Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

What is the UK really like?

After reading a lot of American commentary on the story where UK villagers attacked a google streetview car, especially their assumption that we meek brits live in a CCTV-controlled imperialist state, I feel it might be helpful to do a quick summary of the UK for any US readers who have not been here. (Disclaimer: I’ve been to the US only once, years ago, so I’m no great travel expert).

  • People in the UK do not generally consider themselves ‘subjects’ of the ‘monarch’. Frankly, the Queen is just one of those anachronisms like teaching latin in schools or the boy scouts. Gordon Brown is the person we blame for running our country. The Queen is someone who wears a crown once a year and reads a speech GB writes for her.
  • Most people aren’t too annoyed about CCTV cameras (except speed cameras). A lot of high profile criminals have been caught by them, and even the police get caught on them sometimes (menezez trial).
  • It doesn’t rain here as much as people from the US assume it does.
  • We take football (soccer to people from the US) VERY seriously. I don’t follow it, but a lot of people do. It’s like a religion.
  • We actually quite like the BBC. It has it’s faults, but it’s worth it. Yes, we really have to buy a ‘TV license’ here in the UK. generally it’s not a big deal. We like TV with no adverts.
  • We really do not have many guns here. I’m 39 and have only seen guns in the UK twice. Once was a policeman at the airport post 9-11. The other time I went clay pigeon shooting.  Our crime of choice is knife crime, sadly. There is no urge for people to have guns here. We are generally very happy that gun ownership is very low.
  • We have a lot of very different, very strong accents. Watching the Queen speak does not prepare you for a Glasgow or Welsh accent. I’m not sure what would. My accent is closest to cockney than anything, but it’s not strong
  • Dick Van Dykes cockney accent is not real. My grandfather was a cockney, I know. If you want to hear a proper London (not cockney as such) accent, watch ‘Minder‘.
  • Cockneys never say ‘dog and bone’. We say ‘dog’. Only tourists say ‘dog and bone’.
  • London is BIG. Some foreigners call it ‘London Town’. Towns are quaint, London is not. It’s flipping huge.
  • There is a difference between being Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh. People get very annoyed if you confuse them. There is history involved. You don’t confuse Palestine and Israel, so never confuse Ireland with England. People get very annoyed.
  • We don’t get the whole ‘teeth’ thing. people in the US think brits have horrible teeth. In fact, we think we have normal teeth. Tom cruise does not have normal teeth. Only teams of expensive dentists consider that normal.
  • We have a state-owned health service that means most health care is free to everyone. We love this. It’s actually a factor that prevents many people emigrating. We don’t understand how western nations cope without one. It’s the one political issue that every party is very wary of changing.
  • We drink a LOT of tea. We have a fetish for coffee shops too, but we buy tea-bags by the boxload.
  • We have a lot of historic buildings. Unless your house dates back beyond 1800, it’s probably not worth bragging about it here.
  • We are obsessed with house prices. Totally, insanely obsessed. Nobody in the UK forgets how much they paid for their house. EVER.
  • You won’t really find ‘British’ restaurants here. This isn’t because British food sucks. We call them ‘pubs’ and they are everywhere. The more well-off go to ‘gastro-pubs’ which are just posh pubs.
  • We never queue up to vote. that sounds insane. There are never queues.
  • We queue for everything else, and we take queue jumping seriously. It’s just not British.

What have I missed?

24 thoughts on What is the UK really like?

  1. Is it true that Brits consider Americans to be uneducated, fat, overly-religious, corrupt bumpkins with no knowledge of the rest of the world?

  2. @Cliffski: That is fairly comprehensive! I’m struggling to think of anything you may have missed.

    @Tipa: You will find people who think like that, but most understand that it’s just the Rednecks that are like that.
    Pre-Obama (and still now) there were a lot of people who disliked Americans because of the whole Iraq/Afghanistan thing. That war is VERY unpopular here, or at least it was when is started.

    @All: I found this article a while back:
    It’s reasonably accurate, if a little generalised in places.

  3. “Most people aren’t too annoyed about CCTV cameras”

    You definitively asume too much there.

  4. I found your list quite entertaining. I’ve visited Europe on four occasions, though I’ve never had the chance to visit England. I’m sad to say I’m one of the uneducated who always considered the teeth issue true, even without proof to deny or confirm–and even when I know two from England whose teeth haven’t drawn my attention. (I suppose that’s a cultural misrepresentation, similar to Tipa’s point above.)

