Great Britain: the Land of Traditions
Министерство Образования Саратовской
Учреждение Лицей № 37
Фрунзенского района г. Саратова
Great Britain: the Land of
Саратов, 2009 г.
1. Roots of stereotypes
2. Parliament and the Royal Family
4. Food and Eating Habits
List of Literature
has a stereotyped reputation of some kind or other, partly good, partly bad.
The French are supposed to be cheerful, sophisticated, intelligent people, fond
of good food and the opposite sex. At the same time it is often said that they
are intolerant, excitable and somewhat unpredictable. The Americans are said to
be energetic, hospitable, mobile and sociable, but rather boastful and showy.
According to the results of the survey conducted among senior students of
Lyceum 37 85 per cent find the British even-tempered, modest, tolerant, 60 per
cent believe typical Brits to be cheerful and generous while 5 per cent call
them calculating and prudent.
We don’t mean
that national reputations are simply a matter of prejudice and false
generalization. There is no denying that national differences in manners and
outlooks do exist. There is no denying either that since these differences
arise out of the specific development of each country they tend to change over
time while stereotyped images remain unchanged. As James O’Driscoll puts it,
“Societies change over time while their reputations lag behind”.
We decided to
study some stereotyped images of the United Kingdom and try to understand
whether they are true to life or have completely or partially changed. Since it
is impossible to examine all aspects of public life in the country all cultural
and socio cultural peculiarities, we have chosen only 3 areas: as the political
system of the country, food and clothes. As political system of Great Britain
seems to be rather complicated and deserves special studies we have only
touched it upon focusing on a few changes. Besides the listed below our
research is based on the studies by James O’Driscoll and David MCDowal.
1. Roots of stereotypes
example is an open fire-place which is called the focus of a traditional
British home even in some recently published school course books. It is worth
mentioning that open fire places were forbidden in London in the previous
century which helped London residents get rid of pea-soup fogs described by
English classical authors.
popular belief that Britain is the land of tradition should be considered with
a grain of salt. It is based on what can be seen in public life and on
centuries of political continuity. At the same time one should not forget that
most of the formalized rituals , for example the State Opening of Parliament
and Trooping the Colour, were invented during the reign of Queen Victoria (not
earlier) to generate a feeling of timeless tradition as a counterweight to the
social shock waves of the industrial Revolution.
at the level of public life it is true. However, in their private everyday
lives the British as individuals, are probably less inclined to follow
tradition than are the people of most other countries. There are very few
ancient customs that are followed by the majority of families on special
occasions. The country has fewer local parades and ceremonies with genuine folk
roots than most other countries have. The English language has fewer sayings
and proverbs that are in common everyday use than many other languages do. No
wonder the most popular well-attend festival in the whole Britain is the annual
Notting Hill Carnival in London at the end of August which is of Caribbean
Even when a
British habit conforms to the stereotype, the wrong conclusions can sometimes
be drawn from it. Let us take queuing, for example. The authors of the “How to
be British” collection Martyn Ford and Peter Legon write, “It is not true that
queuing in Britain has died out. Only the bus queue seems to have dissolved
more or less into continental free-for-all. For to a post office, or bank, or
supermarket check-out and you will find the custom is thriving, with special rails
and tapes to keep the line straight.
is a low and mean offence. Not fame nor wealth, not merit nor urgency will get
you to the front of the queue” All this, however, does not mean that British
people enjoy queuing. Many of them refer to it as a problem. Some banks promise
to reduce the time they serve their customers from 2 minutes and 3 seconds to only
2 minutes. In fact the British hate having to wait and are less patient than
people in many other countries,
other stereotyped images and false assumptions (for example those of Russian
people drinking vodka from samovars and eating caviar with wooden spoons) the
British ones derive from books , songs or plays which were written a long time
ago and which are no longer representative of modern life.
Many of them
are preserved in order to draw more tourists to the country. The British
themselves think that people from other countries should be cautious about
generalizations as what is often regarded as typically British may in fact be
only typically English or typically Welsh. Another reason for caution relates
to the large-scale immigration to Britain from the countries-members of the
Commonwealth. The new British have made their own contribution to British life
probably helped to make people more informal, they have changed the nature of
the “corner shop”. The annual Notting Hill Carnival, mentioned above, is
another convincing argument.
All the above
mentioned does not mean the British are not what they have always been. They
are. They may not behave in traditional ways, but still they appreciate symbols
of tradition and stability. They value continuity over modernity and 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 and result in great pride of being different.
Since the main
objective of our research is to prove that many stereotyped images of Britain
are not true to life any longer we are going to focus on a few out of date
assumptions and generalization including the political system, food and
2. Parliament and the Royal
school students know about the political system of the United Kingdom is that
the monarch is the official head of state and an integral part of Parliament in
her constitutional role, who, in fact, has no real power but plays a ceremonial
role and represents the country abroad. British Parliament, the lawmaking body,
consists of two chambers-the House of Commons, the members of which are
elected, and the House of Lords, the members of which are permanent. However
British Parliament is no longer what it used to be even 30 years ago.
