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British Stereotypes
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British Stereotypes
True or false?
Updated: 2022.09.21

“Lovely day today, isn’t it?”


If you’ve ever interacted with a British person, it’s likely you’ve heard them talk about the weather. You may also be familiar with the notion that Americans are confident and loud, or that Italians are passionate. Such generalizations [1] can be made about all cultures and nationalities around the world, and we often see them reflected in popular culture, but are they true? 


There's a lot of fun to be had talking about the peculiarities of different cultures, and in many cases, there is an element of truth to them. Moreover, having an awareness of the unwritten rules of etiquette can be helpful to non-natives trying to feel more connected to a new culture. However, there's also a danger in putting too much stock [2] in generalizations, which can easily become oversimplifications that belie the diversity of individual people and places.  


With the British, a number of cultural traits and stereotypes spring to mind. In addition to a constant obsession with the weather, British people are known for: 

  • Drinking a lot of tea

  • Drinking a lot of beer

  • Constantly apologizing 

  • Being reserved and unemotional (The famous phrase “stiff upper lip”)

  • Being overly polite and non-confrontational

  • Having bad teeth and eating bad food

  • Queueing (lining up) for everything and being very cross and disapproving if anyone skips the queue

  • Humor that is full of sarcasm, irony, dry wit, and self-deprecation

  • Being fans of the Royal Family

  • Only speaking English!


It is fair to say that some of these generalizations are true. A poll of 2,000 adults back in 2018 found that the average British person spends the equivalent of four and a half months of their life talking about the weather, with the subject coming up three times in a typical day. Given the unpredictability of Britain’s weather and the nation’s generally mild climate, it’s perhaps understandable why the weather has become such a go-to subject: anything remotely colder, hotter, or wetter than usual immediately elicits a response. The topic of the weather is especially common both as a filler for awkward silences and as an ice-breaker when making small talk with strangers, as Brits tend to find personal questions a little forward as a conversation starter. The English language even has a multitude of different words and expressions for describing something simple like “rain” or the fact that “it’s hot.”


It’s also true that amongst British people you will hear the word “sorry” used incredibly frequently (even when someone bumps into them!) as it seems to be conditioned in Brits to apologize for the slightest thing in an effort to be as polite. Tea is certainly a popular drink (the British drink 100 million cups every day) and a cuppa [3] is the default response and accompaniment to most situations, be it meeting a friend, receiving bad news, getting some work done, or just relaxing. Queues are an important part of social etiquette and although languages are taught in secondary schools, only 38% of Brits say they can speak a second language.


However, all of these generalizations must be taken with a pinch of salt [4]. For instance, many people in Britain are either ambivalent towards or don’t support the Royal Family, and whilst British dental hygiene may have been an issue in the past, it certainly feels like an unfair assessment today. Generalizations can easily become negative stereotypes — limiting people’s behavior to one certain thing rather than allowing for the necessary flexibility and diversity within an observation. The key point to remember is that not all British people are the same. Some might hate tea and prefer coffee, or some might be loud and pushy rather than polite and reserved. Not all people of any nationality are the same. 


Britain, like many other countries, has a lot of regional variation. Britain consists of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which each has its own distinctive characteristics. Even within England, not everyone speaks in the well-known Received Pronunciation (RP) accent spoken by people in period dramas, and people from different parts of the country similarly have their own traditions and ways of doing things. 


Being aware of the distinctive characteristics of a culture can lead to a better understanding of that culture. For instance, in Britain, an awareness of sarcasm can help you to understand jokes, or offering to make a cup of tea can endear you to colleagues. However, stereotypes can be misleading and foster unhelpful perceptions of “otherness.” It is important not to make one’s own judgments and reduce the people of certain nationalities or cultures into types. We’re all human after all. Right, time for a cuppa.

*본 교재는 당사 편집진이 제작하는 링글의 자산으로, 저작권법에 의해 보호됩니다. 링글 플랫폼 외에서 자료를 활용하시는 경우, 당사와 사전 협의가 필요합니다.
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