What comes to your mind when you think of John Bull (a.k.a. the British version of Uncle Sam)? Namely, what words can you come up with off the top of your head when you try to describe the UK? It can be well off, decent, literary or drippy, rigid, exclusive, etc. The twenty day journey I spent in the empire where the sun never sets gave me a glimpse of the real UK.
Before setting out for Britain, I prepared myself for what a typical British was like so that I would not experience culture shock; however, as I immersed myself into British culture, I realized that my original expectations were quite inaccurate and stereotypical.
Britain is famous around the world for having frequent showers all year round, so British people are used to having cold and muddy summer days. However，during my stay in England, I enjoyed long days and ample sunshine in July when the sun rose at 6am and set after 9pm. There were few rainy days, just strong winds that might make you cold. Honestly speaking, England is one of the ideal destinations for sunbathing in the summer.
Traditional British breakfast
In Britain, I can see the proliferation of eateries of overseas origin, such as French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, and Indian, just to name a few, which does rather suggest that English food is lacking something. Although the traditional English breakfast is still popular, dishes of fish and chips may find it hard to be fully recognized in the world of foodies. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of diversified culinary arts makes up for the local deficiency and becomes a characteristic of its own.
The idea that the British are quite reserved and keep their emotions and feelings to themselves is quite stereotypical. Whilst the times are changing, this is becoming less and less true. When I was in class, the door of the classroom opened suddenly by itself (probably due to a gust of wind), the teacher tested his sense of dry humor, saying to the class: “Oh, the ghost is here!” Some teachers even played music and tangoed with passion in the classroom when they were in the mood. It seems to me that British people are humorous and extroverted enough to break down walls.
Best sellers in Waterstone’s book store)
British literature has an unshakable status in the world of literature. Contemporary literature on a global scale has been deeply influenced by the legacy of it. Thanks to the great works of Shakespeare, Shelly, Austin, Wilde, Dickens, etc., generations of people have savored the charm of drama, the beauty of poetry and the wisdom of the novel. Nowadays, British people have grown beyond the romance of literature and pay more attention to pragmatic books that help them achieve their potential and reach the top such as The Power of Habit, Awaken The Giant Within, How to Win Friends and Influence people, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, etc., all of which are best sellers in local bookstores. Steps to success are probably in the highest demand as most of the British wants to keep pace with a highly-efficient world.
A vagrant with a dog
As a developed country with a “from cradle to grave” welfare system, British people have no worries about their living standard. That said, there are still many vagrants in the UK sitting or lying on the streets, begging for a living. Here is an interesting phenomenon: beside each vagrant, there must be a dog. The reason is that a vagrant can receive more relief from the government if he or she has a dog. Due to the negative influence of the expensive welfare system, more and more lazy people take the “why work” attitude, which results in low productivity of labor, poor service, and the loss of money and revenue.
He for She slogan in London
Britain has a “ladies first” tradition. It is the first country that broke the glass ceiling for women becoming prime ministers. Britain embraced the second female prime minister, Theresa May, which is another step forward for British females in the political history of the UK. With her good taste in fashion, May has attracted many women to join the parliament. However, there is still a shocking absence of women at Westminster. While the gains made in the "He For She" campaign advocating gender equality are to be welcomed, women continue to be under-represented in many aspects of life. The latest results of the election made UK the 36th place worldwide for woman's representation, lagging behind several of its European counterparts.
It is notorious that every culture has their own stereotypes. As an old saying goes, seeing is believing, as a cultural observer, I am not judgmental at all, I will learn everything about British culture, take the best bits and apply them to my own way of living, after all it is always nice to reflect on ourselves by learning from others.
(Photo by Zheng Xinnian, edited by Edmund & Hu Sijia)