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Britishness: Just What the Heck is It??

Updated on March 5, 2012

We'd certainly miss Britain's contribution to the world.

Things seen to be British...but do they add up to a national characteristic called "Britishness?"
Things seen to be British...but do they add up to a national characteristic called "Britishness?"

Does Britishness Exist? I'm Bemused

Can there be any manifestation of blind nationalistic fervor more irritating than the bloody British harping on daily about what they perceive as the national identity and its component parts?

You don’t hear Americans carrying on about their “Americaness,” the Canadians as their “Canadianess,” even the self loving French don’t bore the rest of the world with “Frenchness,” which sounds vaguely pornographic anyway.

These nations are no less patriotic than the Brits or hold themselves in less regard. Is it that they are more bland and the British do, indeed, have something special withheld from other nationals?

The British do have some admiral characteristics: they are polite, in the main, integrate well (again, in the main) with all the other nationals living in Britain. They do, indeed, know how to queue par excellence, but perhaps that is the result of years of being downtrodden and inured to bad service. North Americans would surely riot if kept waiting in the post-office, the Department of Motor Vehicle, ticket windows and all the rest, as Brits are regularly.

Brits do tend to favor the underdog and know how to win and loose with grace. (Hemmingway said being a good looser takes a lot of practice…make of that what you will, while remembering “Eddie the Eagle” and the Eurovision Song Contest every year).

The race does have the famous “stiff upper lip,” and endures economical hardship, petrol prices and bad service, as well as the awful weather with some equanimity.

The British do dearly love animals, who often fare better than the kids.

But we have a lot of nasty and undesirable traits as well. We criticize other people and nations far too much, (The British are constantly banging-on about the Americans which irks me deeply in view of what the “Yanks“ have done for us). We also find nothing good in the French, which is roundly repaid by the Froggies (who call us the “Rosbiffs”).

We eat all the wrong foods, drink and smoke far too much as a nation. We are serial forelock-tuggers to any fool calling itself “Sir,” and passionately in love with a greedy family so wealthy they could never count their riches, but are too “poor” to fix Buckingham Palace roof without complaining about it.

Many of us are lazy and spoiled by years of the Welfare State. We gaze around in some bemusement at the tattered and torn little archipelago, which is all that is left since we lost the Empire. We speak of belt-tightening and facing up to our financial woes, yet we still buy fillet steak and premium wine on credit cards that charge more than 30% in annual interest.

I have a feeling that Britishness, if it exists as anything except a vague concept, means different things to different individuals.

To me, who has lived overseas most of my adult life and is a reluctant resident of England, I reject most characteristics which would brand me “British.” I am an anti-royalist and think we should stop all this king and queen bulldust; the same applied to forced respect of a bunch of waffling Oxbridge retirees “knighted” by our old fossil. Once a night with any of that lot (apart from Kate) would surely be enough. OK, some of them have earned my respect, but I will decide whom.

I am an unashamed atheist and see all the religious leaders as hogs sucking on a drying trough. I try to avoid queues as much as possible and all other forms of masochism disguised as Britishness.

I think I am kind, compassionate and understanding, but this is a trait which should apply to all of us and doesn’t - for me - indicate a component of “Britishness.”

And I am in love with that great nation, the USA, and the generous, brave people there.

Perhaps this examination of Britishness is merely a desperate search for solidarity, albeit tenuous, against a world fed up with Anglos and their bullying, acquisitive ways. Perhaps the poor little Brits, having lost all else, need this rallying cry amid their country becoming more and more foreign: foreign owned, and foreigner populated.

Perhaps someone can tell me what Britishness really is in comments, because it’s sure hard to make sense of it by this ex-pat. As a force, is it more emphatic than, say, Greekness, or Italianess…and doesn’t it sound weird even suggesting that?

I suggest this nonsensical whimsy is sent to the trash-bin along with “God Save the Queen,” (it’s her subjects who need Heavenly intervention); and “Rule Britannia,” that daft song out of date by 100 years and far too jingoistic anyway.





