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Friday, 9 September 2011

England and the English!

I read an article recently which spoke about England and defining "Englishness" which made me think.

England as a country is not all thatched cottages or rolling countryside I know but I think that the author of the article is correct when he says that t"he countryside is fundamental to the idea of England and national identity". Even though most of us don't live in the countryside we love to imagine that we could and what it might be like there. Look at the popularity of Country Living magazine and many others in similar vein. 

In our country we don't have any majestic mountain ranges nor wide open plains, we have no volcanoes and we rarely have extremes of weather, no amazing storms when the lightning cuts out the elctricity, no massive snow falls (though we all know how little is needed to bring our country to a standstill!)  No England is a much more modest place - a small island within whose confines we have an incredible variety of landscapes and a coastline which ranges from sandy beaches to rugged cliffs. Within a days travel we can see a vast array of different scenery and nowhere are we ever more than 70 miles from the sea.  Perhaps it is this very modesty which has shaped our characters?

When I think of England what do I see?  Well:

narrow country lanes with banks of primroses,
cricket on the village green (it matters not that I know nothing at all about how the game is played and what the scores mean!)
crumpets dripping with butter eaten by the fire (what fire now many of us don't have a real fire any more?)
somnolent villages with yellow stone cottages clustered together roses climbing round their doors
gardens filled with flowers and vegetables in neat rows
tea as the solution to all life's problems!
history and pagentry
quirky traditional celebrations like wassailing and Morris dancing etc

What says England to you I wonder?

I once had a discussion with my French friend about how it was that I could spot another English person in the supermarket before they opened their mouths and what it is that makes us different from the French.  How others see us too is interesting as the French shops often had displays of items and fashions with the title "So British"!  Now I have never seen an English person dressed in the fashions they displayed and neither have I seen an English man's home decked out in the items they seemed to think we favoured.  Do they really think that we all wear tweeds and pearls and decorate our homes with lurid union Jack cushions?!!  But are we not guilty of this stereotyping too and don't all Australians wear hats with corks dangling from the brim and call ladies sheilas?  Or aren't all French women slim and incredibly smart and don't they eat frogs legs at every meal?  Or are the Irish not a bit ditsy or the Scots mean with their money whilst we ourselves are blessed with a stiff upper lip and are lacking in emotion.  How did these ridiculous ideas come about I wonder. Let's hope that by blogging we will learn more truthful aspects of the countries and characteristics of our blogging friends eh?!

Of course people are people wherever they live but there do seem to be certain characteristics which apply more to one race than another and maybe we do seem to be unemotional and cold at least on the outside but do we really love our pets more than our children?  We are considered polite (especially as drivers) according to my French friends and our sense of humour is different - I had a small procedure done by an opthalmogist in France and when he had finished I jokingly said "I haven't died then!" and he commented that this is a particularly English humour this poking fun at ourselves and the French take themselves and particularly their health much more seriously!

I  think then that we as a race are perhaps:
tolerant (I know this isn't always the case of course),
fair (play up play up and play the game)
eccentric (in the nicest possible way of course!)
self effacing (were we not taught never to blow our own trumpets or to get too big for our boots?)
stoic (I am thinking of the Blitz mentality here and our attitude in the face of a crisis)

What do you think of as our national traits I wonder?

Thanks for all your lovely comments on my previous posts I read each and every one and appreciate them all.  For those who asked to see the schooldays post I have added it as a separate page so go to the top of the right hand sidebar where you should find it but don't say you weren't warned about its length!


  1. Very interesting and for me doubly interesting as I am a Brit abroad for most of the year and live in SW France. I am not a normal Brit abroad however, as my husband and speak French and have France friends, as well as few English friends too ~ we totally immersed ourselves.....but I can spot a Brit a mile off in a Supermarket, have no idea what it is!
    I agree ours is a modest nation, and although I love living in France for 8 months of the year, my heart is still in England and always will be.
    Karen @ Lavender and Lovage

  2. Isn't it odd that we don't see ourselves as others see us? I agree that in France you can spot a Brit but I have no idea how we do so, they certainly aren't wearing tweeds and cravats or twinsets and pearls.
    I like it that we keep up old traditions though.

