there's absolutely nothing to distinguish it from any other day. As a cultural festival it's absolutely naff.

There's no specific music to blurt out over tankards of lager like the Germans do during Oktoberfest; there are no firecrackers to set off a la Spring Festival. Oh, sure, there are parades and floats and Boris Johnson to look forward to if you're actually in England, but internationally, it's a non-event really.

What is there to celebrate in the first place? The problem with having patron saints is that religion gets in the way. How about legend? You might ask. Well, the myth of St George slaying the dragon is not particularly PC in this context. The last thing the British Isles need to do is to alienate the next great superpower, thankyouverymuch.

Financial adviser Ian Bell is a typical example of British nonchalance when it comes to St George's Day. The Gladstone Morgan senior partner is loathe to participate in national festivals given the price of alcohol here.

"I used to celebrate St Patrick's but the price of Guinness in Shanghai combined with the credit crunch means I have to remortgage my bathroom to pay for a pint."

Even if he did break the mold and wish to part with his hard-earned dosh, it would certainly be hard to be patriotic in his spending - the good whiskeys are from Scotland and Ireland, while no grown man should be seen drinking a Pimm's cup except when at Wimbeldon.

"A good pint of Bitter (British pale ale) is hard to come by but I might celebrate with the good ol' tradition of a few Stellas." Stella Artois, one of the most popular beer brands in the United Kingdom, is brewed in Belgium.

English journalist Gary Bowerman believes the lack of relevance to be largely due to the absence of marketing. He points out that St Patrick's Day, the great carousal of jolly Irish drunkenness, is in fact a product of the ubiquitous stout brand Guinness. "Nobody cared about it 20 years ago - no British beer company has done anything like that."

The traveling scribe has celebrated the festival in far-flung locales such as Australia and El Salvador (where he witnessed a bizarre one-man Queen cover band), although he is yet to commemorate the occasion here in China. He says while it is still good fun anywhere, it is the less obvious locations such as Central America that bring more interest to the festivities.

Despite the push by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to be more British in lieu of the once-great Britain's flagging economy, nationalism in the UK is almost a dirty word.

"It's a stiff upper lip thing," Bowerman admits. "The nationalist side of things comes out in football with the flag on the shirt and the tattoo on your sleeve, but otherwise we struggle a bit."

Another old China hand, Paul Granville, confesses he has only marked the day on four occasions since he moved to Beijing and then Shanghai in the 1990s. Like many of his countrymen, he simply cannot see enough in being English to celebrate.

"We've got absolutely nothing British to celebrate food and drink wise - even our fish and chips come from Norway or Iceland. We've got good football players but they don't get anywhere. It's no good as a holiday destination because it rains a lot. All we've got is bad food, worse weather and Harry Potter."

The British Chamber of Commerce will be hosting an afternoon of fun at Sheshan Hill in suburban Songjiang District on Saturday to celebrate St George's, while the Bulldog pub will be having a St George's night tonight.


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