UK Stereotypes: Expectations and Reality

UK Stereotypes: Expectations and Reality

I’m not the most patriotic of people, and I don’t really think I would say I am proud to be British, but neither am I unhappy about my nationality. Indeed am quite grateful for the privileges having the passport that I do brings.

There are certainly many beautiful places in the UK, many of which I have yet to visit myself, but I don’t often talk to people I meet on my travels about visiting the UK, but if I do, I’ll probably talk about my mixed feelings for London.

However, it seems like wherever I go in the world, people have some ideas about what being British means or what the UK is like as a place to live or visit. Quite often, I find people’s stereotypes of my home country to be rather sweet, if somewhat outdated, though generally positive.

In my curiosity to get a deeper insight in to how people around the world see the UK, I asked eight different bloggers from the Philippines, Australia, Romania, Canada, Italy, Norway, Slovakia and India about how people where they are from see the UK, what stereotypes they had and what their experiences of visiting or living there have been.

But first, if you don’t already have the distinction clear, it may be worth investing the five minutes to watch this video that clearly explains the difference between England, Great Britain, the UK and the British Isles!

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Meanne from the Philippines

In the Philippines every caucasian tourist regardless where they come from is referred to by Filipino kids as Americano because the Philippines was as US colony for many years. To be honest Filipinos are not very aware of British culture and politics aside from the Royal Family. Its only in the last decades that Filipinos are learning more about British culture, especially since the British Government announced an open  hiring for Filipino nurses in Great Britain. As a result, more and more Filipinos have come to settle and work in the UK to serve in the National Health Service.

Before coming to United Kingdom I didn’t know what to expect.  The only idea I had about it was from a nursery rhyme when I was a child. Yes, you guessed it: “London Bridge” or also known as “My Fair Lady”. This famous kids song gave me the reason to come as I wanted to see the famous bridge! However, I was disappointed to find out that the old London Bridge has been transported to somewhere in Arizona, USA.

It’s now been 13 years since I first set foot in Britain to join and work for the National Health Service and I haven’t left since.
The only three critical issues that bug me, and many citizens of this country agree, are that the country is way too soft on criminals (I think the government needs to be tougher on offenders), they’re also very weak when it comes to organising the benefits system (they need to encourage people to work for themselves more and limit the benefits) and lastly the use of health service is being abused by many people of this country. In my opinion, they simply don’t realised how lucky they are to have free health service!

I lived in Swansea, Wales for 9 years then moved across the bridge to England. The low expectation when I first came here has totally changed. The rich history and cultures of Britain, not to mention the historical sites such as old ruined castles and buildings really fascinates me. Today I can honestly say that UK is my new home away from home!

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MeAnne, also known Anneklien, is originally from the Philippines but presently lives in Cheltenham, UK. Through her blog she hopes to inspire others to do solo travel. She believes that travelling helps uncover and discover the deeper more amazing meaning of life. You can reach her on Facebook and Google+.

Jessica from Australia

Obviously, Australia has a strong connection with the UK because of our colonial past. Queen Elizabeth II is still technically the Head of State and, despite a growing Republican movement, at the last referendum on the subject, the nation voted to keep ties with the British crown.

London is one of the “go-to” destinations for students taking a gap-year or young people wanting to gain work experience abroad. It’s very easy to spend time there from a linguistic and cultural standpoint, and we can spend six months out of every twelve as a tourist without needing a visa.

Stereotypically, we hear that it rains all the time and the people like to complain about everything! We are also told that the food is boring, but seeing as though we have adopted parts of British cuisine ourselves, I’m not sure Australians can complain. We have the Brits to thank for our beloved fish ‘n’ chips, though we generally don’t do the whole mushy peas thing!

There is also the stereotype that people are rather “fancy” and so naturally have high teas every day. And of course, everyone lives in a castle, right?

We have been to the UK twice now. The first time we visited London and a small town near Manchester called Chapel en le Frith to do a housesitting assignment. We loved the countryside with its fresh air and rolling hills, and the two lovely dogs we were looking after.

