This is a guest post
It would be valuable indeed if divine providence blessed us with the gift to ‘see ourselves as others see us’ as Robert Burns mused in his famous poem ‘To A Louse’, but although we’ll never achieve this sort of omniscience, it’s still fun to sift through some of the most common stereotypes about Britain and the British and consider which have any basis in fact.
Naturally, it’s impossible to generalise over the beliefs, habits and attitudes of each and every Briton, and as a modern multicultural nation we also celebrate unity in diversity. However, one thing Britons have in vast reserve is eccentricity, as evidenced by their love of British themed fancy dress and their perpetual ability to combine a stiff upper lip with surreal and self-effacing humour.
So here follow five stereotypes about Britain which are false and five which have some basis of truth.
FALSE: Everyone in Britain is closely related to the Royal Family
Since Britain has a population of over 63 million this is not the case, but some unlikely Britons in line for the throne include Catherine Laing; a West Country travel agent’s wife and Chloe Felton, a farmer’s daughter from Devon. In fact, there are only around 20 people in the UK who bear the title ‘Your Highness’ or ‘Your Majesty’ and around a further 70 who can claim to be members of the extended Royal Family or Royal Household; so it’s a reasonably exclusive club!
FALSE: It rains every day in Britain
Although Britain receives its fair share of rain, in 2009 the UK received less annual rainfall than Norway, Switzerland, Japan or New Zealand. It’s true that sodden citizens of Glasgow can expect around 48 inches of rain a year but this is only half the amount that the good people of Bergen, Norway can look forward to!
FALSE: Pubs in Britain only serve warm beer
Whilst some ales are still served warm, the popularity of continental lagers means that most beers served in the UK are now served cold. In fact, British lagers such as Carling and Tennents are marketed as best served cold and even Guinness stout has an ‘extra cold’ version due to popular demand!
FALSE: Everyone in Britain has a plummy accent and talks like the Queen
This is untrue as there are hundreds of distinctive regional accents across the UK and Standard English is itself a synthetic language amalgamated from elements of regional languages. For some interesting explorations of languages and dialects, check out the poem ‘The 6 O’Clock News’ by Tom Leonard and the song ‘Cockney Translation’ by Smiley Culture.
FALSE: All Britons have bad teeth
There seems to be no factual basis for this stereotype, dental hygiene in the UK compares well to that of any other developed nation. However, some British cultural icons do have very ‘unusual’ teeth; such as Rab C Nesbitt and Ken Dodd.
TRUE: Britons drink tea all day
Each Brit consumes 1.89 KG of tea per year according to 2009 figures and are ranked 6th in a list which is topped by the United Arab Emirates, followed by Ireland and Mauritania. Of course, tea is the 2nd most popular drink in the world next to water, so Britons are not alone in their collective love for a cuppa!
TRUE: Britons love to queue
Although no-one in their right mind loves to queue anywhere, many British people will state that they would prefer forming an orderly queue than the type of ‘free for all’ policy they may have seen adopted in other countries (although this in itself might be yet another stereotype!) However, the record for longest toilet queue is actually held by the Belgians and occurred when 756 people waited in line to use a latrine as part of UNICEF World Water Day activities!
TRUE: Britons do everything by the book
Business groups are constantly complaining about the reams of Governmental red tape, rules and regulations and (in their view) the effect it has on jobs being lost as businesses move abroad to avoid bureaucracy. Britain is unarguably one of the most rule-bound nations on Earth but it is debatable whether these regulations protect our freedoms or infringe them.
TRUE: Britons are obsessed with the class system
Although traditional class boundaries have become more blurred over the years, most Britons do tend to identify with one of the 3 main classes for better or for worse and although some claim that social mobility is greater now than it was for previous generations, evidence suggests that Britain unfortunately remains divided along class lines.
TRUE: Britons love to celebrate Royal occasions
This is definitely true as Royal Weddings and Jubilees are lavish occasions which millions of Britons love to celebrate by waving Union Jacks, organising street parties and donning fantastic Great British fancy dress costumes! Indeed, as 24.5 million viewers watched the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine on TV last year, if a Royal Wedding was held every week it would certainly eclipse viewing figures of ‘EastEnders’ , ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘The X Factor’!