What is Britishness anyway? – latest

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Stephen Moss in the Guardian adopts the least analytical approach imaginable to the identity thing, a random journey. It’s like an intro to a report that that doesn’t actually appear. A bit like Britishness itself maybe? Quite unlike our own passions. Might  uncertainty and toleration be its saving graces?

 As I stood in freezing temperatures in Bradford’s Centenary Square trying unsuccessfully to get twentysomething Muslim women to tell me how they lived their lives, I started to have doubts about the exercise. Belfast was even colder, and with security concerns still a worry – there were two bombs in Derry the day I arrived – some people were wary of talking about Britishness. For that reason, two of the identities of my Northern Irish interviewees are not disclosed: a sixtysomething Catholic who served in the army and was proud to be British, and a young Catholic in his 30s who thought Sinn Féin had sold out and still saw the country as being occupied by the British. Those two are the only ones whose names and photographs are suppressed.

There aren’t four Britains. There are 40.

Then came Northern Ireland, probably the most eye-opening part of the journey.

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  • DoctorWho

    People get hung up about Nationality. I consider myself both Irish and British by birth, the two are not mutually exclusive, for me nationality stops at birth, an accident, an event I had no control over. Nothing really to celebrate about. Who was it said “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious”.

  • FuturePhysicist

    British comes from an old world for “painted people” …

    http://www.buzzle.com/images/face-painting/sports-fan-face-paint4.jpg

  • Drumlins Rock

    What is Irish anyway?
    What is French anyway?
    What is Chinese anyway?
    etc.

    The easy defiinitions are based on geography and political boundaries, but I guess we are discussing cultural definitions here, never an easy thing to do, and certainly not black and white, to that extent this is sloppy “investigation”, a more sensible way to go about it is finding in out what is important to people and seeing what they have in common, but different from those who aren’t Brits, and you might discover the real ties.

    I other words don’t try to fit ideas to the label, but find the ideas that the label fits.

  • Mick Fealty

    But it’s a valid question to ask and keep asking when the concept is under pressure. That’s no less true for Irishness in an era of free movement of people and capital.

  • Mark

    Great idea for an article but it was more about the author and less about the Union . Loads of detail about the ( his ) journey but not enough about how the public felt about the project – state of the Union .

  • Mick Fealty

    Well perhaps a little less pressing, but just as important.

  • Mark

    The values that he associates with britishness ( openness , freedom , tolerance , fairness ) are surely values that any normal society aspires to . Why does it have to be britishness ?

  • FuturePhysicist

    What is Irish anyway?
    What is French anyway?
    What is Chinese anyway?
    etc.

    Their “identity” is that self determined by the Irish, French and Chinese, as would “Britishness” be by those who self-determine to be British.

    In principle it is what their people choose it to be.

  • andnowwhat

    British…a citizen of Great Britain.

    Great Britain…a constitutional amalgam of 4 distinct countries.

    England..an amalgam of ancient kingdoms which still reflect their characteristic differences.

    Those I have talked to in my visits to Northumberland (once the greatest kingdom) have nothing but contempt for those in the SE of the country.

    BTW, they have sod all time for those from Yorkshire too.

  • Davy McFaul

    “Great Britain…a constitutional amalgam of 4 distinct countries”

    Surely you mean the UK? and when did Northern Ireland become a country?

  • Brian Walker

    Mark asks: “The values that he associates with britishness ( openness , freedom , tolerance , fairness ) are surely values that any normal society aspires to . Why does it have to be britishness?

    Easy one, Mark. Because it’s OUR openness, freedom fairness etc! ( Or do I mean THEIRS?)

  • andnowwhat

    Fek sake Davy, don’t start me on what NI is. On another site, I just refer to it as a civil servants imaginings.

    Anyway, it’s not a country and as a province, a third of it is missing or maybe it’s the other way round

  • JR

    I associate Britishness with Enid Blyton novels and dads army.

  • Dewi

    “The values that he associates with britishness ( openness , freedom , tolerance , fairness ) ”

    More like arrogance, oppression, suppression, exploitation..