As for London, it honestly didn’t grab us the first time. It felt huge, overwhelming and overrated. During our second visit to the UK, however, we stayed in London for a couple of months and it really started to grow on us! The longer timeframe allowed us to make lasting friendships and discover fun and quirky things to see and do like the annual pillow fight event in Trafalgar Square and London’s smallest library housed in a phone booth! I can now say that we’ve been converted.

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Jessica and Hai are an Aussie couple, world explorers and digital nomads travelling the globe indefinitely. You can find them online at their blog Notes of Nomads and watch their vlogs on their newly revived YouTube channel. Find them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ too.

Erik from Romania

In Romania, the United Kingdom is considered one of the best countries in Europe when it comes to touristic opportunities or jobs. It is well known that UK has had some issues with high numbers of Romanian immigrants. This happened because people in Romania consider the UK an extremely good place to work with a better life quality compared to our country.

As the UK tried to limit the number of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, some journalists started a campaign on the internet called “why don’t you come over?” explaining why Romania is still a “better” place than UK using funny quotes like “our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water”, “half of our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister” or “we speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France”. The campaign has evolved a lot since it started and now there are job offers and a couch surfing network exclusively for people from the UK.

I first visited UK when I was in high school six years ago. Before getting there, I thought it was going to rain continuously. When we got there, in July, we had a lovely weather without a single drop of rain for more then a week. The other thing that we expected was that everybody would be a football addict. Now, as I work for a company that is doing outsourcing in Romania, I see that Brits aren’t so addicted to football.

I’ve been to the UK three times now. The first when I was in high school (we went to London), then during my first year of college I went to visit a friend who was studying in Manchester and this year again in London, an experience that I wrote about on my blog. In Manchester I saw a lot of rain, but in London none at all. The people were nice all the time and I had a great experience. I’m really considering the UK as my first option in Europe when I eventually decide to settle down. From a tourist’s perspective, I find the UK a great place to visit, a bit expensive but all its history and people makes it a wonderful country.

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Erik is a Romanian software developer that loves to travel and set himself a goal on 1st January 2014 to visit at least 80 countries, which he writes about on his blog. Currently he has visited six countries, the UK being the third on his list. You can also contact him through Facebook and LinkedIn.

Nick and Dariece from Canada

I’ve never met a Canadian who doesn’t like people from the UK, and to tell you the truth, I think we’re all a little bit jealous of the English accent! Even though flights from the UK to Canada can be quite cheap, we don’t see a lot of British tourists in our country. Canada is very different to the UK in terms of culture and humour.

Canadians love the outdoors, camping and hockey, whereas the British don’t really do a lot of camping and they love football and the odd sport of cricket! We love offside TV shows like Family Guy, while the British like the Peep Show. There are many similarities though because we’re all from a western nation; we all love to have a good laugh, enjoy restaurant & cafe culture and nice pint of beer.

The UK is definitely a country that Canadians want to visit. Seeing sites like Big Ben, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace in person is such an amazing feeling. We still have Queen Elizabeth II on our money and we share the same Head of State and Monarch, so to visit the country that we have so many ties with is something I think we all want to do. If the weather wasn’t so rainy and dismal in the UK, I think it would be a more desirable place to move to…mind you, maybe Canada would be more desirable if we didn’t have such freezing cold winters!

I feel like every stereotype we had about the UK was completely true! Yes, people eat full English fry-ups for breakfast. Yes, they have afternoon tea. Yes, the men wear scarves. Yes, the weather is usually overcast and drizzling. Yes, they go to the pub often. Yes, there is hilarious banter between friends and couples.

All of these stereotypes are true, in our experience, and all of them are awesome!

We’ve been to the UK two times now for a total of only 10 days. We stayed with friends each time and had a wonderful experience. It’s great to know a local in any country you visit. We went to London, Brighton, Portsmouth, York and Stonehenge (which our British friends dubbed “a pile of rocks”).

