Archive This article is from our archive and might not display correctly. Download PDF
YES- Joseph Silke
Britain can get a bad rap, particularly from the British. Self-deprecation is an ingrained part of our culture. We can't help but say sorry all the time, even when we aren't in the wrong. We let ourselves be denigrated for fear of causing a fuss. We will smile and nod to avert the horror of an awkward exchange. It is in our blood. I am going to fight this impulse though, because being British is something to be proud of and we should all feel more comfortable about acknowledging it. Britain is a spectacular place to live and Britons have done and continue to do so many things to make the world a better place. Civic pride is a healthy thing and binds people together across dividing lines. There are, of course, many Britains and many different things to cherish.
There is the Britain of Downton Abbey and the Britain of Love Island. We have proud institutions from the BBC to beans on toast. Our language is the lingua franca and we use it fondly to talk about the weather but know when it is best to apply starch and say nothing at all. The wartime motto of 'keep calm and carry on' has persisted in our distaste for hysteria, except for that minor blip in 1997. Although the imperial sun has set, we remain resolute in projecting ourselves on the global stage for the benefit of humanity, from standing up to brutal dictators to combating disease and poverty. Our system of government is peculiar, but it is the envy of much of the world.
Millions tuned in recently to watch the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle which proved to be our greatest global showing since the Olympic Games in 2012. The event demonstrated the British establishment's capacity to evolve, too: it is no coincidence that modern Britain has never hosted revolution. The monarchy, parliament, the common law, the free press, the open economy all engender stability and prosperity. If you are a Russian oligarch in need of storing some cash, Britain is the place for you! Britons have given so much to the world: habeas corpus, industrialisation, and the world wide web. Britain led the worldwide campaign to abolish slavery and stood alone and defiant against the Nazi menace when the rest of Europe fell. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the evils of the British Empire, but Britain quite rightly granted independence to its dominions and in 2018 Britain hosted a massively successful Commonwealth summit in which fifty-three equal and free peoples affirmed their choice to remain tied to their former metropole. Now the Commonwealth is a force for overwhelming good in the world: fighting malaria, combating climate change, and promoting education, to name just a few projects. We also retain formidable cultural clout that few, if any, can rival.
Our performers, from our comedians to our actors, are highly sought after. British programmes are often "borrowed" by our friends across the pond but we can relax knowing that they will never top the original product. Indeed, the British appeal is so great that many of our stars have made the leap themselves, bringing our signature wit and sophistication to new audiences. This can be a source of great pride. Except James Cordon. They can keep James Cordon. Please.
NO- Jodie Sheehan
On the whole there's nothing so terrible about being British, but there are undoubtedly a few things that hinder wholehearted pride in it. Firstly, there's our inability to cope with any kind of weather. We take every opportunity to whinge about rain, but give us the slightest ray of sunshine and we all melt into a puddle of screaming lava. Our failure to adapt to any temperature above 20C makes it easy to spot a Brit abroad; they're the one sporting lobster red skin, clutching sun cream in one hand, and struggling with a parasol in the other. Worse than sun, however, is snow - it's our kryptonite.
A couple of flakes and the roads are chaos, the schools are shut and the supermarkets are full of people panic-buying tinned vegetables should they get snowed in. Another embarrassment to the British is our inept interaction with strangers. We seem to be adamant in having as little verbal or physical contact with one another as possible, especially on public transport. It is an unwritten rule that you cannot sit next to someone on a bus or train unless there is literally nowhere else across the entire vicinity of the vehicle. If you do end up sitting next to someone, it is the law that neither of you acknowledge the heinous situation you've gotten yourselves into, primarily achieved by evading communication.
There are very few circumstances where conversation is acceptable, and voluntary attempts at small talk are deemed almost offensive. Never will you see a face more expressive of pure disgust and panic than that of a Brit who has just been addressed by another passenger to say something other than the acceptable, "Sorry, excuse me, do you mind if I just, sorry, yeah, thanks, sorry." That's another thing that shames the Brits: our excruciating tendency to apologise for absolutely everything. It is almost impossible to get through a conversation without the word "sorry", and the worst part is most of the time we are definitely not sorry. While occasionally the word is used to apologise for things outside our control and definitely not necessitating an apology, like bad weather or sneezing, the word is more often used to simply express awkwardness, or politely masked hostility, like when someone has just bumped into you.
It is difficult to be proud of such nauseating politeness. Moreover, you would think such a small country would have a more limited range of accents. Alas, no. To be a Brit means to be virtually incomprehensible to half the people you share the island with. Get a northerner and a southerner to converse and a series of awkward smiling nods will ensue once they've asked for clarification three times already and it's too embarrassing to attempt a response having no idea what's been said. If we can't even understand each other, what hope do foreigners have when we turn up in their country on holiday having learnt approximately four words of their language; "Do you speak English?". It's difficult to be proud to be part of such an incompetent nation. To be British is to complain, to apologise, to avoid one another and to be embarrassingly bad at foreign languages. But it's not all bad; at least we know how to queue.