Sunday, July 3, 2011
7 Characteristics that define being British
When living abroad, big cultural differences between our home country and our host nation become more apparent. We live in France – it’s not that far from the UK, just separated by the English Channel, but the longer I live here the more I realise I’m probably more British than I ever thought I was.
I find it interesting that when we arrived in France from Britain we didn't feel particularly proud to be British and were keen to distance ourselves from the fact. However, there are many things that become deeply embedded into your psyche, that you don't become aware of until you are placed in a culture that thinks and behaves very differently.
So here’s a few characteristics that define being British to me:
Sense of humour – the British (on the whole) have a unique sense of humour which other cultures sometimes admire, but find it difficult to understand. They often think we’re being critical (when we’re not) or they can sometimes think we’re laughing with them (when we’re actually laughing at them). Take a look at Russell Brands hosting of the MTV Awards if you’re not sure what I mean.
Musical taste –we have some excellent musical talent in the UK. It’s very much part of the culture and something we can truly be proud of. If you listen to the radio in any European country, you will find that it’s mainly British or American music with a splattering of (bad) euro pop and rap. An English student even won X Factor in France this year and he didn't get past bootcamp in England - what does that tell us??
Gardening Knowledge – the French are noted for their Cuisine, the British are noted for their horticultural expertise (rather fortunate for us us having a Garden Centre and Landscaping business)
Driving skills – from my experience I would say that we are the safest and most courteous drivers in Europe and possibly the world. I can’t tell you how many near misses I’ve seen on the roads here. The French are (generally) very impatient drivers who drive far too close to the car in front and often overtake on a bend or at the brow of a hill.
Self-Criticism and by this I mean criticism of our own culture. It appears to me that of all the nationalities in the world, we seem to be the most ready to criticise ourselves. Many other countries seem fiercely patriotic, ignoring the bad sides of their culture and nation. However the British are more ready to accept and point out their faults and failings. Is this good or bad? I’m not sure. We also are more likely to poke fun at ourselves (mixing humour with self-criticism). Maybe it’s good to not take ourselves too seriously.
British Reserve – we are well known for our reserve as my earlier blog “No peeing outside please, we’re British”, illustrates. We like things to be clean and discreet i.e. “proper” toilets (not a hole in the ground), separate toilets and changing rooms for men and women; none of this walking through the urinals to get to the Ladies, and certainly not stripping off in front of everyone else in the swimming pool changing rooms.
Stiff upper lip – it’s a well known cliche, but I think it holds true today that part of being British is putting up with what life throws at you and just getting on with it. Whereas the French most definitely do not put up with anything they’re not happy about and will readily strike to let their feelings be known.
So what does this say about my Britishness? I’m a funny musical gardener who drives carefully, criticises myself for being a bit of a prude, but just puts up with it!
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying British is best, I’m just saying British is different and I feel it more now than I ever did. Much as I hate to admit it (a bit more self-criticism creeping in here), I am British and no matter where I go or what I experience, I think I probably always will be.