Because it’s a dump that’s why!
That’s the short answer, but for those of you waiting on a windy railway platform for a train that will never come here’s a slightly longer version to take your mind off your troubles.
First of all, is it even true that the Brits have little national pride? As we will no doubt see this summer at the World Cup, the British hooligan with “Made in England” tattooed on his head is infamous the world over—isn’t that a form of national pride, albeit a perverted one?
Only if you think a rabid dog is “proud”. The outbursts of British xenophobia, heavily laced with self-loathing, that punctuate the world’s news bulletins at regular intervals hold little delight. British nationalism of the “You hate us – we don’t care” variety is a million miles away from the “inordinate self-esteem, a reasonable or justifiable self-respect” that the dictionary defines as “pride”.
Let’s leave lager louts for a moment. A few years ago I was in Tanzania when I bumped into a couple of Indian sisters. Since we were in neither Britain nor India, I wasn’t sure where they were from them so I asked if they were Brits. “Fraid so” they said. 'Fraid so! Ask a Frenchman if he is from France and he’ll puff out his chest and say “Mais, bien sur!” (“But of course”.) I wasn’t offended by my new friends’ reply, in fact I might well have answered in the same apologetic way. It’s the way we talk to each other, ridiculous as it might sound.
The contrasting attitudes of the French and the British to Concorde, the supersonic jet aircraft they built together, are also telling. The French were inordinately proud of the plane, one of only two supersonic aircraft to have entered commercial service. The Brits on the other hand were always quite shame-faced about it because it was late and over budget and a major polluter. I’m not saying the Brits were wrong to feel obscurely guilty about the project, history may record that as a better stance than French amour propre, but the contrast is striking.
So if my proposition is accepted (and it’s open to debate), why is this so? Why do the citizens of a country that only 80 years ago held sway over about a quarter of the world's polulation and a quarter of the world's total land area, a country that has made an enormous and continuing contribution to world culture from Shakespeare to the Beatles—why do these people seem to have such low self-esteem? Why do they apologise to each other for being British?
PS I think it is important to distinguish between pride and arrogance, which the Brits are sometimes, with justification, accused of. Arrogance ("a feeling or an impression of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptuous claims seems to me to be some sort of bastard offspring of "pride" -- a mutant cousin of genuine pride in your country and its achievements that does not depend on the denigration of others.