Seeing all of the old homes, the castles, the cathedrals and double-decker buses was all very exciting for us. We enjoyed full English breakfasts, yorkshire puddings and Sunday roasts. Delicious! My dad was born in England and his family are all from Scotland and England, so I would definitely love to go back and explore some more.

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Nick and Dariece are the nomadic couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to help others live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. They are also full time contributors at Travel Pulse and Credit Walk where they share their expertise of making money abroad and travelling forever. Check them out at Goats On The Road and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Franca from Italy

In Italy where I’m from the perception of British people can vary a lot, so it’s difficult to generalize but overall the UK is considered an attractive country to travel and also to immigrate to because the general opinion is that there are plenty of jobs there for everyone. But most importantly, Italians think that in the UK employers will at least give you a chance!

Unfortunately there are many stereotypes and prejudices about the UK, some of which I was taught in school. I truly believed that British people have their tea and biscuits at 5pm every day and the typical fried breakfast with eggs and sausages every morning. I always had the image of people in the UK being very meticulous, with harsh discipline and rules to always follow no matter what. Another common thought that Italians believe is that British people cannot cook properly (look at a chef like Jamie Oliver) and have a very odd sense of humour which is hard to understand and that sometimes isn’t funny at all!

I moved to the UK in 2006 to learn English first. I lived, studied and worked in Leamington Spa in the Midlands for almost 7 years. One thing I wasn’t looking forward to before moving was the fact that British don’t have a bidet in their bathrooms, something Italians cannot do without. It took me some time to adjust but I did!

I loved my time in the UK and I’d live there again with no problems at all, but there are things I don’t like about the British way of living like the heavy ‘drinking for the sake of getting drunk’ culture, but also there are many others which I adore and respect immensely, like the fact that queuing actually works and people don’t push each other to get ahead.

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Franca, an Italian female who, after having dreamed about travelling for years, in June 2012 left her job and comfort zone to set off on the journey of a lifetime and has been travelling full-time since sharing everything she finds along with her partner & co-blogger Dale on their blog Angloitalian, Follow Us! Find her also on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Alexandra from Norway

In Norway, Brits are generally well regarded. Many Norwegians are massive football fans, usually of Manchester United or Liverpool. Many feel connected to Britain because of our royal families, as well as the shared history we have (Vikings and all). Also, London is considered THE shopping destination in Europe, and as it’s just a short hop across the North Sea, many visit for a weekend at least once a year.

For me, the stereotypes I had before visiting varied widely within the UK. In England, I thought of tweed-wearing gentlemen with moustaches and beagles, who roam the countryside looking for foxes to hunt while calling ‘what ho’. In Scotland, there would mostly be red heads with kilts and difficult to understand accents, and in Wales you have… sheep – and place names you cannot possibly pronounce! Everyone drinks lots of tea, apart from the Scots, who only drink whisky.

But having visited all three countries several times, and actually lived in an unpronounceable Welsh village for a year, I can safely say that my perceptions have broadened! (Although I secretly wish that England could be a little more like it is portrayed in the TV series “Heartbeat“.)

I love the UK and have been there more times than I care to count. I did my postgrad degree in Aberystwyth, and I love Wales dearly. I love their accents, the sea, the rolling hills, and the rich history. But I also love England and Scotland, and it’s nigh on impossible for me to pick a favourite spot. The Highlands of Scotland remind me of Norway, but I adore the English leafiness that you can find in the Cotswolds too. If I had to choose the top five, it would be Islay, Port Isaac, Salisbury, Llandudno, and Jersey.

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Alexandra Redisch is a citizen of the world, as Ibsen’s Peer Gynt said, but hails from Norway. She’s a published short story author, old-fashioned mystery fanatic, avid traveller and intense tea drinker. She has a BSc in psychology, an MA in creative writing and blogs at Sophie’s World.

