Let’s talk about national character and stereotypes.
How do foreigners picture a typical Englishman?
Almost every nation has a reputation of some kind. The English are reputed to be cold, reserved, rather haughty people who do not yell in the street, make love in public or change their governments as often as they change their underclothes. They are steady, easy-going, and fond of sport.
The foreigner’s view of the English is often based on the type of Englishman he has met travelling abroad. Since these are largely members of the upper and middle classes, it is obvious that their behaviour cannot be taken as general for the whole people. There are, however, certain kinds of behaviour, manners and customs which are peculiar to England.
The English are a nation of stay-at-homes. There is no place like home, they say. And when the man is not working he withdraws from the world to the company of his wife and children and busies himself with the affairs of the home. "The Englishman’s home is his castle" is a saying known all over the world; and it is true that English people prefer small houses, built to house one family, perhaps with a small garden. But nowadays the shortage of building land and inflated land values mean that more and more blocks of flats are being built.
The fire is the focus of the English home. What do other nations sit round? The answer is they don’t. They go out to cafes or sit round the cocktail bar. For the English it is the open fire, the toasting fork and the ceremony of English tea. Even when central heating is installed it is kept so low in the English home that Americans and Russians get chilblains, as the English get nervous headaches from stuffiness in theirs.
Foreigners often picture the Englishman dressed in tweeds, smoking a pipe, striding across the open countryside with his dog at his heels. This is a picture of the aristocratic Englishman during his holidays on his country estate. Since most of the open countryside is privately owned there isn’t much left for the others to stride across. The average Englishman often lives and dies without ever having possessed a tweed suit.
Most English people have been slow to adopt rational reforms such as the metric system, which came into general use in 1975. They have suffered inconvenience from adhering to old ways, because they did not want the trouble of adapting themselves to new.
In which way are Scots different from the English?
The two nations of the United Kingdom have each derived from mixed sources, racially and historically. Each has developed strong national characteristics which separate them in custom, habit, religion, law and even in language.
The English are amongst the most amiable people in the world; they can also be very ruthless. They are generous in small matters but more cautious in big ones. The Scots at first glance are not so amiable. They abhor compromise, lean much upon logic and run much to extremes. They are penny-wise but can be prodigally pound-foolish. They can be dour and gray, or highly coloured and extravagant in gesture and manner.
Imagine you and your peer from Britain are discussing stereotypes. What questions would you ask him/her about the British?
What are the main national characteristics of British people?
What are the specific qualities of the British national character?
Are the British individualists?
What is your favourite saying about the British?
What stereotypes connected with the British do you know?
How not to behave badly abroad? Give some tips to travellers.
In France you shouldn’t sit down in a cafe until you’ve shaken hands with everyone you know.
In Pakistan you mustn’t wink. It’s offensive.
In the Middle East you must never use the left hand for eating, drinking or smoking. Also, you should take care not to admire anything in your host’s home. They will feel that they have to give it to you.
In Russia, you must match your host’s drink for drink or they will think you are unfriendly.
In America you should eat your hamburger with both hands and as quickly as possible. You should try to have a conversation until it’s eaten.
Do stereotypes connected with the British sound true?
Foreigners have ideas about what is "British". But some of these things are not part of most ordinary people’s everyday life. The great British
breakfast and afternoon tea, for example, are mostly found in hotels and "bed and breakfast" places for tourists. Though coffee is also popular, the British drink as much tea these days as before.
The British population (over the age of ten) drinks about 200,000,000 cups of tea a day. That is an average of nearly 1,040 cups of tea a year for each person. Tea came to Britain in the late 1500s, but it was only for the very rich. It became cheaper about three hundred years later, when it was planted in India and later in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). People from all classes started drinking it. But some people thought that too much tea was bad for your health. So they started putting milk in it, to make it healthier!
It takes time to know a British person well. British people are generally quite shy, and they do not make friends easily with strangers. Perhaps this is because they live on an island! And they are not good at learning foreign languages.
British people spend less money on clothes than the people of other European countries. Most of them are not very interested in clothes. Many British people wear suits to the office during the week, but at weekends they prefer to wear jeans.
Dr Johnson, a famous English writer, said over 200 years ago, "When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather." This is still true! Conversations between British people today often begin with the subject of the weather.