Monday, June 9, 2008

English, British, hmm...

Scotland feels completely different as soon as you step off the bus. Even before, actually. I don’t know what it is. Actually, it’s probably more similar to Wales in terms of pace of life, how GREEN everything is, the hilly landscape with sheep dotted all across. The further north you go, the more lush, fairy-tale it transforms into.

I arrived in Inverness on schedule and spent the day walking with Simon. We went down to the Ness Islands, walked along the canal, and did a big loop back to the city. We then lounged on the lawn of Inverness Castle…great pub stop at the top of the canal as well. Lovely lad with lots of great travel stories as well, and a true example of Scottish friendliness, good humor, generosity and openness.

So let’s see, I’d probably like to write about what I think about the UK, England, British.

Well, first off, I now (think) I have a more clear understanding of what these terms mean. The countries of Scotland, England, and Wales form Great Britain. Throw in Northern Island and you’ve got the United Kingdom.

I didn’t realize that there was this big discrepancy between what English and British meant, until I went out for a drink with Sham and his sister Kaya the other night in South Kensington. Sham identifies himself as English; Kaya herself as British. Kaya associates the term English as a racial word, and British is more the general composite, of how Asians have integrated and created a distinct culture that is essentially non-English. Sham continued to say that he was English because he was born and raised in England, and things from England that are essentially English, such as football and drinking, are very much a part of him. Anyway, this got me thinking as I was trying to find the equivalent terminology for people in the United States. Would “American” be the same as “English” and if so, what would be the term for “British”? Kaya claimed that she thought “American” WAS the term for British, and pointed out that all the time people call themselves Japanese-American or Italian-American or whatever. I don’t really know what conclusions I drew but it was an interesting conversation.

The next day, I mentioned to John that this had come up and how the person who I had called English had been quite offended. What he said was also interesting, because he said it had to do with people’s perceptions. Previously, the English had a superiority complex, and being English meant being wealthier, and often times more educated and cosmopolitan. However, now there is a big push to emphasize the identity of Great Britain rather than England on its own, so it’s become politically incorrect to say you’re English. By claiming you’re English, people may perceive you to be discriminatory against the fellow UK nations. A complicated mess, if you ask me.

I don’t mean to sound whiny, but the public transport in the UK has shocked me. Yes, I realize that I’ve been living in Japan for the past few years and most people wouldn’t deny that Japan has either the best or one of the best public transport systems in the world. But had I forgotten, or did I previously not care, about shoddy transport? Maybe it’s because as my profession has required extensive time on public transport, I notice and appreciate the good systems. In any case, London was a shocker. Without an “oyster” card, which is an electronic refillable card, much like the Suica or Pasmo in Japan, a single ride on the tube costs 4 pounds – that’s 8 USD or 800 yen! That’s insane!

But it’s not even the price that irritated me. The quality was pretty abysmal. I often waited more than 10 minutes for a train, they were dirty, and the stations were dirty as well. I can think of so many places with better public transport: Paris, New York, Washington, DC, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Madrid, Amsterdam, well, wait, let me put it this way – I don't know of any other city where you would pay as much for the low quality.

And weather…oh the famous British weather. I guess I had forgotten about how much weather affects me as well. The unpredictability, the rain, the clouds, the cold wind…it just doesn't work for me anymore. California probably ruined it for me…

1 comment:

Simon Varwell said...

Interesting points about English/British. You are right (or your friend John is right) that it has somehow become un-PC to call yourself English.

This is a real shame, and post-devolution in the UK (since about 1999), there have been so many political developments in the three smaller nations that have enhanced their identity and ability to make relevant decisions... but none in England.

I'd argue, therefore (and I am Scottish), that England has one of the most suppressed nationalities in Europe, and only when it is an independent country can it at last be "England" without any hang-ups or fear of treading on others' toes. It's the least the people of England deserve.

And I agree with your points about public transport - the UK's is shocking, and I have been to many poorer European countries who could put us to shame on this front.