Ivana from Slovakia

I haven’t been living in Slovakia for eight years now, so I can hardly generalize the opinions of Slovaks but, at the time I was still living in my homeland, we considered UK first of all as an ideal country where you could get a well-paid summer job (strawberries picking was a hit!), or find a temporary job to earn some extra money before settling down in Slovakia and those who knew the English language very well, they aimed for a job to make a decent living in UK so they were able to start their dream life there.

Other Slovaks visited and still visit UK to learn the language, as a part of a short-term language course or within an exchange students program at a high school.

There are also some Slovaks, women in particular, who travel just to London to catch the best stuff of seasonal sales.

Before I arrived to the UK in 2006, I had an image of people being too serious, yet with particular humour, well educated and hard-working, drinking tea more than water and having few culinary skills.

I lived in London for total of 14 months and I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised. Shocked because I found out people I met in the UK knew very little about Eastern Europe and I can say they had more prejudices towards my nation than the opposite. I could also see that they liked beer more than tea, even during working days, which is not very common in Slovakia. I was not a big fan of British cuisine either. But, on the other hand, I found people in London humorous and I liked their jokes. Moreover, British kindness and politeness is unbeatable!

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Ivana Greslikova comes from Prešov in Slovakia and she’s been living abroad since 2006 while doing different jobs. In 2013 she left Germany with her partner to travel the world indefinitely. You can find their stories and eco-adventures from Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Finland and Slovenia on their blog. You can also connect with them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Anu and Sri from India

People in India usually consider UK as very wealthy and a great place to immigrate. There’s a huge Indian community spread all over the UK. Since a lot of Indians have immigrated and settled here, their family and friends often choose the UK for summer holidays. What better way than this to meet the family as well as have a holiday? And the value of having a red passport doesn’t need any explanation! Basically, Indians see the UK as a great place to move and earn some extra money for their family.

Before moving to the UK, we lived in two other European countries. The reason we moved to the UK was mainly to be in an English speaking country, but equally we were a bit scared too, because we heard there was lot more racism in the country. We heard stories from friends about how Indians were targeted with racial abuse, both verbal and physical.

We heard of men and women wearing ethnic clothes being mocked because of their attire and women wearing mangalsutra could be victims of chain snatching! One of our friends who lived in a certain part of the UK told us that he could never go out alone. There were people who would throw tomatoes or eggs at him or scratch or dent his car.

After hearing so many unpleasant stories, we were a bit reluctant, but we got the chance to live in Edinburgh, a completely new city that no one we knew had reviewed yet. We liked the idea of exploring the city without any prejudice. Most of the conversation happens about how difficult and different the weather in the UK is, especially in Scotland where one can experience all kinds of weather on a single day!

We have been living in the UK for more than four years and we call Edinburgh our home city. There’s nothing to actually complain about in Edinburgh. Everything is nice and beautiful; there are facilities, good schools, amazing universities, a thriving nightlife, and a year full of interesting events. We really can’t actually ask for anything more!

We love the fact that the city is so compact, yet has a plethora of activities to do. There are options to hike the extinct volcano right at the end of city centre, and the summer festivals are gorgeous here. There’s a certain appeal that gives you a simple yet memorable day even if you walk along the Princes Street or the Royal Mile, watching the myriad tourists. People here are very warm, friendly and approachable.

There’s more natural beauty in Scotland that compelled us to travel every weekend in search of silent valleys, and landscape that are now etched in our heart forever. If there’s just one thing that we have to complain about, it’s the weather!

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Anu and Sri are happy-go-lucky Indian couple living and working full time in Edinburgh, Scotland. They travel around the world in search of best kept secrets, off-beat attractions and romantic getaways. They like to travel like locals, get soaked in the local culture and experience slow travelling which explains why they chose the expat lifestyle. They’ve lived in three European countries so far and have explored 25 countries together. Check out their blog, and find them on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

What stereotypes do people have about the UK where you’re from? Do you think they’re true?