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    • ziyena profile image

      ziyena 5 years ago from ... Somewhere Out There ...

      Bob,

      You sound like me harping about my own country. I'm not gonna go there about "Americaness" because it is one discussion which pisses me off to no end. lol

      At least your honest.

      Z

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      Hiya Z...

      But Americans don't go on about Americaness, or whatever verb they want to use, do they? About the country - with good reason - yes, but not about themselves, although I know they do put down "Beaners" which irritates me no end.

      Thanks for visit and comments

      Bob

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      With few exceptions, citizens have every right to take pride in their country, and a patriotic duty to do so. I have no time for those treacherous dolts who attack their own country!

      I do agree, Bob, that we all go overboard with it now and then, but I have a lot of respect for the British, and the way they handled Adolph Hitler. In MHO, their stalwart defense of the homeland saved millions of lives by giving the Allies a extremely valuable jumping off point for the invasion.

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      Thanks for visit, Wlll

      Bob

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

      every time i see a sign that says, "god bless america", i say to myself, "he has. what are we doing for him?"

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 5 years ago

      Bob, Interesting hub. I think most of us are inherently loyal to our countries. Some might be considered misplaced loyalty, but that is just the way it works. Kind of like a dog and "his" yard. To the dog, that is the best place in the world.

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 5 years ago from USA

      Americans don't, is it a joke? Which product or show doesn't boast the American identity? Which country has more flags outside their porches than America?

      I love the English intelligence and sense of humor!

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      cathylynn Enough with the god stuff on my hubs! (But thanks for amusing comment)

      Old Poolman and maxoxam.

      You have missed the point here. I am not talking about patriotism; the N. Americans have that in spades. But they don't point a finger at themselves as if THEY have something denied other races. The English taken as a race are certainly no more intelligent than, say, Mexicans. And our sense of humor is all sex and drunkeness these days. What gets the greatest hoot is when a comedian or celeb says the word "fuck" like they invented it: it's so purile.

      Most of you are remembering a Britain of 20, 40 or 60 years ago. It's an unhappy place today, believe me.

      Bob

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

      Diogenes, I love all those characteristics you point out about your nation. I love it when I travel to Britain and 'know' when I'm there by those very traits you mention - politeness, humour etc. Your fellow men have such tolerance and interest, though expressed politely, in the rest of the world that is so different to our small country - a short journey away.

      There is quite a contrast in, for example, the many accents and the assumptions us visitors make. I always have a fun time there and never tire of going there and wish nowadays I had chosen to live, as I once desired, but changed my mind.

      One last thing, the countryside is beautiful, so that has to be reflected in the people too. Not too big and not too small - a bit like Goldilocks and the three bears - it's just right and fits very well with my blend of things. Tourists obviously agree also.

      Unfortunately if I spend too much time there, I can pick up on the accent, which I love, but get chided on my return to Ireland. The Irish still have a hang-up about some British accents, unfortunately.

      So thanks for the hub and reminding me what is good and attractive about your great, proud nation.

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      chpublish: I don't think my hub was that compimentary about the UK, dear!

      Sorry you decided to die!

      (Read your comment in para 3...that's British humor)

      Bob

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 5 years ago from USA

      By Britishness did you mean the cliche proper to any country? What about the arrogance of the Americans, the snobbish attitude of the French, the coldness of the Germans...?

    • bell du jour profile image

      bell du jour 5 years ago from Ireland

      Hi Bob, I'm not going to comment on 'Britishness' because we've been there before:-) Like you I can't stand any organised religion but I don't let that stop me believing in God. Not liking religion does not make one an athiest, just a nonconformist.

      Have a good day!

      Noreen

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Bob. Well you have certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons here. I agree with some and disagree with other points. To me in the most simple terms, britishness is the complete understanding by all, that you have to have a 'Full Roast' for Sunday Lunch. LOL.

