Review 2006

Kate asks:
Do you think any of the cultural stereotypes about English people are true?

The Misterpoll website has a quiz which attempts to demonstrate how the stereotypes seen in popular culture differ from actuality. Within they actually list the expectations of the stereotype. It's quite shocking to see your entire culture reduced to nine bullet points, and perhaps even more shocking to see how many are actually true.

Drinking tea We do drink an awful lot of tea. Although Starbucks (bless them) and other coffee chains have run riot through all of our city centres making them all look like mini-Seattles, I don't think it's possible to go anywhere without being offered a tea and I'm even drinking a cup right now. I probably go through about three a day and I've never really known why - it doesn't taste that good. But it's warm and brown and it doesn't give you bad breath like coffee. I don't think many people take 'high tea' any more, but when I was working at an art gallery we did have a tea break in the morning and afternoon which felt very civilized and it was the first time I learnt the wonders of warming the mug or pot first.

Wearing bowler (derby) hats I have never seen anyone wearing a bowler hat in the wild. I don't even remember being in a shop that sells them. Most of anything I see around are woolen hats, caps and the kind of fisherman's friend my Dad favours.

Carrying umbrellas Oh yes, everyone carries umbrellas. I think. But not the big black ones you're expecting. Sometimes the golf umbrellas. Mostly they're the ones that fold up and you can keep in your bag. Every job I've had in my career has involved trying to avoid the umbrellas in a doorway, opened out and drying, which I was always told as a child was bad luck.

Talking about the weather Given that I somehow managed to spend a whole question during this obviously misdescribed Review 2006 talking about the weather somewhat proves that it's a national pastime and actually there isn't all that much wrong with that. It's an ice breaker, it's something total strangers have in common and everyone is an expert. And always remember that if it's a rainy day, people will complain but paradoxically they'll also complain if it's just too sunny. People like to talk and it gives them something to talk about. Perhaps Douglas Adams was right, if we do ever stop talking, our brains will seize up.

Speaking in rhyming slang I would say that's a cultural stereotype which is local to London but given that you never see people using it too often in documentaries about the place, I'd say it's only really perpetuated in Guy Ritchie films.

Crooking their little finger when drinking It happens. I think I even do it, although my little finger is slightly crooked and won't bend properly when I do anything. It just sort of hangs there when I type. I just thought everyone did this.

Drinking warm beer That's a stereotype? I don't drink much beer so I can't really comment, although I'd imagine that people go chilled if they can. There is a pub in Liverpool city centre whose chillers never work properly and their beer is always warm. Does that count?

Rioting over soccer Not as much as they used to but it's still prevalent, if not endemic. It does seem to be self perpetuating though. Often with British fans travel abroad, security is stepped up because of the reputation, which means that sometimes there is overkill which can lead to retaliation if too much booze has been drunk. Sometimes I suspect that if the police in these areas weren't expecting a fight, there wouldn't be one.

Queueing The British love to queue. In the January Sales there were massive queues within most stores and its amazing how patient people were being. I did notice that sometimes they were going out their way to queue. In HMV for example, people were simply going to the main bank and there were smaller satellite tills, in the classical music section for example, that were being completely ignored. I suppose the most exciting queue I ever saw happened with Jacqueline Wilson was signing at the WH Smiths and people stood all of the way up Church Street and nearly onto Bold Street.

Being spanked I've looked at this back and forth and I really can't decide on the context. I'm guessing it isn't a sexual thing, but that that pat on the behind that was memorably a plot point in an episode of Friends in which case, oh no. It would lead to much punching.

There were some items missing on that list which I was really expecting, but luckily the wikipedia has filled in the gap:

The English people are stereotyped as being extremely proper, prudish, and stiff with bad teeth. Running my tongue across my molars I can sadly concur with the final item, but given all of the rumpus about binge drinking amongst women and everything else, I think you can actually say the rest is true of British people anymore. It's a generational thing, and people my age and younger do appear to be a lot more . . . relaxed. But, I suppose, it also depends on the social class you're from. Sex and swearing are no longer taboos.

So most of these stereotypes are true, which about what you should expect. That's the point with stereotypes. There is always a ring of truth about them...


  1. Anonymous11:57 pm

    I'm quite partial to a spanking ;)

  2. Anonymous12:17 pm

    Hmm... As a Canuck who lived in the UK for the better part of a decade, I learned many things about my heritage. (My entire family is British; there's a town in Darby with our name)

    One of the things I learned was that no matter where you live, don't think for a second that you automatically have an onjective -or even particularly informed- opinion of your country or your nation-mates...unless you've lived somewhere else. (And that's just a start.)

    So: 'stereotypes'? I think you've covered most of them (but missed a choice few). What I'd have to offer would be considered more 'insights' than confirmations about stereotypes.

  3. Thank you for commenting on this. What did I miss?

  4. Anonymous10:07 pm

    1) Fabulous, endemic sense of humour. (This is creeping into my 'insights' list, but really; you guys know how to laugh. Any nation that has panto is on the right-track Life-outlookwise, in my book.)

    2) Despite being 'prudish' (a distinctly 'class-oriented' stereotype), a ribald sense of the sexual. (Benny Hill and Page 3 birds)

    3) Especially when there's beer involved...gregariously, heart-warmingly friendly. (Ask me -insights-wise? about two of the most endearing qualities connected to this, wrapped-up in language.)

    For now, as the man said, 'That'll do, Pig. That'll do."