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Modern Brits: Ignorant, intolerant, overly-nationalistic binge drinkers?

Published time: July 29, 2014 16:07
Edited time: July 29, 2014 23:50
A man drops his shorts in Lincoln, eastern England. (Reuters / Darren Staples)

A man drops his shorts in Lincoln, eastern England. (Reuters / Darren Staples)

Ignorant, intolerant, overly nationalistic folk who drink too much and stomach terrible food? Those grim attitudes reflect how many young people view the UK from the outside, according to a recent study published by the British Council.

As Others See Us - a report which analyses over 5,000 young adults’ perspectives on modern Britain - reveals some unsettling results about foreigners’ perceptions of the UK and its citizens.

Published on Tuesday, the research illustrates how the UK is still battling with an array of long-held unfavorable perceptions relating to grim weather, excessive boozing and bland cuisine.

A varied and progressive cultural scene along with a rich historical legacy are perceived to be the country’s most attractive features, though oddly the British Council’s research indicates David Beckham is considered a great cultural icon alongside Shakespeare.

Domestic concerns about the culture of hedonistic binge-drinking and loutish antics are nothing new, and are reflected in the views of those surveyed. Asked to note British citizens' worst characteristics, a sizeable 27 percent claimed they “drink too much” – a figure which peaked at 34 percent if the survey respondent had set foot in the UK and experienced the drinking culture first-hand.

Other commonly referred to objectionable features included “bad eating habits”, “too nationalistic” and “ignorant of other cultures”, with “intolerant towards people from other countries” also scoring highly in the league table of discredit.

“Violence”, Britain’s government, and the people’s propensity to drive on the left also roused objections among certain participants.

The worst of Britain

1. Drink too much alcohol (27% thought so)

2. Bad eating habits (23%)

3. Too nationalistic (22%)

4. Ignorant of other cultures (22%)

5. Intolerant towards people from other countries (20%)

6. Rude (17%)

7. Unfriendly (13%)

8. Complain too much (13%)

9. Too pessimistic (11%)

10. Lazy (10%)

But UK citizens do have some redeeming characteristics, according to the research. Forty-five percent of those surveyed talked about politeness and pleasant manners as the best British qualities, while others said UK citizens have a great sense of humor, are “friendly”, “educated and skilled”, and “respect the rule of law.”

Based on a survey carried out on 18-34 year olds from China, India, Brazil, Germany and the US, the report explored factors that make the UK attractive – along with qualities that make for generally alluring countries. It also contrasted the world’s most prolific economies with respect to attractiveness measured across cultural, educational and people-centered dimensions.

As compared with 15 other countries, the UK scored well in overall attractiveness, tying with Australia and coming second only to the United States. Britain’s arts and culture scenes, and its education system particularly contribute to the nation’s perceived attractiveness, according to the British Council’s research.

Places associated with Britain’s cultural scene were London, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the British Museum, and Stonehenge. Prominent cultural icons commonly talked about by the survey’s participants were The Beatles, Banksy, Tracy Emin, Paul McCartney, JK Rowling, Adele, and Winston Churchill.

Reflecting on the report, John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council, said: “They say ‘to know us is to love us’ and this survey shows young connected people around the world generally do. But they also still believe the stereotypes – bad weather, hard drinking and most unfairly of all, bad food.”

Worne emphasized that those who spend time in the UK generally harbor positive perceptions about the country.

“The evidence is that the more we can attract people to actually visit the UK, study here or do business here, the better and more fully they appreciate us. That matters to our future prosperity and standing in the world”, he said.

The British Council’s research claims that a considerable “shift in influence” is on-going across the globe, which heightens the importance of how Britons are perceived internationally. Britain’s youth must be taught the importance of cultivating an “international outlook”, the report cautions.

“Power is drifting away from governments and being picked up by people, brands and movements; established hierarchies are being challenged by new local, national and global networks. The international landscape is being transformed by hyperconnectivity, social media, and the rapid rise of direct people-to-people connections unmediated by states”, the report’s authors argue.

On the question of Britain’s weaknesses, the report concludes the British establishment should recognize its perceived shortcomings. The UK government and the wider pubic should “consider the mixed perceptions” relating to Britain, and cultivate concrete steps to “improve international perceptions”, the report suggests.

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