    I am, though, curious about your observation on house prices. Can anyone speak towards that? Assumptions on why that exists? I have a hard time remembering what I payed for this house. It’s not that I’m ignorant (at least I hope it isn’t); information as such just doesn’t seem relevant.

  5. @Tipa,
    It’s not just British people who think that ;)

    And you aren’t presuming too much in saying they do?

  6. No idea why we obsess over house prices. it might be something to do with the class system being so embedded here. Having a house worth more than your neighbours is maybe a subconscious bragging point.
    Maybe it’s related to the old ‘an englishman’s home is his castle’ mentality too.

  7. It might also be to do with house prices. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we have some of the highest house prices in the whole of Europe. It’s so bad in some areas that some people find it difficult to move out of their parent’s home.
    I live in Cornwall which has one of the largest numbers of homeless people per head of population in the whole of Britain and we also have some of the most expensive housing and a lot of holiday homes. Coincidence?
    Maybe people remember the price they bought their house for because they stand to lose a lot of money if they sell their house for less than they bought it.

    @Novack: You’re not on your own there.

  8. @RobbieE

    Your question does not make any sense. How old are you?

    Plainly put though, no, Im not presuming too much.

    Just in case you dont get it: in the modern social-political order, anyone can pressume without risk that a non political person is not able to righteously speak in the name of a whole country.

    So again, I dont think is accurate to say “Most people aren’t too annoyed about CCTV cameras”.

  9. @Novack

    Age is irrelevant, If you’re going to bother resorting to questioning some ones ages as a measure of intelligence then I won’t bother replying past this comment.

    Just because a person is non political does not void any claims about a majority. If I had statistics showing that 90% of x people watch y show would I not be right in saying that x people watch y a lot?

    With that same logic would a person who knows about the culture of a nation either through documentation or first hand evidence not be able to talk about what the nation does or doesn’t?

    Forgive me if I’m wrong but I don’t believe political representatives actively monitor people’s responses to CCTV cameras, So why would they be a legitimate source of information on the matter?

    Also how is that in the modern social-political order anyone can presume people cannot amuse things purely on the basis of not being a political ‘person’. Is that not a non political person assuming things? It seems pretty far-fetched to claim people can assume one thing and not presume anything else, does it not?

    So again, I think it’s accurate to say such a statement if from personal observation (i.e. non political). I don’t know how your government system works over there (Well, I do in a sense as it is the basis of my own countries) but I would hardly trust the government as a reliable source of information on any issue as they are more concerned with numbers that are in their favour.

  10. I think we obsess with house prices because housing in the UK is such premium.
    We have a very high population and very little land to put houses on, plus in an effort to stop the place looking like it’s twinned with Coruscant we have large national parks to preserve the greenery.
    So as with any high demand/low supply market the prices are hugely inflated and unpredictable so everyone obsesses with them!
    I.E. You buy a house for X amount, you really want the house prices to grow so that you can afford a better house for X + Y amount to get yourself out of the dingy rat hole you bought for X ;-)

    In other countries, esp. America, there’s not such a problem, it seems like if you want a new house you find a patch of land and build one (ok, that’s a slight over generalisation but it’s not too far off ;-)) except for maybe New York which seems to have pretty much the same problems.

    I don’t think CCTV’s to much of a problem for most people, you generally only find it in public places like town centres not in residential areas.

    Back to Google though, I love the statement from the Google spokesperson;
    “Imagery is taken on public property and is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street” – Google

    Yeah funnily enough, if anyone else was stood outside my house with a camera taking pictures of it, I’d be getting pretty annoyed with them too! :-D


  11. Regarding the teeth issue, i’m English and i can understand why Americans make fun of British teeth. It’s down to the total lack of care shown by dentists in the UK who are more interested in taking your cash for quick fix jobs than treating for the long term.

    I have a minor problem with one tooth at the front slighty overlapping the tooth next to it. I asked my dentist when i was in my very early teens if my teeth could be straightened to remove the overlap. His response was that my teeth are fine. When i got a new dentist at the end of my teens i asked the same thing. I was then told that i was too old and the problem did not need correcting.

    I’m thirty now and still have the same problem. I bet there are plenty of other people who have had the same treatment. I don’t know if this correct or not but i’m assuming that if i had been a teen in the US the problem would have been fixed.

  12. Two things I find worth mentioning (from the German perspective):

    – You British have AMAZINGLY small flats which are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. I could understand that in areas around London but the places in less prestigious areas were still just MIND BOGGLING.

    – Almost every company has pretty high quality Corporate Design. Vibrant colors, creative yet neat Typography. Even government-owned institutions look sleek. Compared to rest of Europe, you guys rock!

