When asked to summarise and represent a country, or specific place, for most cultures of the world, we can immediately drum up a variety of stereotypes, imagery and specific attributes to these countries that are quintessentially theirs.
However when we look to the UK, the imagery we immediately conjure up tends to be London-centric, vastly outdated or total misconceptions. Red London busses, King Arthur, afternoon tea, fish and chips; a small variety of these London-centric, ill-informed perceptions of modern Britain.
So what is British, if these things aren’t?
“The competition to design the United Kingdom’s pavilion was won by a team led by Heatherwick Studio. Like the other western countries, the UK’s site was the size of a football pitch but, unlike those countries, the budget given to the project was much smaller. In addition, our brief was that the UK’s pavilion must be one of the expo’s “top five” most popular attractions.”
Instead of the imagined idea of Britain being very-London centric with its red double decker busses and British bulldog imagery, we are left with the idea of Modern Britain: a Britain that is a global leader in the creative industries of fine art, music, literature and film. A Britain that not only began the industrial revolution, but still reign as world leaders in engineering and industry. A Britain that flourishes in regional pride and local communities that perpetuate subcultures of creativity, fashion, language, ideas, customs and behaviours within these regions. A Britain that makes this regional identity possible with a history of amassing cultures and worldly pieces of interest from the historical British empire. A Britain that is created by its people and its history.
A lot of the “English Language” originated from Anglo Frisian languages. The Saxons from Germany brought North Frisian (West Germanic) languages and the Angles from South Denmark brought their West Frisian languages over to Britain.
The Anglo Saxon runes looked a lot like this in the late fifth century; a lot of recognisable figures that were adopted into the english alphabet we know and use today.
Looking into the Dutch language, I discovered that it is officially the closest language to English, and due to my research I assumed this mostly had a lot to do with English originating from there. This is mostly true, however a large amount of English words have begun to make their way back to Dutch – often referred to as “Dunglish”. These tend to be more modern words, relating to modern inventions such as:
computeren – to use the computer
daten – to date
meeten – to meet
printen – to print
saven – to save
updaten – to update
uploaden – to upload
Following this train of thought, I saw a patten emerging. Thinking back to the British Empire’s rational of adopting other cultures, this felt very familiar, although this time the language was adopted from those invading us. Nevertheless, we adopted a cultural trait (Anglo Frisian language), made it our own (English) and then proceeded to give elements of it back to the cultures that we adopted it from (the “Dunglish” modern words).
This computational “Input –> Process –> Output” method is seen in many forms of perceived British culture. Just like how we appropriated tea (a brief history seen above). To summarise, we imported tea from Indonesia (input), we appropriated the culture by setting up regular shipments (process) and then began distributing tea under our regional and artisanal brands, such as “Yorkshire Tea” and Mr. Scruff’s Manchester based company “Make Us A Brew” (output). Our only real input lies in the distribution and the branding – the social aspects – and we are only able to do this because of these historical ties.
It is due to trends like this that we become very self aware and begin to realise that our culture is not our own. A history of appropriation and invasion (from the British empire) increases globalisation with a compilation of cultures which then leads us to our fear of not belonging, which in turn results in an increased, quite introspective, sense of regionalisation.
We seek to find something within our immediate surroundings that makes us who we are, beyond what our small, but seemingly large, country has stolen and made ours. We then drive to identify ourselves as being from micro-communities, within Britain. For example, many from Sheffield, when asked, won’t describe themselves as “British” they will identify themselves as “from Yorkshire” and therein is our national sense of pride and patriotism. Be it political or historical, “British” has become somewhat of a taboo, especially recently due to events such as Brexit and the scandal dating back to the British Empire, our identity comes from our immediate, social and regional celebration of identity.
This pattern is seen in almost all regions of the UK and almost nowhere else in the world. Even a nation as visually divided as America with all of its states still has a patriotism tied to it, and a proud culture of being proud to be “American” and this can be seen in the recent fear mongering, presidential election campaign of Donald Trump. His slogan “Make America Great Again” clearly rang true with a lot of the American people as they saw their sense of identity in peril and sought to repair it, taking drastic and irrational measures to do so, ie. voting Donald Trump for president.