Because English culture dominates the cultures of the other three nations of the British Isles, everyday habits, attitudes and values among the peoples of the four nations are very similar. However, they are not identical, and what is often regarded as typically British may in fact be only typically English. This is especially true with regard to one notable characteristic - anti-intellectualism.
Among many people in Britain, there exists a suspicion of intelligence, education and 'high culture'. Teachers and academic staff, although respected, do not have as high a status as they do in most other countries. Nobody normally proclaims their academic qualifications or title to the world at large. No professor would expect, or want, to be addressed as 'Professor' on any but the most formal occasion. There are large sections of both the upper and working class in Britain who, traditionally at least, have not encouraged their children to go to university. This lack of enthusiasm for education is certainly decreasing. Nevertheless, it is still unusual for parents to arrange extra private tuition for their children, even among those who can easily afford it.
Anti-intellectual attitudes are held consciously only by a small proportion of the population, but an indication of how deep they run in society is that they are reflected in the English language. To refer to a person as somebody who 'gets all their ideas from books' is to speak of them negatively. The word 'clever' often has negative connotations. It suggests someone who uses trickery, a person who cannot quite be trusted (as in the expression 'too clever by half) (> Swots).
Evidence of this attitude can be found in all four nations of the British Isles. However, it is probably better seen as a specifically English characteristic and not a British one. The Scottish have always placed a high value on education for all classes. The Irish of all classes place a high value on being quick, ready and able with words. The Welsh are famous for exporting teachers to other parts of Britain and beyond.
The slang word 'swot' was first used in public schools. It describes someone who works hard and does well academically. It is a term of abuse. Swots are not very popular. In the English mind, scholarship is something rather strange and exotic.
Complete the following sentences with the missing words:
1. British culture is predominantly based on ... culture.
2. Anti-intellectualism is a typically ... characteristic.
3. Many people in Britain are ... of intelligence, education and 'high culture'.
4. Teachers and academic staff do not have a particularly ... status.
5. ... have always placed a high value on education for all classes.
6. ... of all classes place a high value on being quick, ready and able with words.
7. ... are famous for exporting teachers to other parts of Britain and beyond.
The third reason for caution about generalizations relates to the large-scale immigration to Britain from places outside the British Isles in the twentieth century. In its cities at least, Britain is a multicultural society. There are areas of London, for example, in which a distinctively Indian way of life predominates, with Indian shops, Indian clothes, Indian languages. Because in the local schools up to 90% of the pupils may be Indian, a distinctively Indian style of learning tends to take place.
These 'new British' people have brought widely differing sets of attitudes with them. For example, while some seem to care no more about education for their children than people in traditional English culture, others seem to care about it a great deal more.
However, the divergence from indigenous British attitudes in new British communities is constantly narrowing. These communities
sometimes have their own newspapers but none have their own TV stations as they do in the United States. There, the numbers in such communities are larger and the physical space between them and other communities is greater, so that it is possible for people to live their whole lives in such communities without ever really learning English. This hardly ever happens in Britain.
It is therefore still possible to talk about British characteristics in general (as the rest of this chapter does). In fact, the new British have made their own contribution to British life and attitudes. They have probably helped to make people more informal (see below); they have changed the nature of the 'corner shop', the most popular, well-attended festival in the whole of Britain is the annual Notting Hill Carnival in London at the end of August, which is of Caribbean inspiration and origin.
Add suitable complements to qualify the subjects:
1. Immigration to Britain in the 20th century has been ...
2. Britain's society in its cities at least is ...
3. In some areas of London, the style of life is distinctively...
4. The inspiration and origin of the annual Notting Hill Carnival in London is
The British have few living folk traditions and are too individualistic to have the same everyday habits as each other. However, this does not mean that they like change. They don't. They may not behave in traditional ways, but they like symbols of tradition and stability. For example, there are some very untraditional attitudes and habits with regard to the family in modern Britain. Nevertheless, politicians often cite their enthusiasm for 'traditional family values' (both parents married and living together, parents as the main source of authority for children etc) as a way of winning support.
In general, the British value continuity over modernity for its own sake. They do not consider it especially smart to live in a new house and, in fact, there is prestige in living in an obviously old one. They have a general sentimental attachment to older, supposedly safer, times. Their Christmas cards usually depict scenes from past centuries; they like their pubs to look old; they were reluctant to change their system of currency.
Moreover, a look at children's reading habits suggests that this attitude is not going to change. .Publishers try hard to make their books for children up-to-date. But perhaps they needn't try so hard. In 1992 the two most popular children's writers were noticeably un-modern (they were both, in fact, dead). The most popular of all was Roald Dahl, whose fantasy stories are set in a rather old-fashioned world. The second most popular writer was Enid Blyton, whose stories take place in a comfortable white middle-class world before the 1960s. They contain no references to other races or classes and mention nothing more modern than a radio. In other words, they are mostly irrelevant to modern life.
