When you think of the UK, what do you imagine? Rain? Polite people? Terrible food? Tea? On today’s episode of Thinking in English, I thought I’d explain and maybe disprove some of the most common British stereotypes!
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Recently, the weather in Tokyo has been depressing: rainy, dark, and cloudy everyday. It makes my morning commute feel much longer than it really is, and I think also contributes to feeling tired and unmotivated. I mentioned this to a Taiwanese friend yesterday, and he replied by saying it must remind me of home! I’m British, so I must be used to rain!
The chances are that you think the same. One of the most common stereotypes of the UK and London is that it always rains. In fact, most British people would agree that the British weather is terrible. But are stereotypes of the UK actually true?
According to the Oxford dictionary, a stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” By stereotyping, we assume that a member of a certain group will have certain characteristics. National stereotypes are some of the most common – Germans like drinking beer; Americans are loud, Argentinians love steak; Japanese people are tidy.
When it comes to the UK, what stereotypes do you think of? What are your impressions or expectations of the UK? I went online to find a few examples of stereotypes – and there are a lot of articles on trashy websites about the British. Here are a few I found on the Independent’s website.
- British people all have a “British accent” like you see on TV
- Britain loves the royal family and the Queen
- Britain has terrible food
- Britain is always rainy
- British people love to drink tea
But are these stereotypes actually true? You might be surprised, but not really. There is obviously some truth in a stereotype, but there is also a lot of oversimplification. I have spent so much time explaining and defending British food and weather over the years, but people seem to not believe me when I say London is not actually that wet and the cuisine is not that bad. You can listen to the episode I recorded with DanSensei if you want to know why the “British accent” stereotype is a myth.
So today, I’m going to explain 3 of the most common British stereotypes. And by the end of this episode, you should hopefully understand why believing stereotypes is not always useful. In fact, this episode should be another example of why it is important to think critically!
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It Always Rains in London
London is a rainy city, right? Everyone knows this? All of my foreign friends have commented at least once that I must be used to rain and bad weather because I’m British. And every American movie or TV show set in London shows it raining.
But I’ve lived in London, and in Japan twice and in Taipei. And the weather in London was generally quite pleasant. The winter is not too cold, the summer is not too hot, and it doesn’t actually rain that much. It might just be my memory, but I’m pretty sure it rained almost everyday I lived in Taiwan!
According to the UK met office (the people who study the weather), there is on average 106.5 days of rain a year in London. This includes days where only 1mm of rain falls. So, 71% of the days in a year have no rain at all. Moreover, the average rainfall is 557.4mm a year.
Let’s compare this with other major cities. In terms of amount of rain a year, London is the 33rd wettest capital city in Europe. Just Europe. It rains less in London than it does in Rome, Lisbon, and Paris. You probably don’t think of Paris or Rome as being rainy cities… but they rain more than London!
And in terms of the number of rainy days, many other cities known for their sunshine actually rain more than London. It might surprise you, but places like Sydney, Miami, New York, Mexico city, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo all have more days of rain a year than London.
Growing up as a child in a village relatively close to London, there were bans on excessive water use in the summer because it wasn’t raining enough in the UK. And think about British sports – we play tennis on grass and cricket. If you don’t know, cricket is a ball sport that takes 5 days to play a full game and cannot be played under any rain whatsoever – even a small amount. Would people in London invent and play such games if it really rained so much?
London does have quite a few overcast and cloudy days, but it doesn’t rain that often. And rain in London tends to be light and short – maybe just an hour to two!
However, I think it is fair to say that the weather in London is highly unpredictable. The weather can change significantly between days, and even within the same day. It can be 30 degrees in August, and then the next day 15 degrees. In winter it can be freezing, and then the next day 15 degrees. British summer clothes and winter clothes can sometimes be the same. But it is unpredictable!
In Tokyo, if I look outside and it is sunny in the morning, I normally don’t take an umbrella out with me. But in the UK, if it is sunny in the morning, that doesn’t mean anything. It is a very regular occurrence for a day in London to change between beautiful sun, gloomy cloud, rain, and then sun again in only a few hours!
How about the rest of the UK? For sure, other parts of the UK do have more than London. We are an island country next to a big ocean – so the west of the country gets more rain than the East. And higher parts of the country have more rain than the lower parts. But there are also parts of the UK that are even drier than London – Norfolk has the same amount of rainy days but 30% more sun. Norfolk is drier than parts of the Middle East!
I think an interesting question is why do people believe London is rainy? I think it has a lot to do with TV shows, movies, and books set in London. They tend to depict London as raining – and people expect this! Also, British people love to talk about the weather. We talk about rain a lot, so perhaps we give the impression it rains more than it actually does!