In 1988 a group of distinguished politicians, lawyers, academics, writers and journalists began to
campaign under the title Charter 88 for wide ranging reforms. They called for
Bill of Rights, to protect individual liberties, and for a written constitution
to define and limit the powers of Parliament. This call could be explained by
numerous facts of violations of human rights and personal liberties during
the1980ies.As a result of this campaign in 1990 the European Court of Justice
made a historic decision that British courts must suspend any act of Parliament
which breaches the rights of citizens guaranteed by European Community Law. Parliamentary
sovereignty is, therefore, already limited by European Union membership.
The House of
Lords has also undergone dramatic changes. Although it consists of more than
one thousand peers, average daily attendance is only about 300 and most of
these are life peers who retain a strong interest in the affairs of state. The
idea of life peerage was introduced in 1958 to elevate to the peerage certain
people who have rendered political or public service to the nation in order to
enhance the quality of business done in the Lords.
numerous changes introduced to the activities of the House of Commons is
“selected committee” system which was created to examine and monitor government
departments and policies, and the manner in which ministers discharge their
committee system consists of 17 individual committees “shadowing” the
expenditure, administration and policy of the main government departments. Each
committee has a more or less permanent cross party membership, all of whom have
acquired considerable expertise in their respective fields. They give an
opportunity for MPs to act more independently of their party than they are able
to do in the debating chamber. During the period of Conservative government in
the 1980ies, for example, members of select committees, including their
Conservative members, were strongly critical of the government.
The fact that
Parliament debates are now televised in spite of the traditional British
obsession with secrecy can tell volumes about the dynamic changes. Even the
institution of monarchy has to get adjusted to the new conditions. For the last
two centuries the public have wanted their monarchs to have high moral
standards Queen Victoria as a hard working, religious mother of nine children,
devoted to her husband, Prince Albert, was regarded as the personification of
In 1936 Edward
VIII, the uncle of the present Queen, was forced to abdicate because be wanted
to marry a woman who had divorced two husbands. The government and the major
churches in the country insisted that Edward could not marry her and remain
King. In 200 Prince Charles , the heir to the British throne married Camilla
Parker Bowles, a divorcee , who had been his lover for many years and the
monarchy did not fall.
At the end of
the 20ieth century the members of the royal family made the headlines of nearly
all the country’s tabloids. The year 1992 was called “annus horribilis” by the
Queen and the fire at Windsor Castle was hardly the worst of the Queen’s
troubles. In January the Duchess of York, Prince Andrew’s wife, popularly known
as “Fergie”, was reliably reported to be having an affair. In February Princess
Diana on tour with her husband in India, posed alone in front of the Taj Mahal,
conveying the unmistakable message that her marriage was also in trouble. In
March the Duke and Duchess of York announced their separation. In April
Princess Anne and her husband divorced. In June, a young journalist, Andrew
Morton, published a book entitled “ Diana: Her True Story” which made public
Charles’s long standing relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.
revelations came in quick succession as the newspapers competed to buy the most
lurid stories, photographs and tapes of telephone calls involving various
members of the Royal Family. It was little wonder that the Queen publicly
referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilis”
death the Royal Family began to modify its image in order to survive. It has
become less grand, a little less distant. Only few can say whether it will help
return people’s love and admiration.
in which stereotypes and modern life, traditions and innovations come into
conflict is clothes. For modern Russians a typically British gentleman is
hardly associated with John Bull as the name and the character seem rather
obscure , but the stereotyped image of the London’s city gent’ includes the
wearing of a suit and a bowler hat , holding a walking stick and smoking a pipe
or a sigar. The stereotyped image of the lady of the manor is something between
Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher and Miss Marple. When Madonna bought an
ancient mansion in England she did her best to look like a lady wearing a
woolen twin set and a thread of pearls.
In fact, a
photograph taken at random in a busy street on a Saturday, would tell an
observer very little about the lace, the season, the social class or the work
done by the people, so diversified have the clothes worn by the British become.
One can make the generalization that people over 50 tend to dress more
traditionally and formally at least when on a visit to “town” , whereas the
population under the age of 45 to 50 presents a variety of costume that, at its
extreme , turns the street into a fancy – dress parade . There is no uniformity
of skirt length, trouser width, or of style in general beyond some vague
similarities of detail that allow one to characterize some as “Punks”, others
as “Goths” or as executive types.
