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What is Britishness?

Written by on 28th January 2013
Category: Business travel and relocation

Well… It’s quite a weighty question, but one that the Home Office is currently trying to answer with an all-new, all-improved citizenship test, with rather tricky questions which attempt to pinpoint exactly what it is that constitutes British culture.

If you’re visiting on business, or relocated here, no doubt you’ll have your own understanding of what constitutes Britishness, from the puzzling (Rich Tea biscuits, Coronation Street, Cliff Richard) to the slightly weird (morris dancing and cheese rolling contests spring to mind).

Anyway, I’ve been wracking my brains, and here’s my completely biased interpretation of what Britishness is.

1.       A willingness to defend British food and drink to the end of time.

– First of all, a decently brewed cup of tea. No Lipton. No UHT milk. No plastic cups. NO.

– Secondly, Marmite. Sometimes you just need some yeasty, brown, brewery by-product on your toast. Top tip: Burton-on-Trent, a town in the Midlands where Marmite is made, smells of the stuff. Seriously.

– Then there’s the Sunday roast: Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, gravy and, most importantly, uncomfortable family silences and bloated afternoons in front of the TV.

2.       Being polite, sometimes to the point of awkwardness.

– This includes queuing. Nothing makes more sense to me than standing in a neatly organised line with fellow customers and sharing astonished glances on the rare occasion that someone pushes in. I’m as uncomfortable faced with the continental double cheek-kiss as our Executive Commercial Director, Chris Gee, and even the simplest trip to the supermarket can be a minefield of social faux pas to me.

3.       Diversity.

– This one is perhaps the most important of all. Recently the Icons of England project asked the public to nominate things they thought defined Englishness (not Britishness, I know, but that’s another discussion altogether).

– As well as icons such as the red post box, the Routemaster bus and the Mini Cooper, the list included the Empire Windrush (the ship that transported hundreds of Caribbean workers to Britain in 1948) and chicken tikka masala. Diversity is too often taken for granted, but if anything characterises contemporary British life, this is probably it.

Of course, plenty of people will beg to differ. Last year a survey commissioned by T-Mobile found that the bacon butty was the most prized British icon (also in the top 10: the BBC, Big Ben and fish and chips).

So what else constitutes Britishness? Is it food, social conventions, historical knowledge, or something else altogether? Whether you’re a born-and-bred Brit or newly arrived, talk to us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and let us know.