  • Red Lion

    Defining a nationality is so broad its and its near impossible to list the many configuration of factors.

    the indicators of Britishness that randomly come to my mind include urban cool, cutting edge and ever evolving arts scene including great leaps forward in many youth culture subcults,and in this respect a happy exchange and relationship with America, excellence in many disciplines, our climate of seasonal variation, certain old cars like escorts and cortinas, English boozers the best boozers in the world, language and literature and the evolving of English into a world language, the ease of diversity in our food particulary in our big cities, the NHS, the armed forces , a strange and piecemeal history evoving into our current constitional set up, the British style of playing football(limited but appreciation of an honest trier), certain ancestors who went before, the BBC, certain landscapes and many little places to be, always close to the coast, very disctinct regional variation,the ability to host big or world events (bring on the Olympics!) the local cafe for a fry up, the glory of a bank holiday, terraced houses with tiny manicured front lawns….

    Its just reference points, every nation has them, those are just a few of mines, and of course ive concentrated on the good and heartwarming, the sort of thing you miss when abroad for some time

  • Reader

    andnowwhat: Anyway, it’s not a country and as a province, a third of it is missing or maybe it’s the other way round
    Province: an administrative division or unit of a country.
    So Northern Ireland is definitely a Province. But it’s no longer clear that Ulster is. Unless it qualifies through being an administrative division of the GAA.

  • Mark

    I take it Dewi that the author’s tabloid comment about the locals of Caernarfon didn’t go down to well .

  • andnowwhat

    Or Boxing or a ton of other non GAA sports Reader.

    It ain’t all soccer, hockey and bowls out there.

    JR

    What you described there is Englishness and a type which is that of southern England. Thing is, that’s what we all think of as Britshness or Englishness but it is only a part and a part that us of an unfortunate age were fed by the BBC and ITV.

  • Republic of Connaught

    What about rugby, Reader? Or was Tommy Bowe, a Monaghan man, not a fellow Ulsterman when he played for the province?

  • andnowwhat

    Dewi

    Well said at 8.50.

    The multi culturalism in Britain is fantastic, I love it and the vibrancy it brings but alas, as you said, much of it has it’s history in the dark, exploitative days of the colonies.

    How was that openeness during the riots in London just over 50 years ago. Fortunately, it fell to the good people of the east end, many of them children of immigrants and many of them indigenous, to stand up to the bully boys.

    Where is the tolerance of the British when innocent men are extraordinarily rendered and the only British that are concerned are the “loony left” who are vilified by the masses who like a nice set of norks in their daily dead trees or the arrogant middle class who takes the complete shite that Peter Hitchens knocks out like a chilli riden turd ?

  • Dewi

    The “truth” is that “Britishness” does not exist. The only people
    that describe themselves such are recent immigrants and Ulster Unionists, – a strange combination – but hell every nation is imagined…so go for it…

  • wee buns

    Kind of sometimes feel sorry for the ordinary British folk, and English in particular, whose identity is bound up with the sins of the fathers – perhaps they need to get back to ‘themselves alone’ just as badly as the colonies do.

