This biting winter wind that’s freezing the tips of our noses can’t stop the piercing scent of vinegar from guiding you to the local chippy. Whether it’s a cold night on a beach, as favourited by Boris Johnson, or an after work treat, fish and chips is a staple of British cuisine, and can be identified worldwide as a piece of British culture.
But what is British culture? Some, like Peter Hitchens in his first book, claim that a cultural revolution in this country has led to a rejection of God and Christianity, and thus a loss of culture:
This rejection is at the heart of his book. Is British culture dead?
Culture and Its Discontents
The concept of culture is contested worldwide. It is used in most modern discourse, including the political and artistic, but it seems not to have a clear-cut definition. Some say it is an umbrella term for characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, such as language and religion, arts and literature.
Others, throughout history, thought it was attached to class, with only the high classes seemingly able to possess culture; this being through opera, literature, and classical music which was inaccessible to the masses. Now we have an open mind (and a different definition) and include everyone. Culture seems to permeate everything. Even animals have culture.
British Culture and Us
What are the hallmarks of British culture, then? The average person may not have an opinion. My 78-year-old grandmother takes (unknowingly) Hitchens’ position that British culture has gone, and she puts it down to lack of pleasantries, manners, and civility.
A laundry list isn’t conjured when we consider Britain. Fish and chips, tea, and bad teeth come to mind when foreigners portray the brits:
We are seen as posh, with classical architecture, and perfect civility. That isn’t accurately reflected when we live here though. What is seen from abroad is different. Has the culture vanished from the inside out? I don’t think so.
Let us consider a cultural example: music. Culturally music is an important British export and our talents have changed the world. The best example is the Beatles, who not only produced classic British music and cemented Britain as the hub of rock, but also influenced and revolutionised music itself. Can we say this about today? Figures like Aphex Twin and Shabaka Hutchings continue to be icons, pushing the borders of music. We have a high culture of music.
Politics in the UK is another great example. We have an ancient system which is influential and (arguably) works extremely well for a liberal democracy. We have worldwide recognition about our previous speaker, John Bercow, the Queen, Boris, and our Queen’s Guard. We have a culture, and it’s alive still. It must be. People perceive things differently outside. They think it to be richer, whereas we are used to it.
This is a form of fatigue, perhaps. Becoming reinvigorated with British culture is key to loving the country, and also knowing yourself. You, if you’re British, are part of this culture and it affects your behaviour, thinking, and stature. In our previous article, we discussed how the love of home can help even the biggest of problems.
We should embrace what we have and run with it. We should celebrate. Study In UK gives an exhaustive list of perceived British cultural artefacts, and here it is exactly as presented:
- ‘The British are punctual.
- Never jump lines, known as “queues”, in UK.
- In the UK, it’s acceptable to keep one arm’s length between yourself and those you are speaking with.
- Please, thank you, and sorry are normal parts of everyday conversations and interactions.
- Friend or family member in UK, you do not simply shake their hand.
- The British have a high amount of respect for older adults and the disabled.
- British people rarely use superlatives and are not very animated when they speak.
- British people often avoid extended eye contact.
- If you are invited to the home of a native British person, it is normal to bring along a gift, such as chocolate, wine, or flowers to say thank you.
- If you go to a pub with your friends, it is common practice to buy a round of drinks for those who you came with.
- The person who has invited you to dinner is typically the one who pays.’
How many you agree with is up to you. We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.
Sayers, F. (Nov 2019). Boris Johnson’s fish and chips strategy. UnHerd, The Post. Retrieved from https://unherd.com/thepost/the-conservatives-fish-n-chips-strategy/
Study In UK (updated May 2019). British Culture and Social Norms. Retrieved from https://www.studying-in-uk.org/british-culture-and-social-norms/
The Public Purse (Feb 2020). Oikos And The World: Public Vs Private Sector Environmentalism. Retrieved from https://www.thepublicpurse.org.uk/environment/oikos-and-the-world-public-vs-private-sector-environmentalism/
Zimmermann, K. (July 2017). What Is Culture? Live Science. Retrieved from: https://www.livescience.com/21478-what-is-culture-definition-of-culture.html