On, on you noblest (?) English!

What is it to be English? I hinted at stereotyping of Americans a few posts ago and that plus this piece on BBC online's magazine section got me thinking not only about what it is to be English but also how the rest of the world perceives us. I don't particularly associate my England or Englishness with any of the 'top 12 icons' on the government's list.

But then as the BBC says, it's different strokes for different folks:

"To John Major it's warm beer and cricket. To the Sun newspaper it's Jordan's chest and chicken tikka masala"

Of all the 4 countries in the UK, England seems to be the most multicultural (an inheritance from it's empirical days) and the one that, perhaps as a consequence of this, struggles with its identity the most.

So I thought, seeing as I know at least 2 of the people who read my blog will be able to give me an outsider's perspective, I'd ask what is England and Englishness to you? Don't pull any punches. I've written down a few notes and I'll publish them honestly and see how they compare.


Anonymous Serge said...

Okay, a personal look on England (albeit inexhaustive):

Warm beer, yes (unfortunately!!), but cricket: not really (probably because I have never understood nor seen a match anyway). Great football, even for a not-so-keen-football supporter (sorry, Sam, don't know the first thing about rugby). Chicken tikka massala: yes please. Lovely. But you can have that over here as well. Although I have to admit that I learnt to appreciate Indian food in the UK. As well as pub grub and the strangest 'cuisine' in the world (the pies, the puddings, the humongous peas, ... - fortunately, the likes of Jamie Oliver, Ainsley Harriott or Nigella Lawson are teaching the English how to cook properly nowadays ;-)). Of course: pubs in general, especially on Sunday afternoons (don't ask me why, but on Sunday afternoons when in England I always seem to end up in a pub watching football or Formula 1 racing). For the rest it's about great music (in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s as well as now), too many hypes when it comes to new bands as well, great shopping possibilities (esp. in London around Camden and Portobello Rd - if any in Birmingham, let me know), great literature (love some'recent' authors like William Sutcliffe and Nick Hornby), a country of true metropolitan city life as well as lovely outdoors (yes, the rural clichés), B&Bs, left-hand-side-of-the-road-driving, weird landladies (some strange idea bout England I have even without ever experiencing it), a university/college system (apart from the fact that it's way too expensive and unheard of that a student has to take loans to be able to afford it) that I find very intriguing/appealing (as a lecturer I can only dream of having my room on campus where I can see the students and discuss their work - okay, this is probably because of watching too much Morse), great detective series (Morse, of course, but also Prime Suspect, Dalziel & Pascoe as well Frost - not such a big fan of Midsomer murders though, nor Silent Witness), the BBC (every European tv station's example probably), euroscepticism, a great yet strange combination of multiculturalism and tradition (perhaps the fact of having held on the traditions has been one of the reasons for people to not see newcomers as a threat?), lager louts and binge drinking, horribly loud and sometimes even frightening hordes of girls going out on Friday and/or Saturday night, extremely polite, stiff-upper-lip type gentlemen (and ladies), cunning beggars in London who seem to have a sixth sense for foreigners, always managing to talk them (well, me at least) into giving them some change, and of course probably one of the worst health care systems in the western world (although that is also just hear-say in my case). A complete list? Probably not, but that's just what pops to mind more or less spontaneously. Oh: don't hesitate to tell me what you think of Belgium/Belgians (if anything - and no, we're not all Hercule Poirot types ;-) )...

2:03 pm  
Blogger Pub said...

Serge, a fantastic stream of consciousness musing on the old Albion and exactly what I was asking for…

A brief response (I'll post more later):

Warm beer – yes please, but when in Rome…
Cricket – played the English way and listened to on BBC radio 4 there's no finer background to a summer Saturday afternoon.
Pubs – with a nickname like mine I can hardly disagree surely?
Great shopping possibilities – Birmingham has got lots of well kept secrets. A brief trip to the new Selfridges building/Bullring (mostly chain stores) and then on to the hidden jewels of the Custard Factory, the Jewellery Quarter and the little indy shops in places like Moseley – If you come over, I'll take you on a tour (and if you're lucky, take you to the cricket ;) )
Weird landladies – where do you think the pythons got their inspiration for half their crones from?
Dalziel & Pascoe – filmed on campus, right outside my office
Horribly loud and sometimes even frightening hordes of girls – and some questioned the decision to let 'girls' into the British army?

As for all things Belgian, the stereotypes we have over here tend to go for the obvious – Europe (for many Brussels is seen as Satan's own lair); Beer (we insist on drinking gallons of Stella Artois – when are you going to ship us over the good stuff?) and chocolate; and, unfortunately, boredom (although I have no idea why). I'm in London tomorrow and in your honour I will dine at Belgo's (Belgian restaurant specialising in beer and moules frites) and give you my humble opinion on our attempt at Belgian)

2:59 pm  
Anonymous Serge said...

Sorry Sam - went to Belgo's myself a couple of years ago. What they serve you there is perhaps somewhat inspired on Belgian cuisine, but is hardly the real thing... It's like eating Chinese outside China. With one difference: Chinese in China is said to be horrible at times: Belgian food in Belgium is usually better than the copy abroad (unless cooked by a Belgian chef, of course). And you know how 'No Copy' feels about copies... :-D Why not go for the good old, typically English (lol)chicken tikka massala?

4:05 pm  
Anonymous Serge said...

Oh, I forgot. I'll try and post a/some link(s) about real Belgian beer (and not just 'pils' aka lager) some time soon...

4:10 pm  
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