  • HeinzGuderian

    It’s something that many people are prepared to die for.
    The Falkland Islanders. The good people of Gibraltar.
    Ayee,the good people of Ulster.
    It’s a pride that can’t easily be explained.
    It’s Admiral Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.
    It’s The Iron Duke at Waterloo.
    It’s Dylan Thomas………(land of my fathers,dewi) ? ;-)
    It’s Robert Louis Stevenson.
    It’s Shakespeare,and Dickens,Kipling,Tennyson,…..
    It’s Lt. Col. R.B Mayne……the most decorated British soldier of WWII,Commander in Chief of 1st SAS Regiment.
    It’s Henry V at Agincourt.
    It’s good King John and Magna Carta.
    It’s Richard The Lion Heart.
    It’s good Queen Bess,Francis Drake,Walter Raleigh,a game of bowls on the village green………
    It’s The Times.
    It’s the ‘home of sport’.
    Football.
    Cricket.
    Rugby.
    Horse Racing.
    Golf.
    Tennis.
    It’s The Army….the most respected in the world.
    It’s the Mother of Parliaments.
    It’s Lt. Gen. Oliver Cromwell,and his belief that the ordinary people should hold sway over a tyrannical King.
    It’s the Peasants Revolt of 1381. John Ball,Wat Tyler,Jack Straw.
    It’s Jethro Tull,Iron Mad Wilkinson,Richard Hargreaves,The East India Company,Henry Hudson,William Turner,John Constable,
    It’s the Greatest Empire this world has ever known,or will ever know.
    It’s Richard Dawkins,Alan Turing,Stephen Hawking,
    It’s John Logi Baird,Michael Faraday,Isaac Newton,John Dunlop,John Macadam,Alexander Graham Bell,…….
    It’s the language of the Internet Web Thingy
    It’s the language of the entire planet.
    It’s the last night of the proms,the changing of the guard,the Royal Weddings,the funeral processions,that the rest of the world gaze upon with so much envy.
    It’s getting late.

    In short………..
    It’s the most beautiful flag of them all.

    BRITISHNESS………..I fully recommend it.

    Goodnight. ;-)

  • andnowwhat

    Heinz

    One could write crap like that about many nations.

    Patriotism, the last……

  • Dewi

    Heinz – that’s England – with the odd aside – be proud of it if you wish but it ain’t my country.

  • andnowwhat

    Dewi

    That Britishness never existed because, like many nations, it has been in constant transition for as long as history records.
    There’s some stat that Starkey (may have been the other chap) came off with about how many actual English monarchs there have bee. I can’t remember the number save for that it was around half a dozen.

    I’ve never seen a TV programme that truely dealt with the real history of Britain on the world stage this last few hundred years.

  • andnowwhat

    Was not the iron duke Irish?

    Being born in a stable and all that crap

  • BluesJazz

    Heinz
    An excellent account

    Cromwell, Dawkins and Blair Mayne…

    Though did you leave out Charles Darwin?

    And (Dewi) Richard Burton/Anthony Hopkins/Strongbow/feel free to add Dylan Thomas etc

    Surely Monty (Field Marshall of El Alamein) should be there
    Dickens, Joyce, George Best
    And of course, last but not least, Christine Bleakley.

  • BluesJazz

    “I’ve never seen a TV programme that truely dealt with the real history of Britain on the world stage this last few hundred years.”

    Fred Dibney? Coast?

  • andnowwhat

    BTW Heinz

    English is the 3rd most spoken language in the world with Spanish very close behind it. Stastically, Spanish should overtake english in the next decade or less

  • andnowwhat

    It’s like P.U.L.S.E gets quiet at this time of night

  • Drumlins Rock

    Actually guys if you want a good, ( slightly tongue in cheek and few years out of date be it ) view of what being British is try Bill Brysons “Notes From a Small Island”, it always takes an outsider to see the things we miss.

    Personally I still imagine Britain to an amalgamation of two main cultures, Saxon & Celtic if you want to use labels, with the saxon influence strongest in the south east, and Celtic strongest at the fringes, with multiple variations inbetween, with varying tensions, maybe the borders shouldn’t be Hadrians Wall, Offa’s Dyke, and the Black Pig’s Dyke but the great North South Divide?

  • dwatch

    Britishness is about Jimmy Young as “Orange Lil” or “The Lady from Cherryvalley” or Alf Garnet in “Till death do us part”

  • john

    English is the 3rd most spoken language in the world with Spanish very close behind it. Stastically, Spanish should overtake english in the next decade or less

    That cant be true, It may be more common as a first language but outside Spain and the Americas no-one really speaks it yet all over the world many have english as a second language

  • Reader

    andnowwhat: Or Boxing or a ton of other non GAA sports Reader.
    So that’s settled then – Northern Ireland is a ‘province’, and Ulster is a ‘sporting province’ for a number of sports.

