Spotlight on Britain
Just because it's a clich, it doesn't mean it's not true. We British really are more stiff upper lip than you Americans. More understated, less given to showing off and blowing our own trumpets.
I don't mean to sound all superior, although it often comes across that way when we compare our sangfroid - you see we even speak foreign languages here - to your exuberance. We're just different. But this summer we're going to have to get used to a bit of showing off or we'll waste a golden opportunity.
The eyes of the world will be on Britain thanks to The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. The problem is I'm just not sure we're ready to have the spotlight pointed at us. To be a good performer you need an inexhaustible supply of self-confidence and that doesn't feel like the Britain I live in today.
As a nation, we're not sure what we believe in, what we stand for. Good Europeans or fiercely independent? Strong believers in our welfare state, or go-it-alone capitalists? Powerful militarily and ready to intervene, or war-weary and unable to afford to defend ourselves? We even have a government that is a coalition of right-leaning Conservatives and left-leaning Liberals. They pretend they share a common purpose but like the country they govern they don't know where their centre of gravity really lies.
We'll get through OK, we always do. Sport and the Monarchy are two great distractions from the real world, or at least from the difficult decisions about where we're going as a country. But on another level they are like the performer's thick make-up, covering up the cracks underneath. In sport we know we like to play by the rules but too rarely do we show the single-minded determination to go out and win. And the Monarchy? Well, most of my fellow Brits would disagree profoundly, but it feels to me like basking in a fairy-tale fantasy about what we used to be as a nation rather than focusing on what we could be. The Royal Family is all about custom and tradition, what you were born to be rather than what you could be through your own efforts.
So spare us a thought in 2012. Behind the flag waving and the fanfares, the fireworks and the marching bands, lies a country that, as the American statesman Dean Acheson put it so succinctly yet cruelly fifty years ago, has 'lost an Empire but not yet found a role.
This is Lance Price for CBS News in London.
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.