Debunked: BRITAIN

By Emma Radmilovic ’18

Ah, the U.K.. The land of tea, tradition and big red buses. Once an empire, the UK is famous for its unique culture and for being home to the global city of London. We go by many names -the United Kingdom, Britain, Great Britain and Blighty to name a few, though since moving to the US I’ve noticed that most Americans use ‘England’ as synonymous with ‘Britain’. Our full title as a sovereign state is ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and as a geographical island we are ‘Great Britain’.

Since crossing the Atlantic, I’ve often been asked questions about the UK and its customs. I live in Wales, one of the nations within the UK, so I identify as both Welsh and British. I speak a little bit of Welsh, and my party piece is to pronounce this famous long place name for my friends – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

When talking about home with my friends, there are several noticeable stereotypes that crop up pretty often, so here I’d like to explore some of these and hopefully debunk some common misconceptions!

Oh, so you’re from …insert any British place name… that’s near London right?

The UK may seem small compared to the US, but not every British city is near London. I think that internationally, London has become so synonymous with the UK as a whole that very little is known about other parts of the country. The UK is actually made up of four separate nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I happen to hail from the latter of the four, good old Wales. It seems that of the four, people know the least about Wales. If people do know about Wales, they often mention Gareth Bale (who’s Welsh) but that’s about it.

London also isn’t the only capital city in Britain. Our capital cities are London (England), Edinburgh (Scotland) and Cardiff (Wales). There are several other major cities that compete with the capitals as tourist attractions; Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow to name but a few. I think that the fame and renown of London has thrown a big shadow over the other amazing parts of Britain. In fact, nearly everyone I know who has visited the UK has only been to London. Although London is a fantastic place, there are so many other places worth visiting, too.

You’re British – you must love drinking tea!

I won’t lie to you, I do love my tea. We’re talking up to five cups a day when I’m at home. My mum loves tea. Some of my friends love tea. Some of my friends are ambivalent. Others I know can’t stand tea and love coffee instead. The point is, although I like tea myself I can’t speak for the entirety of my nation on their tea-drinking habits. Drinking tea is a classic British-ism, but it’s certainly not the case that everyone is obsessed with it. Something we do pride ourselves on is the tradition of ‘afternoon tea’. This is something that most posh cafes and hotels will offer – a selection of cream cakes, scones and mini sandwiches served with pots of tea. This is a lovely treat and I highly recommend trying one if you ever go to Britain, but again it’s not to everyone’s taste.

Doesn’t everyone in Britain really love the Queen?

In a world of democracy and government, one thing we Brits have managed to preserve is our monarchy. Our Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned now for 63 years. The British relationship with the royal family has waxed and waned over the years, so it’s hard to judge whether we definitively love them or not. The British public fell in love with the royal family and Princess Diana when the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, married her. She was nicknamed the “People’s Princess”, and the royal family was very popular after her marriage and the births of Princes William and Harry. However, they became very unpopular following the divorce and Diana’s death in Paris in 1997. The death of such an iconic and well-loved figure really diminished our love affair with the royal family. (There are also conspiracy theories – you should Google them). The royal family really only skyrocketed to popularity again when Prince William married long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton. As someone not of royal birth, like Diana, she has been very popular and is now an extremely famous public figure especially after the birth of her two children, George and Charlotte. As neither the Queen nor any of the royal family has any political power, they are primarily public figures and ambassadors for our country. They bring in a huge amount of revenue through tourism and make up a part of our cultural identity. So no, not everyone loves them but they are definitely an important part of our culture.

Oh, wow, you have nice teeth for a British girl! I thought Britain didn’t have dental care?

I don’t know where this one has come from, but I’ve had this, or words to this effect, said to me a lot. We have something called the National Health Service in the UK, which means that healthcare is provided for us because we have paid for it with taxes. It works the same for dental care, and dental care is actually free for anyone under the age of 18 or if certain other conditions are met, for example if you are pregnant. Therefore, I had three years of ‘brace-face’ from the ages of 13-16 and now am the proud owner of what I can only call perfectly normal and decent teeth. I think that people must think that because dental care is free it is poor quality, but that’s not the case. Yes, some British people have bad teeth because they smoke or eat lots of sweets, but not every British person has bad teeth by default.

Oh, I hear the weather in Britain is always awful!

It does rain a lot in the UK. Particularly in Wales, where rain is an inherent part of the landscape. Having said this, we do get some nice weather and even snow during some winters. The truth is, our weather is really unpredictable. One year we might get weeks of glorious sun, and other years the summer will be cloudy and humid. Our snow is nothing compared to New England snow, though we are so unprepared that even a few inches will get us a day off school! Another stereotype is that we love to talk about the weather. I’ve noticed that both I and people at home do this a lot as an icebreaker or to make small talk. Maybe we’re just a bit of an awkward nation. Anyhow, we don’t have lovely weather all year round but we get a really nice summer if we’re lucky.

GRAPHIC BY OLIVIA MANSION, MA ’16

GRAPHIC BY OLIVIA MANSION, MA ’16

Debunked, is a new IWB series in which writers from different countries/cultures will ‘debunk’ common misconceptions about their nation and culture.

If you’d like to contribute to this series, send us an email at iwb@brown.edu!