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The British Character

Today the United Kingdom is a country made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Though very often the names "English" or "England" are used by many foreigners when they mean British or the United Kingdom, it's very annoying for the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are not English.

Political unification of these countries was a long process — Wales was joined with England in 1536; Scotland merged with England and Wales in 1707, when the English and Scottish Crowns were united by James Stuart. In 1800, the Irish Parliament was joined with the Parliament of Great Britain in Westminster. The British Isles remained a single state for 122 years — till 1T22, when most of Ireland became separate except the six northern provinces.

The four nations of the UK differ in the following aspects:

Racially; the Welsh, Scottish and Irish are the peoples of Celtic origin — they spoke the Celtic languages — Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. The English are a race of Germanic origin. They spoke the Germanic dialect, which later developed into the English language.

Socially: these nations have different economic, social and legal systems.

These differences are not so great today, though the dominant culture of Britain is the English culture — many aspects of life are organised according to English pattern, the system of politics is English and the English language is the main language for all these countries. It makes all the nations recognise the predominant English influence, but at the same time feel their identity very strongly.

Britain differs from continental Europe in its cultural, political and social heritage, these differences shaped due to some geographical and historical factors:

1. Geographical factors:

Separation from the continent. The British Isles are separated from the rest of Europe by a wide stretch of water, which made the access to the country difficult. Britain could not be invaded as easily as any other European country, so the British developed a sense of security, which can easily slide into superiority.

Lack of extremes. Britain is a country with no geographical extremes. So British love of compromise is a result of the country's geography and climate.

Geographical identity. Britain is divided into some geographical areas, which give their inhabitants a sense of geographical identity. Geographical identity includes a certain accent or dialect and some stereotyped image. In England, for example, people are divided geographically into northerners and southerners. Northerners consider themselves tougher, more honest and warm-hearted than southerners.

2. Historical factors:

The last successful invasion in Britain was in the IIth century. For nearly one thousand years Britain has not been invaded by foreigners. This gave the British a sense of self-confidence, which developed through this time.

England became one of the richest European countries in the High Middle Ages. This process was a result of the wool-trade, cloth-making, merchant adventure, and exploration. In 1497, Andrea Trevisano, Venetian ambassador to the court of Henry VII wrote, "The riches of England are greater than those of any country of Europe... there is no small innkeeper, however poor and humble he may be, who does not serve his table with silver dishes and drinking cups... From time immemorial the English wear fine clothes". Many travellers also noticed British egocentrism, self-confidence, pride and contempt for foreigners.

The Reformation of the Church and separation from Rome. The reformed religion gave rise to many other protestant movements that spread all over the globe. People believed in the main doctrine of Protestantism — predestination. The life of every person was considered to be predestined by God, so people had to work hard to become what they were created to be. The Bible was considered to be the only source of understanding God — it minimised the impact of priests on ordinary people. Today the Anglican Church is considered one of the most liberal churches in the world.

The Industrial Revolution of the 18h—19h centuries. Invention of new machines and building a big number of mills and factories established capitalism as mode of production. This process made the country "the world workshop" and developed the British feeling of independence and uniqueness.

The process of colonisation. The British felt the necessity to bring their culture to the rest of the world as a model of development for the colonies.

The formation of the biggest empire in the world. The Empire added to the feeling of superiority and independence, which was expressed in the policy of "brilliant isolation", which Britain followed up to WWI.

Task 7. Discussion.

1.Brainstorm the factors that influence the development of a national character. Which of them do you consider the most important? Why?

2.Speak about the traits of the British character and the factors that influenced their formation using the table. Add your own ideas to the table.


Factors that influenced the formation of the British character Traits of the British character
Geography: A wide stretch of water between the British Isles and Europe A sense of security, safety and independence
Lack of geographical extremes — there are no very long rivers, very high mountains and deep canyons The British character also lacks extremes — they love compromise and value calm relationship
Britain is a sea country — no place there is 120 km far from the sea Love for travelling and exploration
Britain was successfully invaded by Self-confidence and contempt for
the foreigners in 1066, since that foreigners
time there has been no invasions  
England got ahead of other The British developed a strong
European countries since the High sense of individualism
Middle Ages  
The Reformation of the Church A sense of isolation from Europe
and separation from the Roman and development of law, system
Pope of education and culture different
  from European
The Industrial Revolution made The feeling of independence and
the country "the world workshop" dignity, pride for their country and
  its development
The formation of the British The feeling of uniqueness
Empire on which "the sun never expressed in the necessity to bring
sets" British culture to other nations
The process of colonisation The feeling of patriotism and
coupled with the policy of superiority
"brilliant isolation", which Britain  
followed up to World War I  


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