What makes us British?

The Waning Honeymoon, 1878 by George Henry Boughton (1833-1905) © Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA
The Waning Honeymoon, 1878 by George Henry Boughton (1833-1905) © Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA

1. Indifference

As evidenced by the in-house reaction to the creation of this list, it would appear that choosing to ignore things for whatever reason is a skill this nation deploys with aplomb. No one does deliberate indifference like a UK MP; just check YouTube, Paxman, Newsnight and ‘answer the question’. Seventy new emails since checking 30 minutes ago? ‘To file’ piles so big they take up more space than all your filing cabinets combined? Annoying email from someone asking you to reply to the last email you haven’t yet opened? Ignore.

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The Unwelcome Advance, 1980s (oil on canvas) by Ruskin Spear (1911-90)
The Unwelcome Advance, 1980s (oil on canvas) by Ruskin Spear (1911-90)

2. Pubs

Need we say more? 
 

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Couple arguing, plate from 'John Bull', 1950s (colour litho) by English School, (20th century) Private Collection/ © The Advertising Archives
Couple arguing, plate from 'John Bull', 1950s (colour litho) by English School, (20th century) Private Collection/ © The Advertising Archives

3. Swearing
 
All the best swear words are Anglo-Saxon in origin. Just listen to hip hop and rap: even if it’s French, they’ll be swearing in English. A good expletive deftly deployed is a joy to hear, and regional variations, combined with provincial accents, add spice and interest to familiar blasphemies. Also, we’re good at making up new profanities, if Richard Curtis is anything to go by. This also spills over into hooliganism, which we seem to excel at, even though this counts as the worst of Britain rather than the best.

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My Garden, 1969 by Margaret Baird (1891-1979) Private Collection
My Garden, 1969 by Margaret Baird (1891-1979) Private Collection

4. Gardening

An English Country Garden is a cliché; it can also be a thing of outstanding, glorious beauty. Any historical house must have an equally impressive garden. An English rose is possibly the most universally romantic symbol of summer.

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Cauliflower Teapot, from Burlem, Staffordshire, c.1759-66 (lead glazed cream earthenware, slip-cast) by English School, (18th century) Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK
Cauliflower Teapot, from Burlem, Staffordshire, c.1759-66 (lead glazed cream earthenware, slip-cast) by English School, (18th century) Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK

5. Tea - cups of

The rest of Europe just don’t understand. Russia has samovars on its overnight trains, one in each carriage, but nowhere except Yorkshire could have produced something as mighty and fulfilling as the Tetley Tea Bag. Tea abroad always tastes rubbish; I don’t know why, perhaps it’s the air. Tip: always travel with your own tea bags.

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Sex Sells, 2006 (oil on canvas) by David FeBland (20th and 21st Century) Private Collection
Sex Sells, 2006 (oil on canvas) by David FeBland (20th and 21st Century) Private Collection

6. Queuing

The thing that makes it so great is how the people queuing relate to each other, making friends or sighing so loud the Cherubim can hear when the person in front doesn’t quite move into the newly vacated empty space in the queue. I especially like the way we deal with queue jumpers; it starts with glaring at the jumper, then maneuvering oneself in front of the jumper from the side, or finally, when none of this works into shaming the jumper into submission, we march over to said jumper, heart pumping and hands shaking, and inform them “there is a queue” and stalk off trying to suppress the rush of excitement that we felt for having ‘stood up’ for our fellow queuers.

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Dancing by Fred Aris (b.1934) (Contemporary Artist) Private Collection/ © Portal Painters
Dancing by Fred Aris (b.1934) (Contemporary Artist) Private Collection/ © Portal Painters

7. Food

The UK’s reputation for bad cooking comes from the French, who felt we were encroaching on their ‘territoire gastronomique’. In fact London has the most diverse culinary offerings of any city in the world, even more than New York. You can’t get Bulgarian mountain food in any restaurant over the pond or a choice of several Ethiopian restaurants of excellent quality all along the same suburban street.

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Little Chaperone, 2003-04 by Alan Kingsbury(Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection
Little Chaperone, 2003-04 by Alan Kingsbury(Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection

8. Animals

We LOVE our animals. I know we haven’t specifically got the best spread of indigenous wildlife (tigers, giraffes etc. not native to these shores) but we love our domestic pets in a more respectful yet soppy way than anyone else. We don’t go in for all that undignified dressing up à la USA, we don’t eat them, they live inside with us and give us love we can’t get anywhere else. No human could ever show the unconditional devotion, joy and happiness that a dog shows when it sees its owner every morning. We in the UK appreciate and celebrate this.

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Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon (b/w photo) by English Photographer, (20th century) Private Collection
Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon (b/w photo) by English Photographer, (20th century) Private Collection

9. Weirdness

Forget the British Eccentric, that’s a polite way of saying totally weird. We do weirdos like no other country. British Surrealism is a manifestation of this weirdness. Any migrant out of the UK takes Albion’s inherent oddness with them and spreads it as they go; any migrant moving into the UK will soon succumb to the all-conquering malaise of being bonkers in Blighty.

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Preparing for the Grand Attack, or A Private Rehearsal of the ci-devant Ministry in danger, published by Hannah Humphrey in 1801 (hand-coloured etching) by James Gillray (1757-1815) © Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford
Preparing for the Grand Attack, or A Private Rehearsal of the ci-devant Ministry in danger, published by Hannah Humphrey in 1801 (hand-coloured etching) by James Gillray (1757-1815) © Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford

10. Lists

The mania for lists is a phenomenon which the media doesn’t want to let go of and the Bridgeman UK marketing department is no exception. Stand by for lists covering our Top 10 of a variety of items in the coming months. Nothing to do with the ‘To Do’ list, which we are treating with deliberate indifference.
 

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