  • tuatha

    Doctor,WHO else but Oscar! Obviously riffing off Johnson’s “last refuge of the scoundrel’

  • Drumlins Rock

    I know we are going of on a tangent, but it’s a fun tangent, going by the Canon law of Wikipedia, Mandarin Chinese is the first language of just under a billion people, and total speakers are about 1.25 billion. English and Spanish both have about 0.4 billion first language speakers, with Spanish just ahead, however few speak Spanish as a second language, whereas over a billion extra speak English making it by far the most spoken language in the world. Interestingly the US has 12% Spanish speakers, and increasing through immingration, but also decreasing as most second generation residents abandon it, long term it is not know which will win out.

    English is most certainly the most usful language in the world, last year I was in Morocco, the local language was Berber, the official Languages were Arabic & French, the group I was with had Koreans, Brazilains, Solvenians, Australians, and a few others, we all spoke English.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Now,let’s have the tread on irishness.
    That should be fun ? ;-)

  • HeinzGuderian

    Heinz – that’s England – with the odd aside – be proud of it if you wish but it ain’t my country.

    dewi,if you had your own wee country,Dewiland,you still wouldn’t be happy.
    Land of my Fathers ?

  • tacapall

    What is Britishness – There’s not really much positive to say about being identified as British from my point of view. Its the way the rest of the world views those values identified above as being British. If I were British and I was going on holiday or on business to any Middle East country I would definitely be checking to see if I had any Irish grandparents.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Out of interest, Heinz, do you also call the Premier League the “British” Premier League considering you like to claim everything else from England as “yours”.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Taca, have travelled quite a bit, including the ME, on a British passport, although I have an Irish one too have yet to use it. Never had any problem or negative response, apart from the odd plastic paddy yank.

    RoC, much of Heinz list had strong Irish connections, certainly in much greater proportions than the population warrants.

  • andnowwhat

    Indeed, the Premier league with players, managers and owners from all over the world. A league that was dying on it’s feet prior to the Bosman ruling (well, it was the first division back then)

  • weidm7

    Britain, like Ireland and all other nationalities is made up of a lot of different people all with different opinions and personalities, you can list as many stereotypes as you like, as numerous people have done here, but stereotypes do not apply in reality, that’s not ‘Britishness’, that’s shared history that comes from a common political border or geography.

    In reality, it’s just a feeling, a bunch of people feel one way, ‘British’, ‘Irish’, whatever, so that’s what they are. The most important thing that should outweigh these silly debates about invented notions is not to discriminate or oppress another because of their ‘nationality’, whatever it may be or however great you claim yours is.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Out of interest, Heinz, do you also call the Premier League the “British” Premier League considering you like to claim everything else from England as “yours”.

    I would suggest a lot of people from your neck of the woods support teams in the EPL. ;-)

  • ayeYerMa

    Britishness is the axiomatic common bond between the English-speaking peoples of this miserable-weathered British Isles archipelago. Irish Republican separatists will deny it, but deep down they know that this common bond exists, and is something they share, if they look beyond their superficial moaning over semantics – unfortunately, honesty and living outside a self-imposed state of delusion are not common traits in Irish Republicans.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Britishness is the axiomatic common bond between the English-speaking peoples of this miserable-weathered British Isles archipelago. Irish Republican separatists will deny it, but deep down they know that this common bond exists, and is something they share, if they look beyond their superficial moaning over semantics – unfortunately, honesty and living outside a self-imposed state of delusion are not common traits in Irish Republicans.

    Britishness is the axiomatic common bond between the English-speaking peoples of this miserable-weathered British Isles archipelago. Irish Republican separatists will deny it, but deep down they know that this common bond exists, and is something they share, if they look beyond their superficial moaning over semantics – unfortunately, honesty and living outside a self-imposed state of delusion are not common traits in Irish Republicans.
    ———————————————————————————–

    Excuse me, but the British government signed the treaty granting 26 counties of Ireland their independence, how can that have been self imposed by the Irish or by delusion?

    And are the Cornish, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic speakers in Britain speaking their native tongue that was on this archipelago long before the Anglo-Saxons no longer British now?