Britain is a stable and democratic society. Its citizens have freedom of speech, and political and religious belief. It is a leading member of both the European Community and the Commonwealth and has a major world role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
The home of the industrial revolution, it continues to be an important industrial nation. Although small in area and accounting for only about 1 per cent of the world's population, Britain is the fourth largest trading nation in the world. After years of sustained growth it is one of the largest exporters of goods and a major centre for financial and insurance services. It has the largest energy resources of any country in the European Community and is an important world producer of oil, natural gas and coal. Its labour force has high levels of technical and commercial skill. British agriculture is noted for its efficiency and productivity and at the same time comprehensive planning and control have steadily reduced air and water pollution.
Britain’s National Health Service is famous worldwide and its universities and institutes of higher education, attract over 50,000 foreign students a year. Britain has for centuries encouraged research and innovation and its record of achievements has been maintained throughout the twentieth century. Nobel prizes for science have been won by sixty-eight British citizens, a number exceeded only by the United States. In the fields of arts, broadcasting and sport Britain continues to lead the world.
ÒHE PEOPLE'S VIEW
Mrs Thatcher created a society which is richer and freer, but also unhappier and more selfish, according to a survey for the Observer newspaper.
People were asked how they thought Britain had changed over the past ten years: 48 % thought people were richer, compared with 36 % who thought people were poorer. Asked about freedom, 44 % thought people now had more freedom, compared with 24 % who believed they had less. These positive views of Margaret Thatcher's 'enterprise culture" were balanced by some negative results: 48 % thought people were 'more unhappy’ today than ten years ago; 21 % believed people were 'happier’.
The answers showed considerable differences between various sections of society. Women felt much more, strongly than men that life was worse (47 % compared with 37 %). So did the old (49 %) and those living in the north of England (47 %).
How has Britain changed over the past ten years?
More freedom 44%
Leas freedom 24%
More unhappy 48%
Store selfish 61%
More generous 19%
life is worse 42%
life is better 39%
A dirtier country 68%
A cleaner country 15%
Üåàç friendly people 52%
Friendlier people 23%
More intolerant 37%
More tolerant 35%
More violent, society 59%
less violent society 12%
There were a number of reasons for people's opinions. For example, when asked whether Britain was cleaner or dirtier than it had been ten years before, people mentioned an increase in dirt and rubbish in cities and the countryside. People's views on friendliness were influenced by their experience of service industries such as hotels and shops.
The figures on tolerance were more difficult to interpret: some people thought that it referred to racial tolerance and opinion was divided on whether Britain was becoming a more integrated society; others thought that tolerance of political views had declined and that left and right-wing views and become more extreme.
A large majority (59 %) believed that Britain had become a more violent society. They pointed to the increase in violent crime (for example, muggings and robberies on the London Underground) and the violent reputation of British football supporters.
A changing world
In the old days, it was easy to talk about British society. There was the working class, the middle class and the upper class. There were factory workers and farmers, northerners and southerners. But these days it is harder to describe the British. The old differences are still there, but people are divided in many new ways as well.
One difference is the change in age groups. More people are living longer than seventy or eighty years, so the number of old people is growing. (15% of the population is now over 65.) At the same time, fewer babies are being born (the average British family has two children). This means that the population of Britain is getting older all the time. Also, fewer people live with or near their families. This means that many old people live on their own or in old people's homes. And many young people live in bed-sitting rooms, or in flats with other people of the same age. Traditions of work are changing too. About three million people have no job. Poor people these days are not only people with badly paid jobs, but people without a job at all.
The 4 different regions of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have always had their own ways of life. But now many people from these regions (especially the Welsh and the Scots) have a new interest in their own special culture. Some Welsh people, for example, want to bring back the old Welsh language, Some of the Scots want a government of their own. The people of Northern Ireland often feel that the rest of Britain is not interested in them. They feel that no one understands the "troubles" between Catholic and Protestant that have been going on for so long.
There are now about four million "black” and "brown" Britons, who have come (or whose parents have come) to Britain since the 1950s. Most came from the West Indies, East Africa, India and Pakistan, and live in big cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. Some found in Britain the life they were looking for. But many did not. Young people, especially, from these "ethnic communities" find it hard to get, jobs and to be accepted.
But somehow, the traditional British way of life still goes on. Old and young, rich and poor, black and white, Londoner and countryman all agree about some things even if they disagree about others. The things they agree about make them British. The things they disagree about make them interesting.
Here is what people in different countries think about the British. Read the passage and make a list of all characteristics given to the British people and decide whether they are positive or negative.
A survey was conducted from London in Eastern and Western Europe, America, India, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. Those questioned were asked about their views of British life, customs and characteristics.
The unprompted observations make depressing reading. One respondent in France thought the British were 'good at courtesy and phlegm', while another described them as 'a nation of ugly people with bad taste'. Britain's so-called special relationship with America seems to have done little to sugar American perceptions, either. 'Antiquated and living in the past,' said one. 'Britain is narrow, constrained, conventional, stuffy- but I guess quite picturesque,' volunteered another. One respondent in India said: 'The British always look down their noses at you'.
Confronted with a list of adjectives, respondents summed up the British as proud, civilised, cultured, arrogant and cold. The five words which were thought to describe them least accurately were: emotional, temperamental, aggressive, adventurous and fun-loving.
When the responses were broken down by continent, subtle differences emerged, which said as much about the countries questioned as they did about Britain. Australia and New Zealand, for example, still don't know whether to love or hate their Commonwealth alma mater. They admire Britain's institutions and democracy, but see the people as intolerant, stuck in their ways and lacking progressive zeal. If they had any affection for Blighty at all, it was a sentimental attachment to food brands of the 1950s, such as HP Sauce, Callard & Bowser and Bisto.
The view from Asia has been equally coloured by Britain's past colonial links. India's associations tended to be the most generous, with a common respect for culture, class, tradition and history dating back to the relationship before independence. The Far East, on the other hand, showed little such sentiment. As a thriving commercial centre itself, it easily cast Britain as a 'has-been' nation, bad at business and lacking entrepreneurial zeal.
The most unrelentingly stereotyped view of Britishness came from America. Americans love the accents, countryside and pageantry, but the American view of British industry seemed to have been formed while browsing around a gift shop. Products such as bone china, crystal, knitwear and even scones were singled out as among our biggest assets. Once again, Britain stood accused of lacking vitality, excitement and can-do attitude.
(from The British Studies Now)
As you read the following, write out into two columns (1) the characteristics of the British that you have already known, and (2) the new things you have discovered about the British.
The British, like the people of every country, tend to be attributed with certain characteristics which are supposedly typical. However, it is best to be cautious about accepting such characterizations too easily, and in the case of Britain there are three particular reasons to be cautious.