  13. @RobbieE, Im sorry about the tone of my previous post, I posted with a very bad mood, and without deep consideration.

    Is funny that somehow we converge in our thoughts, because I deeply relate the “everyone is Ok with the cameras” speech to a government campaign, rather than a neutral statement, and as you, I dont think the gov is a reliable resource in terms of information.

    To be honest, I dont even care to know if in the UK there is a majority of people against or in favour of the CCTV’s; what I see, is this terribly, TERRIBLY wrong thing where the world is going down, and everyone smiles. The cameras are plainly wrong, because they denote our imposibility to forge something better for ourselves, other than fear, fear and more fear. And it seems that some people (not all, not a majority, but some people) is very OK with that.

    This is 2009, we are talking about nanotechnology, four decades passed since we put a human in the moon, and still is the worst momentum in the human history, for the vast majority of the BASIC human needs. Yes, the cameras are a terribly simbol.

  14. I think that like most things CCTV can be used for good or bad. While I accept and am glad that CCTV is there to catch criminals and for security, I’m also aware of what direction the government seems to have been leaning in recent years regarding Human and Civil Rights.
    While, at the current time, CCTV is used to track the movements of criminals and protect us against their actions, I can see how CCTV could be abused if the wrong kind of people managed to get into power.
    But as I said, everything has it’s good and bad side.

  15. That’s how I feel. I don’t like the idea that a power-mad government (like this one!) has CCTV everywhere, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time there is some terrorist attack or other event, we always seem to have footage of the criminals, and they seem to get caught with quite a good rate.

    Also, the CCTV works both ways. I’m sure the met police are gutted that the public have footage of exactly what went on when they screwed up and short menezes. The CCTV that watches us can occasionally watch them too…

  16. Well Cliff, it is actually the other way as well: the fact that they have the cameras actually force them to always have a footage. It is not politically affordable at all to NOT have a footage after an attack now… and that means that they will have a footage to show, beeing it genuine, or not.

    Btw, time ago I found this video, wich is very ilustrative IMO, in very simple words:

  17. Here’s one you’ve left out: if you’re introduced to them by someone they know, a British person will be as warm, friendly and hospitable as anyone you’ve ever met anywhere at home or elsewhere in the world. But if you are a total stranger, expect to be looked at (and treated) as though you have terrible skin disease and a label on your forehead that declares you to be a satanist and a paedophile.

  18. @Russell et al.

    The reason that we obsess about our house prices is that in England it is deeply ingrained to hold land from old fuedal times. We feel that there are only two things that ever hold their value – Gold and Property. When the government f**k everything up at least you house stays “roughly” the same and no one can turf you out of it. You must remember that we are a very densely populated island. London holds something like 6 Million people which is more than some countries like Sweden or Norway or to put it another way Wyoming is about the same size as the UK but whereas we have 60 Million people Wyoming only has 500,000. So land is all to us.

    The other thing that is important to us about its price is how much tax we have to pay for it – My wife and I bought a house a couple of years ago and I had to pay the Government £12,000.00 just for the privilage of buying the house in Stamp Duty and then I have to pay the local Government £2250.00 a year in Council Tax. Oh – And this tax is all paid after I’ve paid Income tax

    On the teeth thing – Yeah this is something sooooo weird about Septics (Septic Tank = Yank) I worked with a lot of Americans and when I asked one about was the biggest thing that was wrong about the American view of Brits and she saaid it was the teeth thing – Its like you all think we have rotten yellow teeth just dropping out of our mouths !!!! Only babies have white teeth – age stains them – haven’t you seen Elephants?

    The Queueing thing – Yeah – We Que – There is a great comment “Even when he is alone an Englishman will form an orderly queue of one” We just get it – It’s polite – First come – First served

    Tea – Yeah again this is a British thing – But yeah with all the great English tea companies why is it whenever you go abroad you only get Liptons – which no-one drinks in the UK ?

    @ Lesslucid We are a funny people – We have had a war with everyone in the world at some point in time and won most of them even when we were grossly outnumbered – We are an Island nation and haven’t been sucessfully invaded for over 950 years – so sorry if we are a bit wary of everyone. Its not that we don’t like you – It’s just a British thing that we lik our own space – see comment above about space…

    It’s funny that as I read this back that I think we are the only country in the world that “seems” to have so many interchangable terms for identification. UK – Britian – English / Irish / Welsh / Scottish (Only the English say they are British)

    @Cliffski – The Queen rocks !!!! – Who would you rather have? President Blair – Who could then change the rules to suit himself? (Oh – didn’t he do that already?)

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