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.


  1. Mostly, I agree. But personally, I'm more at home in the kitchen than the garden, I drive rather too faster than the average Brit, am not reserved and whilst I think you have to put a brave face on some stuff, it's right not to tolerate the intolerable. More power to the French on that one - they don't just moan they act. Signed, Subjective of SWF.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Yes I have to agree, I admire the French for standing up for what they believe in. I'm not a slow driver either, I just don't overtake on bends and try not to hug the person in front.

  3. Hi Nikki, I enjoyed reading your blog and I'd like to invite to join Insego the community for expats. maybe you could re-publish this post there? I will spread a word about you:-)
    Kate, community manager

  4. Hi Kate, glad you enjoyed my blog and thanks for the invite - I'd be happy to join your community, thanks for inviting me :)

  5. Hi Nikki, I came across your blog through BritMums NaBloPoMo and this post caught my eye. I am a Brit (sort of) living in Canada and never considered myself particularly patriotic. I came to Britain from Ireland when I was still a child, so I don't really feel tied to any one country.
    In Britain, you are a small fish in a big pond - a Brit among many, but when I moved to Canada I was surprised at the sentimental feelings I harboured for Blighty. Being British here is my defining feature, for my Canadian friends anyway, so I tend to play along with it :-)
    I makes me laugh that Canadians think a British accent makes you sound soooooooo intelligent, though I sympathise with you on the French equivalent, is it still the general consensus in France that the British are a bunch of ignorant heathens?
    Who would have thought geographical location would have such an influence on how others perceive us and be at such variance with how we perceive ourselves!

  6. It's true the French are very proud and tend to think France is best at everything, which is admirable I suppose. I don't get the impression though that they think we're ignorant (apart from about food and wine and they're probably right there). I've been told the French love the English accent, but don't like the German and Dutch accents. Living in a different country really does make you look at things differently.