      Best Wishes.

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Old Albion Ha ha. Best to keep the light touch, eh?

      Maybe 'cause I don't have a roast cooker these days, I am getting bitter!

      Bob

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi maxoxam...I though they unmasked you, or is it you working for the feebies?

      This is my point, none of these labels we put on people are true. There is no "Britishness," we are individuals with different characteristics.

      Bob

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Bell again. It's not a question of "not liking religion," I might love it if it were reality!

      In my case, it is utterly rejecting religion and any other metaphysical tripe.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I look at 'Britishness' as the culture, and all countries have their own quirks...some good and some rather irritating!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Here are some thoughts from someone who's American, hasn't been to the UK in 42 years, and has no "real life" British friends. Interestingly, just last night I watched the film "The Queen" for the second time.

      What Britishness means to me, from this place, meaning from my own perspective is: a dry, ironic, sense of humor; a reserve of posture and engagement; a rule-based politeness which is the foundation of civil (as opposed to hostile) relationship; a respect for tradition in every way and even perhaps a longing to return to traditional modes of life that originated in the past, with Empire at the core of that longing.

      To your point of not knowing the UK of today, my thoughts are based on my personal experiences from a long time ago, on British sit-coms (which I adore), and on my interest in fine arts and antiques.

      I bring up "The Queen" because of the tension the film illuminates between Tony Blair and the royal family, the tension of change, changing from the traditional to the modern. From here, across the pond from there, I see Britishness as a stalwart sticking to, or wanting to be able to stick to, the rules and mores that made Britain an empire.

      I do think there is an "Americaness" as well as any "ness" of any country. Maybe it's those who live outside the country who best lend insights into what those characteristics might be.

      This is a great food-for-thought hub.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I am very curious about the British...I can't wait to actually travel there. I think many Americans are smitten with anything Britain!

      We do not have the King or Queen but I would trade ya! Let me think of who the best offer would be...it might be a while! lol

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

      hi, rh. give 'em snooki and the situation.

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      sally's trove.

      Thanks for in depth comment.

      Bob

      Real housewife.

      When yu get here, give me a rebel yell. Ill take Angelina Jolie for the queen

      Bob

      Cathylynne what is snooki?? I suspect RH knows. Be nice if you addressed your comment to me

      Bob

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      You did it Bob in your last sentence ! So British eh!

      very best regards,and TTFN

      jandee

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Ok Bob - I will see what I can do...gonna write to the queen! LOL I don't think Angelina would mind...but wait...would that make Brad your King?

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I do think the monarchy should step down, but amazingly there is a large part of the UK population and the Canadian population that adores them. I'm sure they're nice people, but are they worth all that financial support year after year, century by century?

      I love the English people, though. I love their ways. I've never been to the UK but I'm a amateur genealogist and most of my lineages are from England, Scotland and Ireland.

      Great fun reading your hub and your perspective. Voting up and awesome.

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      Like gorillas in the zoo, eh Pam., better admired from a distance!

      Bob

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      Hi Jandee.

      Thanks for visit and warm words

      Bob

    • profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago

      I'd sooner have Brad than Willy...or maybe Brad's willy!

      The lady's seem to like it

      Bob

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      He reminds me of somebody ,not Brad! the other one!?

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 5 years ago from Scotland

      Britishness: Just What the Heck is It??

      I dunno Bob but your Hub was so good it was almost Scottishness LOL

      I love the way you combine humour and serious points without losing the flow.

      Yes! The country is full of foreigners!!!!

      Normans, Vikings, Iberians etc etc etc (and not a few Neanderthals either, usually wrapped in a Union flag)

      Cheers mate for a great wee read

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Cheers Shinkicker...great avatar name.

      I hear you will soon be abandoning the union?

      Don't blame you. Cameron would turn a weevil off a bad turnip!