    Having read your post on looking back, with one or two exceptions, you have written my early life in Wales.

  3. Irony is what it means to be English - understatement and saying the opposite of what you mean, so when I say that I am not feeling too bad, I am actually feeling pretty dire, and when I say that I feel totally dreadful, I'm probably not too bad at all!

    Pomona x

  4. Hi Jane,

    I think you more or less covered everything......

    I think it is sad though that we judge people by their nationality.
    My husband always says the French are rude. I have never found that to be so. I treat people kindly and have always found, they treat you kindly back.

    Tks for another interesting post and have a lovely weekend.

  5. Another very interesting and thought provoking post Jane and I think you have summed up England and English very well. I think it is a wonderful country in so many of the ways you mention, and we really do need to appreciate how lucky we are more than we sometimes do.

  6. I would say also that we have quite strong regional differences. as a northerner married to a southerner, I experience these on a daily basis after 22 years!

  7. Jane,
    You don't half challenge the little grey cells to keep working with your thought provoking posts! My first thought was to say that a great English trait is the instinct to form a queue when more than two of us get together... and then wait patiently for whatever it is we think we're queueing for! Lesley x

  8. Ooops, noticed a typo! I did mean French friends of course!

  9. What a fascinating post. My husbands family, who are Polish, think my quiet self confidence marks me out as a Brit ... I'd never thought of that as a British quality before, but they may be right.

  10. In France I spot Brits in the supermarket because they are blonde and stressed! Obviously, in the UK the stress in not so evident, so part of this isn't actually a national characteristic!

    Your points are great. I think we are genuinely (in a good way) eccentric compared to the French, because we dress to entertain or define ourselves, not to look svelte. Really, that's the way French people usually look so good - they avoid fun for the sake of looks. I like having fun, myself! Oh well...

  11. Ditsy? Never!! We don't all dress in green either(although I do quite a bit as it's one of my favourite colours)nor do we know the Riverdance off by heart!! :)
    Great post Jane! I think you are correct though, by blogging you realise how similar different nations really are! Similar but not the same but that's a good thing!
    Vivienne x

  12. What an enjoyable post! And I enjoyed the comments too. I, too, am grateful for blogging that lets all of us get to know others and other cultures a bit better. I guess the generalizations have some bit of truth to them, but they certainly do not give the whole picture. And then you have us Americans...some of whom (like me) are an odd mix of English, German, French and Irish extraction. I detect the British reserve and sense of humor in a tug of war with the American openness and loudness...a good dose of the Irish spirit, and plenty of German no-nonsense organization. The French ancestry has me puzzled...can't say where/if that appears. Here I am talking about myself endlessly, I guess I can blame that on being from the USA. Now, should I post this comment or delete it? Fool that I am, I guess I'll post it. Someone might get a laugh out of it.

    Thank you again for your very interesting post...and I especially love that last photo too.

  13. I have to agree with the others , Jane. You've summed it up pretty well. You know what a great lover of England I am.
    Of course for me it is the countryside and history more than the cities but the images I have carried in my head all these years, put there by poems, prose, history, films and photos, is what I have found when I visit.
    My contact with the English has also confirmed those characteristics you mentioned but I must add "inner strength" to them - how they could possibly have colonised such a harsh and different land as Australia amazes me but the English endure, they just get on with it and get the job done. Or they did in the past. Perhaps, with the blending of cultures due to immigration these days, those characteristics are changing.
    Another thought provoking post. Keep them coming.

  14. I think Lesley has a point re the queueing. Having stood in queues at ski lifts there is a definite tendency for us Brits to wait our "turn" whilst others push past!
    Great post Jane.

  15. This is a great post Jane - I have been pondering a reply, and meanwhile everyone seems to have covered all corners. However I do think we have a tendancy to accept our lot and look at the very ambitious as being rather 'pushy'. We like our successes to be achieved by quietly beavering away to emerge triumphant at the top without treading on anyone's toes on the way up.