It is true
that a small number of the upper and professional upper middle class, for
example barristers, diplomats and Conservative MPs dress in specially tailored
suits. Yet how they dress is wholly unrepresentative of whole society. In
general the British are comparatively uninterested in clothes. It all depends
on whether a person is playing a public role or a private role. When people are
“on duty” they have to obey some quite rigid rules. A male bank employee, for
example, is expected to wear a suit with a tie, even if he can not afford a
very smart one. On the other hand, when people are not playing a public role-
when they are just being themselves – there seem to be no rules at all. You may
find, for example, the same bank employee, on his lunch break in hot weather,
walking through the streets with his tie round his waist and his collar
unbuttoned. He is no longer “at work” and for his employers to criticize him
for his appearance would be seen as a gross breach of privacy.
because of the clothing formalities that many people have to follow during the
week, the British, unlike the people of many other countries, like to “dress
down” on Sundays. They can’t wait to take off their respectable working clothes
and slip into something really scruffy. Lots of men and women who wear suits
during the week can then be seen in old sweaters and jeans, sometimes with
holes in them.
spend a lower proportion of their income on clothing than people in most other
European countries do. Many people buy second hand clothes and are not at all
embarrassed to admit it. There can be few countries where people who can afford
new clothes deliberately choose to buy the “cast-offs” of others. It is true
that many who buy their clothes from charity shops are genuinely needy. But
equally, many are not. They choose to buy their clothes in these shops because
they are cheap and because they sometimes find wonderful bargains, almost new
high-quality items that cost next to nothing. Sir Paul McCartney, one, of the
richest men in the UK, boasts of such purchases. David McDowall, the author of
“Britain in Close-Up” writes, “There is a tolerance, shabbiness and
inventiveness in the way some, particularly the young, dress.”
touched upon shabbiness and tolerance, now we are going to focus on
inventiveness. Since the 1960ies the British and not the French or Italians
have set fashion for young rebels all over Europe. It is not accidental that a
mini skirt which made not only a fashion revolution but a revolution in our
minds was designed by a British designer Mary Quant. It is not accidental
either that she was awarded the O.B.E (Order of the British Empire) given by
the Queen, which she collected in Buckingham Palace dressed in a many skirt.
It may seem
astonishing at first sight but in fact there is nothing odd in it. The British
have always been known for their individualism and independence. One can find
the freakiest freaks, Freaks with the capital letter, even among the characters
of Charles Dickens. So those who sold and bought clothes in Carnaby street in
the 60ies (Freddy Mercury was among those who frequented it) simply followed
Thus love of
second hand clothes can be explained not only by traditional British thrift but
by a strong desire of the most dress-conscious young people to find astonishing
apparel and look sensational, almost unique.
but surely London is becoming the fashion capital of the world and St Martin’s
school has already become the fashion mecca. The label “Made in UK” does not
mean only high quality and traditional cut. It also means the latest fashion
and revolutionary design.
beginning of the chapter we mentioned the image of a typical British woman that
resembles the Queen, Lady Thatcher and Miss Marple at one and the same time.
The only thing Vivienne Westwood, a famous British designer, has in common with
the above mentioned ladies is her age. But in spite of her age this red-haired
woman always dressed in clothes of her own design and accompanied by a very
young boyfriend represents a new, more sophisticated attitude of the British to
fashion. May be soon their reputation for being the worst dressed people in
Europe will cease to exist.
4. Food and Eating Habits
is no other area, where stereotypes and change can be traced more vividly than
that related to food. In their book “Managing Cultural Differences” Harris and
Moran state, “The manner in which food is selected, prepared, presented, and
eaten often differs by culture. One man’s pet is another person’s delicacy …
also differ …Even when cultures use a utensil such as a fork, one can
distinguish a European from an American by which hand holds the implement”.
However , as
it has been mentioned before , societies change over time and food and eating
habits are not an exception .If we compare traditional English food to what the
majority of the population (residents of big cities in particular) eat now the
changes will be dramatic .
If we ask
middle-aged English –learners (we refer teachers of English to this group as
learning a foreign language is a life-long process) what textbook was extremely
popular in the 60ies, 70ies and even the 80ies of the previous century, many of
them are likely to name Essential English by C.E. Eckersley .At that time it
was the most relevant (reliable) source of information. According to the book
“the usual meals are breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner or in simpler homes,
breakfast, dinner, tea and supper. The usual English breakfast is porridge or
Corn Flakes with milk or cream and sugar, bacon and eggs, marmalade (made from
oranges) with buttered toast, and tea and coffee. For a change you can have a
boiled egg, cold ham, or perhaps fish”.