      Bob

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Well the Bristish, to me, have an exquisite sense of the language - it is theirs after all. They have a rich history and seem, from over here across the pond, to have an appreciation for ecentricity. (Bet a Brit would spell that right) And as for the Queen? She's your nations #1 tourist magnet. As much as I love my own country, Americans drive me crazy too. None of us are perfect!

    • diogenes profile image
      Author

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Are you a Froggie, Dolores? Hee hee

      Un Rosbif x

    • moonfroth profile image

      Clark Cook 5 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

      I think the present British angst about their National Identity (NI)springs from an overriding nostalgia, a vague longing for the Days That Were. The closest the Nation has got to those days of yore was in 1982-- a three-week steam to a far-off Latin country to beat up on a foreign navy that had 3 (that'll be three) Exocet missiles to bear against the British fleet. This grand conflict lasted three weeks, during which the Brits at home were pumped up more than a blowfish in mating season. There hasn't been a lot of armed conflict since, and I would suggest that it's WAR that brings out the courageous, plucky, determined, /interesting/ side of the British character more than anything else. Now if Britain could just declare war on, say, France--familiar target, comfy, the two countries have been invading each other for well over a thousand years--THEN the Brits could focus, pull together, rah! rah!, and everyone would quiet down about all this who-are-we Bally Hoo. One of my better ideas, actually. As usual, no one will pay any attention.

      Excellent Hub, Bob! Many thanks!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      Well Sir, we have had our share of ques at the post-office, but the Internet has made the place far less popular the last couple of years.

      As for having an attitude of Americanness, people must have been being polite when you visited. Everyone I know thinks Americans are superior to all other humans on the planet. Not only are the American people superior, but so is everything else here believed by Americans to be superior.

      Have spent my time between the educated and the not so educated, and admittedly it is the less educated that have these superior attitudes.

      I do love the dry, sarcastic sense of humor so many Brits have, or at least seem to have. Since the majority of my own ancestors were from England, maybe that's the reason I identify more with Brits than any other people outside the states. Y'all do usually have a fetching accent.

      Very entertaining hub as always!

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks MF: War against France? Now there's a plan!

      They might win this time; do you know we only "won" the Falklands conflict by a hair after all sorts of muddling and mistakes.

      We might not be so lucky next time.

      Bob

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Au Fait,

      Nonsense! Americans are never blowhards about themselves, although they do love their country, with good reason (and I lived these about 8 years).

      The only nigger in the woodpile (Hee) is they do give the poor old Mexicans a bit of stick (friggin beaners!),

      I thought you were Irish, I must be getting confused in my dotage.

      Bob x

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      You need to live here a little longer then, cuz the arrogance of many people here as to their feelings of superiority as people (individuals) and as a country (we have the best of everything you know), is incomparable. It's an attitude. Many Americans look down on anyone not born here.

      It's even worse at the state level. You can't be a Texan if you weren't born in Texas. If you weren't born in Colorado, you're welcome as a tourist and only a tourist so long as your money is good. When that's done, you can go home.

      As I said, the attitude seems to be primarily held by the less educated.

      Do have a couple of Irish ancestors, but I've never been outside the U.S. I can roll me r's though . . .

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I thought there was a touch o the shamrock there.

      Texas, yes, that's another place all together, they are all crazy

      Bob

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Not sure what it is about Brits that I enjoy the most - their quirky sense of humour, the uppity accent, or eccentric royalism. But for sure, my favorite stars include Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Julie Andrews, Ralph Fiennes, and Keira Knightley amongst others. Hail to Britishness!

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hail to Queen Salote!

      Bob

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      For me, if Britishness is the right term it is solely that Bulldog spirit and pulling together when the chips are down, well the good bit. However, I also live abroad and am not keen to return to the UK too often because there is another trait in the British which I find ugly. That is that they love to put someone on a pedestal and then knock them down.

