How The World Sees The British

Film, Observatory

I only have the vaguest notion of who Benny Hill is – he’s the professor who likes big women in The Italian Job. I certainly never saw his show – I’ve never watched TV that much, and virtually stopped altogether about 20 years ago – but apparently to many Americans he still represents Britain, although they also recognise Russell Brand and Hyacinth Bucket. While our image of the US is complex and detailed, largely due to the huge influence of the US on the internet, their image of us is polarised between badly dressed women and rock gods. Although even our Conservatives think their media is too right wing.

The image gets more complicated in the rest of Europe, although of course we have a highly volatile love/hate relationship with the French, as they do with us. Generally, we like their style and their intellectualism, but feel they need to modernise their shopworn isolationist image. I often think they’re the nation we most resemble. It’s where most English take their holidays, and 300,000 young French people live in the UK because getting work is easier, and they can get promotion without having to wait until they’re 40.

Despite the credit crunch, England is changing fast – a cosmopolitan economy keeps things culturally and entrepreneurially vibrant, and this hinges on an old English habit, despite what Hitler’s favourite newspaper the Daily Mail would have you believe – the polite acceptance of other races and faiths. The downside is a predicted 5 years of reduced spending that will affect us all.

I have to say, though, that I never think of myself as British, simply because I don’t visit Wales, Scotland or Ireland very often. It’s not that I don’t want to go – with the exception of Cardiff, the only place in Britain I’ve stayed where my hotel room was burgled to the total indifference of the hotel staff – but I don’t have many friends there. Let’s hope that changes

The point of this ramble is this article, about how the world sees us – some interesting viewpoints here.

5 comments on “How The World Sees The British”

  1. Terenzio says:

    These viewpoints come from foreign correspondents from the UK. Usually to get an objective viewpoint you have someone i.e. a Frenchman, a German or an Italian write about what they think of other nations. What you have here is what a bunch of Brits think the French, Germans…think of the Brits. Even if these correspondents live in France, Germany or Italy they are still writing as outsiders and perhaps more importantly they are Brits writing about their own culture.

    Interesting they you think of yourself as British. I have a friend who is from England and he thinks of himself as English. Since there is no longer a British Empire it seems the term term British is no longer relevant using it in that context. I use the word British, but I use it as a general term for people from the UK. However, if I was from – lets say – Scotland, I would call myself Scottish or if I was from England, I would call myself English.

  2. Andy says:

    I can’t hear “Yakkity Sax” without thinking of Benny Hill. Also “Ernie- And he rode the fastest milk cart in the west”. Not really my idea of funny but I watched the Benny Hill Showt as a kid for vague smut and slapstick. He’s still popular in Germany for some reason.

    I’m Welsh, but am quite happy to call myself British. Obviously being Welsh is better, but one doesn’t like to brag.

    The best views of how others find the British is usually to be found in guide books about Britain published in other countries, occasionally looked at American, Canadian and Australian ones. They were quite amusing and, culturally, between ten and thirty years out of date.

  3. vigo says:

    You should remember however that Britain preceded England.

    3 invasions of Britain;
    The Romans
    The Angles and Saxons = (English)
    The Normans (many became the ruling class)

    The Britons were always here – and they were the British before the empire, before the Act of Union and before the above invasions.

    The term ‘Welsh/Wales’ means foriegner and derives from the Saxon word – the indigenous Britons being driven back into Wales and to Breton and Britanny by the invading Angles and Saxons. Infact the Welsh are the earliest Britons if we tale Scotland to be its own independent nation – but many Welsh (Cunneda who founded Gwynned) came from the Northumbria region from the Votadini, from the Hen Ogledd area of North (pre) England and the lowland area of (pre) Scotland – which the Scots suceeded in taking to form Scotland.

