It’s amazing how my people know about England, the English people and the English language. Some of it true, some of it misguided and some of it completely wrong! I recently came up with a lesson on the UK and had my Ukrainian students get to the bottom of the truth.
1. The British have no emotions
It is a common misconception that the British have about as much ability to express themselves emotionally as a cabbage. There are lots of phrases which evoke the idea of the emotionally deprived Englishman, such as “we are not amuse”, “the stiff upper lip” and our beloved internet meme, “keep calm and carry on”, in all it’s colourful variations.
2. All Brits know the Royal Family
The chances are, though, that as a British expat will be asked at some point whether you personally know the Royals. Bizarrely, many, US citizens in particular, seem to believe that Queen Elizabeth II is best friends with all of her subjects. To a newly arrived expat it can seem a bit… well, odd.
3. All Brits live in London and have a posh accent
Whether you’re from Northampton, Plymouth or Cardiff, Wolverhampton or Coventry, most people will immediately jump to the conclusion that you are actually from London. Some even go one step further sometimes thinking London is a country in its own right, asking “Where in London are you from?”
Another common misconception that you will have to endure is being asked about your accent. Americans can get quite excited when coming across an actual English accent for the first time. I remember asking a newly arrived American during my student days what she meant by the word ‘bling’, to which she replied “Oh my god, that’s like, so cute”. Even though there are characters who play individuals in the US media with a ‘British’ accent, as a rule it’s modified to cater for the US market. For example, exclusively American worsd are used, such as sidewalk, pants and line, whereas and not the standard British pavement, trousers and queue. There have been plenty of times where my accent hadn’t been readily understandable or identifiable to speakers of American English, and I’m sure it’s due to this lack of exposure to natural sounding language;
There is of course a darker side to accents. Many students of English are just not aware of what people sound like, and meeting a Brit for the first time can be a real shock. I’ve been in lots of situations where I’m he first Brit that students of English meet, and even high level ones find it difficult to understand me. This is especially the case in Ukraine where people don’t travel much and where foreigners are few.
4. Terrible food
I’m the first one to agree that very traditional English food, the likes of which is only found out on the moors or in the dales, is pretty dreadful. Lots of traditional and well-known British foods are either disgusting, or unhealthy, or both. These dishes, however are very rarely eaten nowadays. Curry is now the most popular dish in England, and as the country has become more diverse, international cuisine has become more popular than traditional English grub. As an English teacher I’m often asked what traditional English food is, and in all honesty I can’t answer it.
It’s surprising that people are so enthusiastic about wanting to go to the UK given the potentially terrifying meteorological phenomena which are regularly found there. Out of all of the places I’ve been to, England is one of the darkest. There are clouds for long periods of time, which block out the sun all year Round and make the place rather gloomy. It often does rain, but only for short amounts of time and never very heavy. The common, but quiet, rain often leaves everything lush and green. Saying that, I do often joke to my foreign friends saying that if we didn’t go out in England because of the rain, we’d never leave the house.
I must say that this is one of the most ridiculous ones. In Russian there’s the expression “Foggy Albion”, and people genuinely believe that England is constantly coated in mist. Countless movies such as Holmes’ adaptations have led us to believe that the entire place is filled with dense white misty stuff. I suspect Charles Dickens is actually the culprit behind this stereotype, who described in detail the views during industrialisation. London has never been foggy, but it was incredibly polluted during Victorian times, mostly because of the reliance on coal. I’ve long since given up trying to persuade Russians that his isn’t true, since it’s a core and widespread belief about the UK.
Of course, the British do drink tea, and until relatively recently it was quite difficult to find a coffee shop in a lot of places in England. However, people seem to have the idea that drinking tea means sitting down in the afternoon around four o’clock for little sandwiches and a fresh brewed pot possibly served by a butler. The real story of tea services is quite different than the stereotype. The stereotype we have of a tea break would have been accurate about 100 years ago, and only among the upper-echelons of society.
Ever joined a queue and then asked what it’s for? I remember going to a special exhibition at the British Museum and queuing after the entrance only to find out it disappeared into nothingness round the corner! No one likes queuing (who does) and you can be sure to attract the wrath of everyone else if you try to jump a queue. This is the one thing I feel he Brits and Russians have most in common.
9.The Brits are real gentlemen
If you Russian ladies think all Englishmen are romantic gentlemen on white horses then think again! The days of chivalry are long gone us and as feminism is now an important ideology there is little room for holding doors, buying flowers and paying bills in restaurants. We’re all “equal” now so gentlemanly acts are commonly perceived as either old-fashioned or sexist! I regularly have problems on dates because of the different expectations involved. As a case in point, an American friend of mine living in Ukraine got so fed up of people always trying to carry things for her and open doors
10. The English eat porridge for breakfast
This is an outdated stereotype which is no longer true for the vast majority of people in the UK, unless you’re perhaps over 90. I know very few people who eat it (except Russians!). My generation was raised on breakfast cereals with milk. Other types of cereal eaten by Russians are not popular, or even unknown in the UK e.g. buckwheat.