In fact, only
about 10% of the people in Britain actually have this sort of breakfast. Even
those who do eat cereal instead of Corn Flakes and a fry-up instead of bacon
and eggs, a fry-up being a mixture of such ingredients as eggs, bacon,
sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms and even bread fried together. Two-thirds of the
British have cut out the fry-up and just have the cereal, tea and toast. The
rest have even less. What the majority of British people eat in the mornings is
much closer to what they call a “continental” or European breakfast than to the
The image of a
British gentleman eating an underdone beef steak is also out of date. Since
most people have afternoon meals at work they have to do with what the nearest
eating place offers. James O’Driscoll mentions two types of eating places used
during the day, both of which are comparatively cheap. One is a workman’s
café (pronounced ‘caff’) frequented by manual workers who want a filling
or substantial meal. It offers mostly fried food. The other popular place is a
fast food outlet. Surprisingly as it may seem fast food outlets are now more
common in Britain than they are in most other countries. Although it may
contradict the stereotyped idea of British conservatism and hatred of all
foreign or American, the popularity of fast food restaurants can be explained
sociologically. They have no class associations and as a result are visited by
people of various backgrounds.
eating place which can still be called typically English and can hardly be
found anywhere else is the fish-and–chips shop, used in the evening for
“take-away” meals. The fish is deep fried which contradicts another stereotype
that the British eat everything boiled. In fact typical British cooking
involves a lot of roasting.
All the above
mentioned stereotypes can be referred to as minor and unimportant in comparison
to the stereotyped image of the British as the greatest tea drinkers in the
world. May be about 50 years ago this statement (assumption) was true. It is
not accidental that the English language is so rich in idioms related to tea.
One can hardly imagine an English man or woman without a cup of strong tea they
enjoy sitting by the fire place. However, this may seem a bit out of date. It
is true that tea is still prepared in a distinctive way (strong and with milk),
but more coffee than tea is now bought in the country’s shops. As for the
tradition of afternoon tea with biscuits, scones, sandwiches or cake, this is a
minority activity, largely confined to retired people and the leisured
have “elevences” rather than five o’clock tea. Elevences is a cup of tea or
coffee at around eleven o’clock. In fact, people drink tea or coffee whenever
they feel like it. This is usually quite often.
For the urban
working class (and a wider section of the population in Scotland and Ireland)
tea is the evening meal, eaten as soon as people get home from work. More often
than not this is called supper.
modern Brits are not the world’s biggest tea drinkers, they take the first
place in the world in consuming sugar- more than five kilograms per person per
year. It is common in most households for family meal to finish with a prepared
sweet dish which is called either “pudding” or “sweet” or “desert”. Sugar is
also present in almost every tinned food item and sweets which means both all
kinds of chocolate and also what Americans call “candy”.
would be incomplete if we didn’t mention a pub, one of the strongholds of
British traditions, but even this has yielded (surrendered) to the time.
Traditionally pubs used to serve almost nothing but beer and spirits. These
days you can get wine, coffee and some hot food at most of them as well. While
in1980 food accounted for only 10 per cent of profits now it accounts for more
than 30 per cent.
At one time,
it was unusual for women to go to the pubs. These days, only a few pubs exist
where it is surprising for a woman to walk in.
served in modern pubs is not what it used to be. Since most pubs are not
privately owned and belong to huge breweries they offer their customers what is
known as keg beer, a pasteurized brew containing Carbon dioxide, which is
easier to store . Another threat to pub quality is the noise of loud music
making conversation harder with a counterfeit atmosphere of conviviality.
It has become
a commonplace to say that studying a foreign language is impossible without
studying a foreign culture. Although food and clothing peculiarities we have
examined in our research may seem unimportant at first sight their significance
can’t be underestimated. A lot of people still fail to understand that cultural
differences arise out of the specific development of each country and tend to
assume that the manners, customs and habits of their own country represent more
or less absolute norms. When they hear, or discover for themselves, that people
in other countries act and think differently, they assume that this is odd,
unnatural or even abnormal. Then it’s only a small step to regarding their own
nation superior to all others. When these people leave their home country for
another one “culture shock” is the merest problem they are destined to face.
is based on four crucial notions: diversity, tolerance, respect, and consensus.
Without an awareness of diversity and tolerance it is difficult to develop
respect. Without respect it is impossible to achieve consensus. It is our hope
that the present research gives an opportunity to go beyond stereotyped images,
to examine the more complex realities of modern Britain and its people. It also
attempts to assess the changes taking place in modern Britain, at least, in
some areas of activity. Consequently it may be viewed as our contribution to
the development of modern multicultural multi polar society.
1.Adrian Room, An A to Z
of British Life, Oxford University Press,1990
2.Ford Martyn, Legon
Peter, The How to be British collection, Lee Gone Publications, 2007
3.McDowall David, Britain
in close-up , Longman, Person Education Limited 1999
Britain, Oxford University Press , 1995
5.Polhemus Ted, Street
style: From walk to Catwalk, Thames and Hudson
6. Silk Paul, How
Parliament works, Longman 1987
7. Sampson, Anthony , The
Essential Anotony of Britain : Democracy in Crisis , Hodolerand Stoughton 1992.