Indians should thank the British

What is the national identity of the British like?

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The national identity of the British with a focus on England

written by Christine Urbansky for the Weltbürger Scholarship Report 2014-2015


After spending more than half a year in England, I realized that the British see themselves as very individual.


In my media class I learned that national identity is actually nothing more than a community that exists in our imagination and that is based on a consensus of opinion about what it means to belong to this group.


So what does that mean in plain English?

The national identity of a group is created through our notion of common values ​​and norms. However, since everyone perceives everything differently, this picture varies from person to person and thus everyone experiences their national identity in a different way.

For some, this may be expressed through age, gender, family, social background, history, or certain famous landmarks.

It is clear, however, that just like finding one's own identity, it is very difficult to define one's own national identity, as we are now increasingly influenced by other cultures and nations through the Internet and other modern media.


For England, based on my experiences in my student exchange in Abingdon near Oxford, I made the following insights into British national identity.


The British describe themselves with the typical prejudices with which they are afflicted with us foreigners when they are asked what is "typically British" for them:

  • They complain about the weather: either it rains too often or it is too warm when the sun is shining

  • They line up neatly, always and everywhere, which I observe every day, especially at the bus stops

  • They love “typically British” food such as fish and chips, roast dinner and afternoon tea with scones


This is not a big surprise, as this is what they are best known for in the world as well.

What surprised me, however, is that they don't see themselves as part of Europe. If there is anything in the news about France or Germany, especially about travel, then you can be sure that they will be amazed at the freedoms and connections in "Europe". “Yes, in Europe it is so and so” you get to hear.


This can be traced back to the "island mentality". Although the state is in Europe, where wars for land have repeatedly taken place over the centuries, Great Britain was conquered by the French for the last time in 1066. As an island, they were not as easy to attack as states on the mainland, as attackers were visible early on.

From the 18th century the British Empire began to grow, so that in 1900 Great Britain had the largest navy in the world.

However, due to the cost of the two world wars, this shrank and eventually led to the formation of the Commonwealth. Now the island state is more or less on its own again compared to the empire around 1900. This development could have triggered the strict "island mentality".

So if you think England is just part of Europe and we are all one big community, then you will be disappointed.


Although this way of thinking may sound strange to Germans at first, it also has its good points: It gives the English security, for example. If you enter England as a European, your identity card will be checked very carefully. What seems a bit tedious and overly cautious for us travelers makes great sense from the point of view of the English. Especially after the attacks on the French cartoonists, the English fear that it will be their turn next. Since they have not been taken over by foreign troops since 1066 and therefore have little experience with the danger from outside in their country, it is only logical for them to distance themselves from the threat.


As an exchange student, too, one usually experiences that it is difficult to have more than superficial relationships with your English classmates, as they tend to keep to themselves and usually do not leave their groups of friends.


On the other hand, there are of course British people who are very interested in other cultures and, fortunately, I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with these people because I have joined the Oxford University Japan Society.

Oxford University hosts many overseas students each year and also awards many scholarships to foreigners. So it is not the case that the English act according to the motto "We just stay among ourselves", but also want cultural diversity in their country.

These exchange students are of course also desired by the English economy, as they represent money and potential for later highly qualified workers.


In the Japanese society of the University of Oxford there are countless nationalities among the members, not only Europeans, but also Asians and Americans, and the English there accept everyone for who they are.

I could imagine that this is due to a higher level of maturity of the students as opposed to the 16-17 year old teenagers in school.

In addition, most of the students have already spent a year abroad themselves and are therefore more familiar with other cultures and therefore probably more open.


Regarding the position of the British towards Europe, it can be said that although there is generally a feeling of partial demarcation, the exact opposite of great hospitality and openness is also present.

In this world, which is constantly networked by the modern media, complete isolation, especially in Europe, would also be equated with a death blow for the economy, which is why the British generally use their attractive aspects such as excellent universities and historical sights to their advantage and foreigners in these areas are extremely welcome.



Now, having considered the position of the British in the world and their view of foreigners in their country, I would like to address issues of British national identity that are evident in everyday life when the British are among themselves.


The world-famous pubs are part of adult life. After university or after work, you can meet friends or colleagues there for a beer and usually a warm meal. Here the social factor plays the most important role and the relationships between people are built up or strengthened.


If, however, you don't eat out because the food in the pubs is generally not the best and the price is high, you have dinner with your family at home or in the dormitory.

Since the English usually do not eat warm at lunchtime, with the exception of pupils in schools whose parents do not have time to cook in the evening, the main meal is supper. According to the traditional standard, “meat and two veg”, ie meat and two types of vegetables, is often served.

This variant of the “Roast Dinner” then consists of “gravy”, a sauce made from the meat stock, typical English vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, peas or cabbage and the roast.

On Sunday lunchtime, however, this is also often served in an extended version, with a greater selection of vegetables and other side dishes such as “Yorkshire puddings”.


In recent years Indian dishes and pasta have become a part of English kitchens, but many families also resort to "take away" from a fast food restaurant when there is no time to cook.

When you consider that the food in England does not have a good reputation worldwide, you shouldn't wonder why the English are not so picky about their meals.


In addition, tea is no longer really the cult drink of the English that it once was. Often instead of a cup of tea in the morning, following the American model, people switch to coffee and so far I have only seen tourists celebrate English afternoon tea.