Great Britain: English Personality and Character

A look at the personality and character of the English people of Great Britain



The English national character is dualistic: One aspect is conservative, the other extroverted. The pub is a fine example of the conservative aspect of English character. The pub, unlike the bar in the U.S., is a focal point for the "locals." One goes to the pub for the same reasons one used to go to church: for fellowship and spiritual enlightenment. There is nothing flashy or plastic about most pubs. Many look like one's living room, full of plush, soft chairs, couches, a fireplace, and bright lights. The pubs keep respectable hours, too-open from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. and 5 P.M. to 10 P.M.; Friday and Saturday nights they stay open until 11 P.M. There are no all-night or 3 A.M. public bars. When the pubs close everyone goes home. The pub represents pleasure with control and in good taste.

This control is exemplified in English humor. Most Americans find nothing funny in English comedy shows, since English humor is word oriented while American humor is more action oriented.

The same control that is found in English pubs and humor is also found in the English pace of living. Where else does one stand in line quietly for the bus or the taxi?

Tea drinking is another expression of the English spirit of control and patience. Only barbarians drink tea by placing a tea bag in a cup of hot water. There is a whole ritual to tea drinking in England: The water must be boiling rapidly, the teapot warm, the tea loose, then steeped at least 5 minutes in a teapot covered by a tea cosy. Then and only then does one pour the tea into a cup and drink it. Not only old ladies in lace with Pekingese on their laps drink tea, but a whole nation of workers, entrepreneurs, and aristocrats have tea for breakfast, lunch, and, of course, all activity stops in the afternoon for the customary tea break.

However, there is another side to the English Character-the bizarre, the audacious, and the innovative. It was not the U.S. but conservative England that produced the Beatles with their long hair and sounds that have influenced a decade of rock musicians and adolescents. Out of a very straight middle-class family comes the androgynous Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones whose very existence violates the rigid sexual stereotypes of Western culture.

The English are innovators and experimenters in many areas: A. S. Neill's Summerhill has become the model for progressive education. R. D. Laing, psychiatry's antipsy-chiatrist, claims that it is not the individual who is insane but his society, which constantly categorizes him and forces him to fit into abstract norms. It was in England that Marx wrote Das Kapital which so traumatized Western civilization and radicalized Eastern ones. Perhaps because of Marx's ever-present presence (he is buried in Highgate Cemetery in London), England was one of the 1st countries to have socialized medicine and welfare benefits for all.

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