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British Food is Terrible
Well, if it is not rainy in London, the food is still terrible. Right? I hear this a lot as well. In fact, after going to an international supermarket in Tokyo and complaining that there wasn’t much British food, my friend said it was because British food is bad. But is this true?
British food is not considered a cuisine in the same way that French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian food is! It is tremendously rare to ever find a British restaurant anywhere outside of the UK. But when I think about it, British food isn’t actually bad.
The stereotypical dishes like fish and chips are delicious. A full English breakfast is the best breakfast in the world in my opinion – and I’ve eaten a lot of breakfasts. British pies and pasties are incredible. British cakes and biscuits are amazing – as much as I love Japanese food, I have never found a single supermarket biscuit as good as British snacks.
Moreover, when you think about produce – Britain has some of the best produce in the world. Many of the world’s best cheeses are British – like cheddar. Bread is delicious in the UK, Britain is the home of incredibly high quality meat like Angus beef. We are a farming country with a wide variety of delicious vegetables and fruits.
British chocolate is 100 times better than the stuff available outside of Europe. Milk, butter, and cream are also very high quality in the UK! And snack foods in the UK like potato chips are awesome.
So why does British food have a bad reputation? The most common explanation is war. Historians suggest that before the 20th century, Britain was not seen as a place of bad food. But wars and rationing meant that ingredients were not freely available to buy until 1954. A whole generation of British people grew up in a world without a culinary or cooking tradition. Ingredients like canned food, cheap bread, and powdered milk/eggs were the only things available to cook with.
Until recently, this lack of culinary heritage has characterised British cooking. But over the past 20 or so years, things have definitely changed. British TV is full of cooking TV shows – and I mean full. Restaurants have been getting better and people are spending more time thinking about food. London has some of the best restaurants in the world, and an incredible variety of food available!
Britain is a tea drinking nation
This stereotype is a little different. Why? Well, because British people do drink a lot of tea… but maybe not in the way you think.
Britain drinks 60 billion cups of tea a year. That is 900 cups for each person in the UK. When I lived with my parents, I was definitely drinking at least 4 cups of tea a day – so over 1000 cups a year! Tea has become an incredibly common part of British culture.
I love tea. But I also love coffee. In my local cafe, other customers always ask me why I order coffee if I’m British – they think I should be drinking tea. But if you look at the statistics, the same amount of people drink coffee everyday as people who drink tea everyday (although they drink less coffee on average).
Tea was not always a British drink. For most of history, beer was the most common drink of choice. Alcohol was far safer to drink than dirty water in major cities. And people always forget about the history of coffee in the UK.
In fact, coffee was popular in the UK long before tea was. The whole reason cafe culture developed in Britain and Europe was due to coffee. Coffee was introduced to the UK hundreds of years ago, and became a popular drink for normal people.
While coffee was becoming popular, tea was almost impossible to buy in the UK. China produced most of the tea at the time and wasn’t trading with anyone, and there was no tea in the British empire.
Tea drinking became popular only after the royal family of the UK started to drink tea. In the past, many of the trends in the UK were due to people copying the Kings and Queens! Once taxes were reduced on tea, it became even more affordable than coffee and even beer making it the drink of choice for most of the country.
However, the way Britain consumes tea is different to the stereotype. Have you heard of afternoon tea? The idea that British people take a break in the afternoon to drink tea and eat cakes and sandwiches is really attractive and popular with people outside of the UK. But it is not a regular occurrence for British families.
Of course, we drink a lot of tea. And probably will have a cup of tea in the afternoon. But that is not “afternoon tea.” In fact, I have had afternoon tea only once or twice in my life. Afternoon tea was traditionally popular with the wealthy, and now is for tourists (both British and international tourists).
Confusingly, tea has another meaning in the UK. Many British people (including myself) call the evening meal tea. It comes from the idea of having “high tea” – a kind of working class alternative to afternoon tea that involved drinking tea and eating bread in the evenings. Gradually, working class Brits began to call their midday meal “dinner” and their evening meal “tea.” Middle and upper classes would tend to use “lunch” and “dinner” instead.
So is it really always rainy in London? Is British food terrible? And has the UK always been a nation of tea drinkers? Hopefully after listening to today’s episode, you realise that some of these stereotypes are not actually that accurate.
London doesn’t actually rain much – it is drier than most major cities in Europe. British food isn’t actually as bad as people say – get a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, have fish and chips by the seaside, and eat a delicious steak pie. And although Britain loves drinking tea, it hasn’t always been that way!
How about your country? What are some stereotypes about your country that are not actually true?
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