Hello and hi. FYI: this post is L-O-N-G. You may want to read this if you have both the time and inclination to do so, as well as make yourself a nice cup of tea, to drink, while you read this. And please use freshly boiled spring water and not water from the Thames. Ok, let’s do this.
You just gotta love British Culture. Am I right? I mean, if you don’t…well then, we simply can’t be friends. The other day we celebrated the 4th of July back home in the U S of A. Truth be told, there was not much fanfare here in the UK about that particular holiday. Why is that exactly? Sheesh. Mind you, I did fly my American flag that day in my garden. And I largely ignored the strange looks I received, as I stepped onto the Underground, draped in the American Flag, along with my crown, similar to the one that the Statue of Liberty wears. Oh. Yes. I. Did.
Perhaps I went too far-perhaps some sensible trousers, a long-sleeved t-shirt from the GAP and some brogues would have been a better idea. Well, whatever-I wore my American flag on the London Underground…and I totally rocked it. In addition, I heard things on the 4th of July. Things I did not like. For example: “Happy colonial agression day.” Along with other sentiments of similar notions. What the what? You really want to talk about colonial agression with me, mate? No, I don’t think you want to. Trust me on this. In the finish, it was a pretty good day and I was happy and homesick in equal measure.
Check it, I now hang my hat in London Town. You should visit. You really should. I highly recommend it. I have been living here for more than a NY minute and I just love living here. I will not wax lyrical too much about London, but it IS the ‘bee’s knees’ as they say. It is pretty fab.
So, what exactly is British Culture? This is a difficult question to answer. What is American Culture? See how BIG that question is? Exactly.
The UK is a developed island country. I once referred to it as a ‘small island’ and was gently corrected. I hate that. Please don’t correct me, just let me live in my own blissful ignorance…I am American, after all. Yes, I said it. But seriously, Tobago is a small island….the UK is not. That being said, the UK is comprised of FOUR nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales-each with its own customs, cultures, symbolism and yes, languages and dialects. Wow. How amazingly great is that?
British culture can be seen in literature, music, art, comedy, philosphy, architecture and so much more. In addition, it is important to add that British culture is constantly evolving-which is pretty wonderful, in my opinion. You have just got to know that when you come to the UK, it is a vibrant, heady mix -with an infusion of a multitude of cultures and ethnicities.
In the UK, The Downton Abbey lifestyle may be a reality for some, but those people are probably landed gentry with inherited titles (and land) who attended the best boarding schools and most likely Cambridge and Oxford too. And while those people are perfectly fine people, they are not the mainstream. That being said, I knew someone at University (I attended University here in the UK) who had a title, and he was pretty embarrassed about it-after all, he did not ask to be born with a title, nor did he want one. But sometimes life hands you a bad hand. You better believe that if I had a TITLE, I would insist on being called ‘Lady’…yeah…more like ‘Lady Muck.’
Anyway, when that aforementioned chap’s Pa dies, that chap is going to inherit a massive stone house/estate in Scotland, along with his Pa’s title and he will have to work pretty hard to keep his centuries-old house running smoothly as he prepares it for the next generation. Oh, and when he has kids, his boy children will inherit everything, as for the girls-he may or may not have… well, they can go fly a kite. Have fun you lasses- you do NOT win a prize. Nope. The point I am trying to make here, is that this ain’t no Downton Abbey, here in the UK…but for a select few, it is.
In terms of the Arts, the UK has clearly inherited the literary traditions of England, Scotland and Wales, including the earliest existing native literature written in the Celtic languages, Old English literature and of course the more recent English literature including the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton. A quick anecdote: when I was in school, I had to memorise passages of Beowulf, in Old English. It was so gosh darn hard-but you know what- I remember every single word. Language and words are my everything. Total wordsmith, me Truth. Yup.
In terms of architecture in the UK, this particular subject matter has so many features that precede the creation of the UK in 1707-from as early as Skara Brae and Stonehenge to the Giant’s Ring, Avebury and Roman ruins. In most towns and villages-the parish church is an indication of the age of the settlement. Loads of castles still remain from the medieval period like: Windsor Caste, Stirling Castle (one of the largest and most important in Scotland), Bodiam Castle (a moated castle) and Warwick Castle. Then, over the TWO centuries following the Norman conquest of England of 1066 and the building of the Tower of London-castles such as Caenarfon Castle in Wales and Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland were built. Pictured below is Caenarfron Castle.
I could say a lot more on architecture in the UK-it is after all, ‘part and parcel’ of British culture-which also includes: Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation’s for British monarchs. Then there is Canterbury Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and lots more-too many to list.
In addition there are lots of other buildings and places of worship too. Here are some other famous British architectural buidings:
The Gherkin, The Shard
The British Museum
St. Paul’s Cathedral
London City Hall
The UK was created as an Anglican Christian country and the Anglican churches remain the largest faith group in each country of the UK, except Scotland where Anglicanism is a pretty small minority. Following this is Roman Catholicism and religions including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. Today, British Jews number around 300K with the UK having the FIFTH largest Jewish community worldwide.
In addition, William Tyndale’s 1520’s translation of the Bible was the first to be printed in English, and was a model for subsequent English translations, notably the King James Version in 1611. Further, The Book of Common Prayer of 1549 was the FIRST prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English-and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into English language.
In the 17th England, the Puritans condemned the celebration of Christmas. In contrast, the Anglican Church pressed for a more elaborate observance of feasts, penitential season’s and saint’s days. The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglicans and Puritans-at which point the Catholic Church responded by promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. But, I digress.
In my opinion, everything I have written so far is pretty interesting-and I have not even touched upon education, healthcare, politics, cuisine et al., However, I still don’t think I have properly answered the question. What is British culture? Ask this question a different way as ‘What are considered core British values?’ and perhaps the question is easier to answer. So, let’s have a go:
Core British Values (that define the nation)
- Rule of Law
- Sovereignty of the Crown
- Personal Freedom
- Free Speech
Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but rather, a few things that came to mind. In brief, ‘Britishness’ means shared values of tolerance, respect and of course freedom and democracy. But do you want to know what British people are really like? Well, you really must visit and find out for yourself. But when you come, and I hope you do, you will find that the British are: kind, patriotic, impatient, polite, reserved, humourous, liberal, traditional, eccentric, self-deprecating, pragmatic and much more.
It would be fair to say that Brits are just like you and me. But really now, come and see for yourself, mate. That is all.
God Save the Queen/Cheers