The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The British as We See Them

Category: 20th century

Almost every nation has a reputation of some kind. The French are supposed to be amorous, gay, fond of cham­pagne. The Germans are usually considered as dull, formal, efficient, fond of military uniforms and parades; the Ameri­cans boastful, energetic, gregarious and vulgar. The British are reputed to be cold, reserved, rather haughty people. They are steady, easy-going and fond of sport.

A foreigner view of the British is often based on the type of Briton he has met travelling abroad. It is obvious, howev­er, that the behaviour of an individual cannot be taken as general for the whole people. There is a common illusion, for instance, that the British are cold and reserved. A foreigner sitting in a second-class railway carriage would soon realize that the British are much the same as the people of his own country.

There are, however, certain kinds of behaviour, manners and customs which are peculiar to Britain. In general, the British are polite. If somebody treads on your toe they are sure to say “Sorry” or “Excuse me”. “Excuse me” is a phrase which often causes difficulty. Getting off a crowded bus one says “Excuse me, please” when one wishes to squeeze past someone. In a cafe, when asking if there is a place at the table, “Excuse me, but is this anyone’s seat?” is the correct way to ask. Another example of the British politeness is queueing, which is governed by a strict code of fairness in Britain. Woe betide anyone who attempts to jump the queue!

A common man seldom walks on the right-hand side of the woman, seldom helps his wife on and off a bus, or holds out a chair for her in a restaurant, or helps her to put her coat on. He acts in this way not because he is forgetful or rude; he just sees her more as an equal, and few women in Britain miss these attentions.

Of course, curtsies and bows are now considered antiquat­ed. When greeting friends, the British also rarely shake hands. The practical British would never take off their gloves at fifteen degrees below zero just to shake hands. Only if they are introduced to a stranger do they do so, and among young people even this has become quite unusual. They simply say “How do you do?” or even just “Hallo”. No answer is expect­ed unless the direct question “How are you?” is asked.

The quiet, reserved Briton can best be observed at a foot­ball match. Naturally, the British shout and yell as much as any nation, especially if their side is losing. The crowd boos if it disapproves, and cheers if it approves of the team. Rat­tles, which make a harsh clattering sound, are carried, es­pecially at the Cup Final, and rosettes are sometimes worn.

Cricket, on the other hand, is not as popular as football, and is much quieter and more sedate. When the Test Matches are played, the spectators applaud the players politely.

“The Englishman’s home is his castle” is a saying known all over the world. And it is true that English people prefer small houses, built to house one family, perhaps with a small garden. But nowadays the shortage of building land and inflated land values mean that more and more blocks of flats are being built, especially by the local councils.

Foreigners often picture an Englishman dressed in tweeds, smoking a pipe, striding across the open countryside with his dog at his heels. This is a picture of an aristocratic En­glishman during his holidays on his country estate. Since most of the open countryside is privately owned there is not much left for the others to stride across.

As a rule, Englishmen do not like bright colours, outland­ish hairstyles, or exaggerated fashions. Clothing bought “off the peg” is most popular because mass-produced clothing is comparatively cheap and well-made as a result of England’s long-established textile industry.

One thing which is difficult for foreigners to understand is the English sense of humour. English humour is ironical, often directed against oneself in a self-critical way. It rests on verbal battles rather than on visual comedy. It is quite common to find good friends insulting each other in a verbal battle, each realizing, however, that the other is merely pulling his leg. This is very common in families, and a series of family jokes develops.

English cooking has the world-wide reputation, among foreigners at any rate, of being bad. This is of course a relative judgement. People who travel abroad, most of them from the higher income brackets, often criticize English cook­ing. The English culinary art is not “fancy”. There are no subtle seasonings, no rubs of garlic, no poaching in wine so beloved of the French chef. In the traditional English cui­sine there are no omelettes, crepes suzettes, or drops of bran­dy to discreetly^flavour a sweet. English cooking is heavy, substantial and plain.

The national beverage is tea, which must be made “just like mother makes it”, one teaspoonful of tea for each per­son and “one for the pot”. Boiling water is added and the tea is allowed to stand, brew or draw. It is drunk with or with­out sugar but almost always with milk. A true Briton would prefer a cup of tea which had been made in a teapot in a civilized way to a cup with the tea bag dangling in it. There have been poems to the immortal vine but few, alas, to the immortal tea plant; tea is part of the prose of British life, as necessary as bread or potatoes.

The ideal English breakfast, however, is acknowledged and remembered with longing by foreigners as being excellent. It consists of cereals, either porridge or cornflakes, with milk and sugar, followed by bacon and eggs or sausages and to­matoes, toast and marmalade, and finally, of course, a cup of tea. This is the ideal breakfast, but the majority of British people eat it only on Saturdays and Sundays. On week-days they have time only for toast and marmalade.

The midday meal is called lunch or dinner. This meal is probably the most substantial one. The English like to com­plete it with a cup of tea. They also like to drink water or occasionally beer with their meal, but only in the expensive restaurants or among upper-class people spirits are taken with the meal. Spirits are generally too expensive for the normal household, except at Christmas time.

Tea is a peculiar meal. In upper-class circles it consists of thin sandwiches, small cakes and cups of tea. Dinner, for them, follows at seven o’clock and supper some time after nine.

Beer is the second national beverage. The average En­glishman does his drinking in a pub. The pub, or the public house, has evolved over the centuries, always playing an important part in social life. Originally a stopping place for weary travellers, it was then called an inn or tavern and was often the centre of community life in an area, and it was there that news was exchanged, and the latest political developments discussed.

Every pub has several rooms: a smoking room, a lounge, a public bar, etc. Sometimes there is a singing room. There are generally no waiters, for the customers fetch their own drinks, but in most rooms there will be a long counter presided over by a barmaid or barman who stands behind several large handles, the beer pumps.

The English do not to eat in restaurants as much as other European nations. Many restaurants are self-service. Wait­ers and waitresses are found usually in the more expensive places.

Most Englishmen regard themselves as sportsmen. This is not surprising. England has been the home of sport for cen­turies. Football started there. Cricket, the other national game, has not spread much beyond the countries of the British Empire. Football has spread to the four corners of the world. Now the pupils often beat the master. Despite this, millions of fans go to watch the professionals each Saturday.

There are many thousands of amateur football teams, too. Hundreds of thousands of spectators support these ama­teurs. There is always the temptation for a good amateur to turn pro.

Rugby Football, or Rugger, is very different from Soccer. It originated at Rugby School, the famous British public school. There are fifteen players, and the ball is oval in shape. Its following is much smaller than that of soccer. In some areas, in Wales for instance, they play rugby with thirteen players a side.

It is difficult for most foreigners to understand cricket. It is even more difficult for Englishmen to explain it to them. There are two sides with eleven men in each. The game is controlled by two umpires. The equipment is: six stumps (thick pointed sticks about 80cm high), four bails (very short sticks, half as long as a pencil and twice as thick), a hard cricket ball (the size of a tennis ball, but made of leather) and at least two bats.

The English play almost every European game, lawn ten­nis and table-tennis being the favourites among the specta­tors. In London, for instance, every park has tennis facilities. In some there are as many as ten or so hard courts, and the same number of soft, or grass ones. Britain regularly gets players into the finals and semi-finals of international com­petitions, many of which are staged at Wimbledon.

These are only a few of the games justifying Britain’s claim to be a sporting nation.

« ||| »

bitcoin casinos

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.