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How can you spot a Brit abroad? Is it a case of “I smell the blood of an Englishman”: a feat achieved by thousands of hungry mosquitoes? The fact that Joe English is waving a lager and eating fish ‘n’ chips while other people are tucking into the local paella and drinking a nice Rioja? Or are those lovely Union Jack shorts a dead giveaway? Well, all the above could apply but, to my mind, the main Brit spotting factor is that we’re perennially wearing fewer clothes than persons of other nationalities, regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.

During visits to Spain with the kids, it has come to my attention that (a) long term expats don’t want to be “lumped in the same bag” as holidaymakers who are wearing flip flops and sunglasses when it’s cold and cloudy, (b) that the local born and bred citizens consider basking, bikini clad Brits “un poco loco” and (c) the sight of exposed English flesh overseas has no real shock value: after all, we Brits strip off just as persistently in our own country whenever the “sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hooray”. Err, even if it is just 12 degrees C.

At times when the indigenous population of, say, southern Spain is wearing boots, jeans and cardigans because it ain’t really all that hot, Mum, you can almost guarantee that visiting Brits will be sporting shorts and vest tops and brandishing a tube of sun lotion to boot. Or even topless sun bathing. Are we genetically engineered to avoid goose pimples or do we just choose to ignore them?

On beaches along the Spanish Costa, on a hotter kind of day, it isn’t the Germans, Spanish and Dutch who are baking themselves to a shade commonly favoured by lobsters: it really is a case of “mad dogs and Englishmen go out (naked) in the midday sun”. And, back at home, is it really so decorous to dream of Ibiza while strolling through the nearest town centre, such as Brighton, in your bikini top? In the event of the temperature pushing into the 20s, I bet you wouldn’t see many ‘wobbly bits’ fighting against triangles of fabric in, say, the centre of Madrid or Milan.

Take the recent ‘warm snap’ in Britain, for example. As soon as the sun pops out, people burst out in public with bare arms, bare legs, bare midriffs, bare chests and all manner of strange ‘holiday attire’ trawled from the back of the wardrobe, where we should fear to delve. Those Bermuda shorts and sandals won’t look so clever at 8pm when the sun’s gone down and you’re shivering in a bus stop! And, two days later, you’ll be back to wooly pullies, Uggs and 100 denier tights.

I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne where, on a Saturday night, it was commonplace to stagger round the Bigg Market (large, town centre drinking area akin to a “meat market”) in mini dresses, stilettoes and bare legs in the middle of January. The Geordies have something of a Viking / Nordic spirit and, besides which, the large number of alcopops we had consumed undoubtedly shielded us against the cold. However, that ‘excuse’ doesn’t really apply on the Laines on a weekday afternoon.

Perhaps being underdressed for the prevailing weather conditions is a quintessentially British quality. Rather like cups of tea, London buses, lawn tennis and Sunday roast, being half naked in a bikini and flip flops could be used as a symbol to define the nation. The British bikini was heralded as “saving Spain” after package holidays became popular in the 50s and 60s and rejuvenated the flagging economies of fishing villages such as Torremolinos and Benidorm. But when is the bikini going to “save” warm blooded Brits?
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