Sort out the following words and phrases under the headings (a) Conservatism and (b) Modernity:
Living folk traditions; everyday habits; to like change; to behave in traditional ways; symbols of traditions and stability; untraditional attitudes and habits; traditional family values; to value continuity (over modernity); smart to live in a new house; prestige in living in an old house; a sentimental attachment to older, safer times; scenes from past centuries; reluctant to change something; up-to-date; noticeably unmodern; a rather old-fashioned world; irrelevant to modern life.
The British can be particularly and stubbornly conservative about anything which is perceived as a token of Britishness. In these matters, their conservatism can combine with their individualism; they are rather proud of being different. It is, for example, very difficult to imagine that they will ever agree to change from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right. It doesn't matter that nobody can think of any intrinsic advantage in driving on the left. Why should they change just to be like everyone else? Indeed, as far as they are concerned, not being like everyone else is a good reason not to change.
Developments at European Union (EU) level which might cause a change in some everyday aspect of British life are usually greeted with suspicion and hostility. The British government has been trying for years and years to promote the metric system and to get British people to use the same scales that are used nearly everywhere else in the world. But it has had only limited success. Everybody in Britain still shops in pounds and ounces. The weather forecasters on the television use the Celsius scale of temperature. But nearly everybody still thinks in Fahrenheit. British people continue to measure distances, amounts of liquid and themselves using scales of measurement that are not used anywhere else in Europe. Even the use of the 24-hour clock is comparatively restricted.
British governments continue to put their clocks back at the end of summer on a different date from every other country in Europe; they have so far resisted pressure from business people to adopt Central European Time, remaining stubbornly one hour behind; they continue to start their financial year not, as other countries do, at the beginning of the calendar year but at the beginning of April!
Insert the missing prepositions:
1. The British are conservative ... any token of Britishness.
2. Their conservatism combines ... their individualism.
3. They will hardly agree to change ... driving ... the left-hand side of the road ... driving ... the right, though there is scarcely any advantage ... driving ... the left.
4. Developments ... EU level are usually greeted ... suspicion and hostility.
5. Everybody in Britain shops ... pounds and ounces.
6. The British put their clocks back ... the end of summer ... a different date ... every other country in Europe.
THE LOVE OF NATURE
Most of the British live in towns and cities. But they have an idealized vision of the countryside. To the British, the countryside has almost none of the negative associations which it has in some countries, such as poor facilities, lack of educational opportunities, unemployment and poverty. To them, the countryside means peace and quiet, beauty, good health and no crime. Most of them would live in a country village if they thought that they could find a way of earning a living there. Ideally, this village would consist of thatched cottages built around an area of grass known as a 'village green'. Nearby, there would be a pond with ducks on it. Nowadays such a village is not actually very common, but it is a stereotypical picture that is well-known to the British.
Perhaps this love of the countryside is another aspect of British conservatism. The countryside represents stability. Those who live in towns and cities take an active interest in country matters and the British regard it as both a right and a privilege to be able to go 'into the country' whenever they want to. Large areas of the country are official 'national parks' where almost no building is allowed. There is an organization to which thousands of enthusiastic country walkers belong, the Ramblers' Association. It is in constant battle with landowners to keep open the public 'rights of way' across their lands. Maps can be bought which mark, in great detail, the routes of all the public footpaths in the country. Walkers often stay at youth hostels. The Youth Hostels Association is a charity whose aim is 'to help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside'. Their hostels are cheap and rather self-consciously bare and simple. There are more than 300 of them around the country, most of them in the middle of nowhere!
Even if they cannot get into the countryside, many British people still spend a lot of their time with 'nature'. They grow plants. Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the country. Even'those unlucky people who do not have a garden can participate. Each local authority owns several areas of land which it rents very cheaply to these people in small parcels. On these 'allotments', people grow mainly vegetables.
THE NATIONAL TRUST
A notable indication of the British reverence for both the countryside and the past is the strength of the National Trust. This is an officially recognized charity whose aim is to preserve as much of Britain's countryside and as many of its historic buildings as possible by acquiring them "for the nation". With more than one-and-a-half million members, it is the largest conservation organization in the world. It is actually the third largest landowner in Britain (after the Crown and the Forestry Commission). It owns more than 50 miles of the coastline. The importance of its work has been supported by several laws, among which is one which does not allow even the government to take over any of its land without the approval of Parliament.
Supply details to complete the following statements:
1. Most of the British live in..............................
2. The negative associations of the countryside usually include ……
3. The idealized vision of the countryside in Britain means …..
4. The stereotypical picture of an ideal village consists of …..
5. In Britain there are charity organizations which support the British love of the countryside:
(a) The Ramblers' Association …
(b) The Youth Hostels Association….
(c) The National Trust ….
6. An alternative way to spend time with 'nature' is …