  16. Reading these posts makes my list of other things seem like complaining. Still, here goes!
    We put up with things without complaining about bad service etc; we're helpful to strangers, and 'most' of us want to get out of Europe - I wish!
    The Countryside Alliance doesn't speak for all country people, some of us are anti blood sports.
    Snowdrops, beech trees in leaf in the spring, soft rainfall which makes England so green.
    Guy Fawkes celebrations even if so many people don't know these days what it commemorates.
    And our humour is definitely different - being jokily rude to friends!

  17. I agree with most of the above and would just like to add our obsession with the weather!!!

  18. What a nice post. The thing which I notice specially when taking overseae visitors around is that we do put a value on providing good things for people as a matter of principle. So many free things to do on the South bank, so much lovely public art, so much care taken to try and include everyone.

    There is so much focusing on the negatives always (and yes, I know that there is much that is horrid too) but actually I think we're pretty good compared with most other countries in that particular way.

  19. I really love the England that you think of, more people should see it that way xx

  20. Finding something funny when the going gets tough. I like our humour and Yorkshire puddings!
    You always post wonderful photographs!
    Thank you for your encouraging comments on my blog.
    Lucy xxxxx

  21. It is an interesting post and a subject that I have thought of many times having lived in France and now being back in England.
    National traits, I think of:
    - Polite (but not as much as before, standards have dropped over the past 30 years, not as much respect)
    - Good at queuing up and waiting for their turn.
    - Not so good when it comes to complaining about something.They don't like to "make a fuss" and will end up putting up with something rather than getting what they want.
    -They like tradition
    - They pay too much attention to status.
    When I used to live in France in the 70s, I remember the British/English were thought of as very polite with excellent manners. Sadly a lot has changed and when you think English, a gentleman is no longer the first thing that you think of. I do long for the England of years ago....the one I experience as a child and teenager, perhaps not the food though :-) That has improved so very much, thankfully.
    I certainly don't see the French in the same ways as many English people do. There good points and bad points on both sides. When I go to Supermarkets in France, the queues tend to be long and the assistant always seems to take her time. It is then that I think that back in England, that kind of wait would not be tolerated.On the other hand, French children tend to be politer than English children and show more respect towards their parents and Grandparents. This has gone very downhill in recent years in England...
    Oh well, I could rabbit on about this a lot more but that is quite enough from me :-)
    Isabelle x

  22. Very interesting, Jane. I am well aware that not all English live in little villages with thatched roofs, roses 'round the door, sheep in the meadow, etc. but, please let me enjoy my little fantasy! LOL! Just the thought of it, (and the photos you share with us of those ancient stone walls) and your pleasant pauses to have tea and refreshments, just brings me such peace! I think that may be a huge reason of why I enjoy your blog so much! Such peace and beauty! I marvel at your mild weather and wish I were there when we are all froze up for 5 months here in the USA! I personally do not know an English person (although a youth pastor at our church grew up in England--parents still live there), but I have heard that they are rather reserved and shocked at how North Americans seem to be loud and outspoken--and many are! I won't go on about the way Americans are, although I will say that yes, many will not put up with slow service or the sense of being taken advantage of, there are also many who are humble and will not 'demand' rights and will try their best to get along with others in all situations. I believe that there are more 'pushier' types in the cities than there are in small towns and the country-- in smaller populations we know we have to get along with our neighbor cause they might be the teller at the bank or the doctor we see when we are sick! In the city, you can tromp all over someone and never see them again in your life!

    Thanks for a great post, it really got me thinking. Overall, I just want to say that I enjoy the English blogs and admire the English for being such strong individuals--especially during WWII. I love and enjoy hearing about life in the U.K. and elsewhere in the world!

    Oh, BTW, I will take some time to read your school/childhood memories.

  23. P.S. Not being more than 70 miles from the sea in any direction is FANTASTIC! No wonder it seems as if every English blogger gets to visit a beach everytime I turn around! Ha!

  24. Very good and interesting post.

    Don't think there is much I can add, possibly we love our gardens.


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