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi clairemy: I guess certain places suit certain people. But this is a rich man's country now. I mean, if you are rich you can afford to escape the dump regularly. Wherever you are, it can't be a more sorry rock than Britain has become.

      Yes, too true, they do do that!

      Bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Bob :)

      You have a score of 99! Wow! Well done :)

      'Britishness' is an odd word, but, basically, I think that it just means feeling British ~ feeling that one belongs here; loving the country; enjoying the heritage; feeling part of it; feeling at home here; appreciating all that is good about the country and taking care of it.

      Actually, I feel 'English' rather than 'British' ~ even though my Mum is Welsh with a mixture of Irish, Welsh and Greek ancestry. My Dad was English, but there may even have been some Irish and Welsh there, too, many generations ago.

      I think that we do have an interesting sense of humour.

      I love the British countryside. I love the countryside of France, spain, etc, too.

      I feel relatively safe, here, but some of the crimes I hear about do worry and upset me.

      I understand what you mean about the queen, etc, but I think that she still has a place here.

      I am not in favour of religion, but the Church of England is generally mellow, liberal and harmless, and this may help to protect us from any stronger religious movements.

      I would prefer it if our weather was more dependable. It's fabulous, just now, but will probably be cold in the summer. And, though it rained almost non-stop for about five years, it seems that we may now be about to face a hosepipe ban!

      I am glad that I live here, but I do enjoy my holidays on the continent!

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Maybe the word IS Englishness, my bad.

      I lived in Oz, the US and Mexico for 40 years, so I don't feel British any more and there is so much here offensive to me (I guess I'm hard to take to them, too).

      Americans and Ozzies, not to mention anything goes Mexicans are so easy and delightful to live with. So anal and up tight about everything in the UK.

      Bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Wow, again! 100 now!

      No, Bob, I think that you were right with 'Britishness'. I think that this has to be the all inclusive term.

      I actually believe that this is to do with attempts to integrate all the different groups / nationalities / ethnic minorities, etc, who live here ~ with their different backgrounds, heritages, religions, languages, customs, etc, etc. I think that it is an attempt to to find some kind of common ground.

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Trish...is that a before and after photo or you and mum?

      Oooo I'm cruel!

      Thanks for comment

      Bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      This sort of medium wasn't around when I was 8 :)

    • diogenes profile image
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      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I couldn't decipher that, Trish; not as smart as I thought

      Bob

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 months ago from North Texas

      After reading this for a second time, I have to say much of what you have written could well apply to Americans. Many Americans do indeed have an attitude of superiority.

      Also, we do have horribly long lines at the post-office sometimes, and the motor vehicle department is the place to go to experience the queue from Hell. When I was to take my driver's test for a CDL back in 2004 I arrived at DPS at 3 AM. There was STILL someone ahead of me in line even at that hour!!

      The place opens at 8 and unless you get there well before that (even now after all these years) you will find the line excruciatingly long, and after all that standing in line for hours, you may not get your test that day! It's possible to make appointments for driver's tests now, but many people have their heels dug in regarding that. It's hard for some people to learn new ways of doing things.

      The line is still long as there are written tests and license renewals and all manner of things that people need to do at DPS. Many could now be done online, but some people refuse to modernize their habits and thinking.

      Aside from long lines (queues), Americans, especially the less educated, tend to imagine themselves and this country superior to all other people and places in the world.

      The best business to be in relates to people's pets, specifically their dogs and cats who are members of the family most of the time. People with pets of this sort will spend any amount of money to spoil them, the children can go on welfare for all they care.

      Having grown up on a farm, even if I had pets I would not have that attitude to spoil them to such an extreme as so many people here do. Make sure they are safe and healthy yes, but a custom order for a burger at a fast food joint or a fancy restaurant? No.

      You really should come live here for a while and see for yourself.

      Hope all is well and that you're having a good day. We are to have 85º and full sun today. Summer with the really hot weather is just around the corner. Take care, Bobby . . . xxx

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