We lead Europe in having gonorrhoea and taking cocaine. Isn’t it about time our self-perception caught up with our truth?
By Joel Golby
(Illustration: Dan Evans)
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
I think if you stare at data long enough you will see the shape of the universe, the meaning of it all. If you look between numbers, rather than at them, you’ll access some deeper truth: about life, about love, about the world and the space we occupy in it.
Anyway, everyone in the UK is bang into chop and the clap:
Cocaine consumption: number one in Europe! Burny piss: number one in Europe! Numero uno! Nummer eins! Numéro uns! RULE BRITANNIA. BRITANNIA RULES THE WAVES. EUROPE CAN SUCK OUR SLIGHTLY STINGING DICK.
This is from the OECD/European Commission study “Health at a Glance: 2016”, which I am proud to declare I skim-read. We are talking about 204 primo pages of pure European data, here; I am not actually going to read all that. But we are also talking hospital care and alcohol abuse. Life expectancy and avoidable mortality. Death, truly, looks so small and so surmountable when presented cleanly to you in so many graphs and charts, read at speed while occasionally checking Black Friday listicles:
I have been boring my colleagues with what I have learned from half-reading this, and now I am going to bore you. Look! Look at these facts! Tell me again data isn’t cool!
DID U KNOW… the United Kingdom is way below the average for smoking teens, but high for drunk teens (33 percent of boys and 28 percent of 15-year-old girls had been drunk at least twice in their life). Europe-wide, alcohol consumption is dipping (and has been for about the past decade), but is still a public health concern: on average, a UK adult will consume a little under 10 litres of pure alcohol this year.
DID U KNOW… according to the data, having a heavy drinking habit is more likely to impact negatively on your career. There’s a correlation between heavy drinking and unemployment rates, but the causation isn’t explained, i.e. do people become unemployed because they drink, or drink because they become unemployed? The data did not say. I actually did read that bit, as well.
DID U KNOW… but drinking isn’t totally bad for your career: moderate drinkers, i.e. those who can take the boss for the odd pint, are more likely to progress in their career than abstainers, because drinking = networking, and networking is low-key the only way to get ahead these days. And what I am saying is: put a pre-mixed can of G&T on your boss’s desk tomorrow and very slowly wink and see if next week you don’t get a promotion.
DID U KNOW… 30 percent of people in the UK regularly binge drink, so truly we are pushing the term “binge drink” to breaking point really, now. I mean, I think it’s safe to say we are taking the piss a bit here. Maybe just call it “how we drink”.
DID U KNOW… mental health problems have been cited as the leading cause of early retirement in Germany since 1996. 1996! That’s 20 years! And we’re only just starting to talk about it properly in the UK!
DID U KNOW… it is estimated that alcohol led to €59 billion (£50 billion) worth of lost productivity in the EU last year, either through time spent out of work, jobs lost or early death. Woah! I do kind of still want a beer though!
DID U KNOW… are you bored yet? You can skip to the bit where I stop saying “DID U KNOW” if you want.
DID U KNOW… smokers are statistically less productive and earn less than those who don’t smoke – they’re more likely to take sick days off work each year (eight to 10 extra days off, in some countries) and also take smoking breaks more and tend to die way earlier. But then, what do you want: to work your entire life, nose against the coalface, your job is all you have, sucking at the dick and the teat of your employer, prostrating yourself on the floor for a modicum of a raise this year? Or a cool refreshing tab? Hard to know.
DID U KNOW… the UK is below average for deaths from strokes and heart disease; it is above average in every metric that rates first point of contact medical interactions across Europe, so we like talking to our doctors. Health!
DID U KNOW… over a quarter of adults in the EU have used illicit drugs in their lifetimes, with 13 percent of 15-to-24-year-olds using cannabis in the past year alone. Second on the list is cocaine, then amphetamines. Then a bit of ecstasy, then all the other drugs. In the past five years they have identified 380 new legal highs, although there’s no data on how many of them actually work.
But the main takeaways in all this are that Britain is bang into cocaine and sex diseases now. I’ll translate it out into data, my new favourite thing: 4.2 percent of UK 15-to-34-year-olds used cocaine in 2014, the last available data year, far higher than the closest cocaine competitor, Spain, at 3.3 percent. And on the gonorrhoea side of things we’re streets ahead again: 59.7 people per 100,000 of the population reported having it in 2014, compared to closest competitor, Ireland, on 28.3. We’re also top five in Europe for having chlamydia (367.6 per 100,000) and top six for retro STI syphilis, too, with 7.2 per 100,000.
What’s the reason for this? Well, unsure. Spain has always traditionally been way better at having sex infections than us, but we just flipped that on its head. Is it possible that, in this new belt-tightened world, Brits are no longer flying to Shagaluf to get their gonorrhoea, instead doing their unsafe sex in the frigid grey embrace of home? Don’t know. I am just speculating because I am bang into data now.
Now, critics – cynics, perhaps, or Conservatives, or your local vicar – would say: it is bad that we all have gonorrhoea and love gak now. But I am choosing to see the cheery side of this. Because isn’t it time we eschewed the traditional British stereotype and embraced the truth: Britons are actually a debased, dark-cored, flawed group of people, and it’s time we dropped the pretence that we’re not.
There are two British stereotypes, and both come from a place of wonky self-perception. The original is the highfalutin idea of ourselves as bowler-wearing, umbrella-toting posh-lords who spend our time politely tutting at the weather, saluting the Queen, being into imperialism and writing strongly-worded letters to the editor of The Times. The other stereotype is 1997 made flesh: fizzy lager and England shirts; 18-34 holidays and being arrested on aeroplanes; saying “garçon” to literally any nationality of waiter; thinking Liam Gallagher is good. There are only two personalities within the British stereotype vector: Mr Benn or Gazza. There is nothing in between.
It’s fair to say that 2016 has been a very lively year, and with that the British mindset has undergone a shift like a continent across a sea bed: slowly, rumblingly, subtly but massively. This year will always go down as historical, but maybe this is where a social change comes in, too: naked right-wing opinions are OK now; being really stupid and uninformed is part of our DNA, our emotions and opinions are ruled by extremes of right and left, and we are also gak-using, condom-shunning dickheads. The “Health at a Glance” study depicts a UK populace that is far away from our perception of ourselves – so maybe it’s time we all printed out a big 204-page PDF, sat down and read most if not all of it, and caught up with who we are.
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