    The red dragon was the standard around which the indigenous Britons rallied to defend against the Saxons – hence Wales being Wales and England England. I am English, that is I was born and raised in England – but have a British surname – and you can more or less trace your ancestry back along such etymological routes by your family name.
    The ancient Britons would have moved back into England over time – tribal peace treaties occuring also with Christianity – theres no evidence of a complete Saxon genocide of native Britons – but it came close perhaps if you read Gildas – though the ancient language died out – which implies to a great extent the loss of a culture. Being British is not really synonymous with Empire or of the Union – would the English balk at the fact that they are descended from the Germans? Not if you think of Beethoven or German literature. I suppose its a matter of associations. But it does explain their mad desire to control.
    Less said about that, the better.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Any of the English language countries (except perhaps Australia and New Zealand) are mongrels. I am Canadian and a mix of Scots, Irish, English, and North German (the formerly Danish part). I think the greater part of England today is probably the same sort of mix, particularly if you go back to those invasion years. English (language) culture has moved around. Currently it is picking up on the African and Indian influences and eventually it will move somewhere else. As the language itself drifts away from “accepted standards” I just keep muttering, “Language evolves, language evolves.” Still, who said you could use “a couple days” when it’s “a pair OF socks” and even “a couple OF hounds” (isn’t it?) The construction is ‘amount’ of ‘something”. Did couple as a quantity come from pairing hounds?
    Our CBC used to sound like the BBC when it relaxed and the first hosts and announcers not trained in that way were a shock, but we still have announcers who act as language police for the network. We no longer refer to England as “The Mother Country” and we don’t look there for political, literary or legal precedents. We are more likely to look to the US, where the people have no idea what to think of us.

  5. vigo says:

    I thought a mongrel was a dog. Is that anything like the idea of miscegenation? According to Oppenheimer the invasions didnt have as much effect on the British as supposed – it was not a case of massive ‘inter’ breeding however interesting that sounds. Woof woof.
    Remember that Boudicca led the tribes against the ruling Romans – even by the time the Romans left they – the Romans- were the ascendancy – speaking Latin was considered the language of the superior class – not the common language – and the indigenous tribes looked to them (the Roman leaders) for help from the invading Angles and Saxons – which they didnt adequately receive. Oppenheimers DNA research is interesting. Did the same apply to the Saxon invasion? We know that the Normans were again the ‘ruling’ ascendancy. Harold could not raise an army from all the Britons. This makes sense if you think of invaders as conquerors = a ruling caste, who see themselves above the indigenous peope. Why intermarry with the poor?
    The Scots didnt invade that much past the border – though they tried to and once got as far as London.
    I am married to an Irish woman and have lived in Ireland. England is not that much mixed with the Irish -the two countries and peoples are very different. – As is Scotland to England. There isnt much evidence to show that the English become Africanised or ‘Indianised’ – the English language doesnt adopt much Hindi or Punjbi influences – beyond references to Madras and Tandoori.
    Britain moved around as a colonizer but it didnt become much like the people it colonised – xcept perhaps with the exception of America – though that would be up for debate.
    You could say a pair of hounds or a couple of hounds or pair a couple of hounds. Dogs is dogs. Not sure about the dogs n sox analogy.
    Australians were descended from the British by and large werent they? With the exception of Southern Australia it was a penal colony.
    Canadians still look to Shakespeare and the English writers – America too – political precedents were both British and European (eg;the Senate,Parliament,womens suffrage,unions,etc).
    Why would you look to America if you are Canadian? Or anywhere else for that matter.
    I once inadvertantly sparked a heated exchange between a Canadian and an American by confusing the accents. The American said the Canadian wanted to be American and the Canadian said never!!! But for some strange reason neither could see reason by wanting to be British. Such a sad decline. I watched them slug it out on the floor. I felt sad but typically British as we seem to start fights everywhere we go. (Please dont even mention the word quarantine.)
    last time I heard, the Canadians wanted to be French and called themselves Quebec – not a bad idea – you just have to extend this to the rest of the region. Vive la France !

Comments are closed.