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We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.
FOG IN CHANNEL; CONTINENT CUT OFF
At the moment, Britain isn't even in the European car. We're outside the car at the traffic light going, "we're going to clean your windows, alright?"
The UK's rather odd relationship with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. Not to be confused to the similar, though fiercely independent approach of Switzerland.
Until about 10,000 years ago, Britain was actually joined with the rest of Europe by land- the sea levels were lower as a result of the Ice Age.
Point o' Guinness - the Irish
The only country to fully share a border with, Britain has a very good relationship with Ireland (usually). One of the UK's most popular airlines is the no-frills Ryanair, and Guinness is a popular alcoholic drink. The large number of ex-pats helps.
British television can be picked up in Ireland, although few RTE programmes have come our way.
Perfide France - the French
The English have fought at least 20 wars against the French since the Norman Conquest. Before the Germans started seriously arming in the lead-up to World War One, the enemy in "invasion fiction" was the French. The earlier attempts to build a Channel Tunnel failed because of fears of the French.
Today the British have a rather complex relationship with the French. They've had many differences over foreign policy, especially over the European Union (de Gaulle stopped British entry a couple of times). However, they fought together in both World Wars, signed the Entente Cordiale over a century ago and are in NATO together. In June 1940, an Anglo-French Union was seriously considered but overtaken by events. The two have recently signed a historic defensive and cooperation act, to save government military spending.
Then there's the cultural business. The English may well mock French cuisine in their movies, but the English love to eat French food - any baker's will sell baguettes. The British upper and middle classes are also positively obsessed with French wine, with the kinds of Bordeaux aimed at the insatiable British market receiving the label "claret" (pronounced English-style with a "t" at the end) just to make things clear.
Then there's the whole "booze cruise" phenomenon. Wine and other alcoholic beverages are rather cheaper in France than in the UK. Crossing the Channel between Dover and Calais via ferry or Le Shuttle is pretty cheap. So, what a lot of British people do is go across the Channel to France for a day, buy up a lot of cheap booze and cigarettes and then come back, sometimes selling or giving the produce on to their friends.
- It's legal to bring an unlimited amount of stuff back from France for personal use or as a gift to give to a friend. It's not to bring it to sell, or buy it for someone else. HM Revenue and Customs set informal limits on what they'll accept as "personal use".
- There are limits on how much stuff you can bring back from more recent EU members such as Poland and Hungary, because the price difference is so great that it's asking for someone to take advantage. These limits aren't very heavily enforced though. To the extent that you can sometimes walk through the blue channel with nothing but cigarettes in your hand luggage and not be challenged.
Many Brits have holiday homes in the South of France, or emigrate there, while hundreds of thousands of French work in Britain (not quite so many going the other way for the work).
The Scottish are somewhat different. Before the Union, they were often allies with France (the "Auld Alliance"). When England sports teams play a foreign opponent, including France, the Scots will be cheering on the other side.
- Hell, when England play a foreign team, both the Welsh and the Irish will also root for the other team. The reverse is generally true for English support when the other Home nation teams face foreign opposition - most English fans will happily cheer for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland against other countries. Different levels and types of nationalism present perhaps?
They're taking our loungers - the Germans
English is derived more from the Germanic languages than it is from the Romance ones ("pardon my Anglo-Saxon" is a British way to apologise for swearing, as is "pardon my French").
- "Pardon my French" will always carry a slight jab to the French (one reason why they are used and not, say, the Germans) as though what one has just uttered should not normally issue from the mouth of a 'civilised' Brit.
The UK was of course highly affected by both World Wars, with German aerial bombings during both. This, naturally colours Anglo-German relations. The Germans are trying to live down their actions in both wars, and consequently object when the war is referred to in British advertising (as in the case of a beer being described as "downed all over Kent, just like the Luftwaffe").
The popular UK perception of Germans is that they have no sense of humour (which really isn't true - British Humour and German Humour are actually quite similar, though that may be part of the joke) and that they will get up really early to take sun loungers by placing their towels on them (this is true, a recent study has found, but while Germans are the #1 perpetrators Britons are #2, a few percentage points behind).
Since the war, the two countries have got on pretty well - the UK still has some forces in Germany, although less than during the Cold War. Germany is Britain's largest trading partner, just ahead of the US and France.
Top Gear often takes jokes about World War Two to Refuge in Audacity levels. Then again, they like German people (and, of course, cars), including Sabine Schmidt from the German version of the show. She won the race, because she took the lounger.
Costa de los Ex-Pats: The Spanish
Hostility between nations can probably be traced back to the Spanish Armada and the colonising of the Americas and such things eventually led to the popularity of somewhat "Spanish" villains in Renaissance fiction (notably in Shakespeare's "Othello"; Iago being named for the country's patron saint). For a long time Spain represented a Catholic Europe that Britain (specifically Protestant England; the Highland Scots didn't mind them so much) had been firmly sceptical of.
Modern relations with Spain are fairly pleasant. Like with France, many Brits will have holiday homes in the country and enjoy the culture. In fact, it is common to see characters in British television talk of clubbing in Ibiza or big bad crime lords going to Spain to disappear for a while (although there is now an extradition treaty with Spain, it is not retroactive).
There is of course, that little bit of the UK just south of Spain as well however, which has caused much dispute.
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll: The Dutch
Over a million Brits visit Amsterdam every year. Note that they rarely want to visit the Netherlands; it's just that Amsterdam happens to be in the country. Given the cheap and easy access in the city to virtually any sexual fetish (prostitution is a legal and, for the most part, well regulated business complete with its own union), the plentiful bars and clubs where one can buy an astonishing variety of legal soft-drugs such as cannabis and mushrooms, and the fact that Amsterdam has had a thriving underground music scene for decades, it is perhaps unsurprising that it's a common weekend trip for many of them.
Some Brits also visit the rest of the country, but they are in such a minority as to be not worth mentioning.
The European Union
Despite the fact that the UK has not been successfully invaded since 1688 (many would say 1066, but that's generally down to the fact that the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' isn't often taught in schools, but Hastings is because it's a rare example of Brits being trounced by the Normans), it is one of the most Eurosceptic nations in the EU. Had the French and Dutch not done it first, the European Constitution would have been rejected by the UK electorate.
While the UK did vote to stay in the EC in 1975, many feel they were misled as to what the EC actually was.
Somewhat strangely, the SNP, who want Scottish independence, are also pro-European integration. They believe that Scotland will be more autonomous in a unified EU. Evidently having failed to notice that the EU constitutional treaties would automatically boot an independent Scotland out of the EU, probably causing economic collapse. This also applies to other EU member states with secessionist parts, such as Spain.
Special Relationship: The Colonials - Americans
While the UK-US relationship was one of mutual animosity and resentment up until the World Wars, due to a number of historical disagreements. The Jay Treaty, ending the revolutionary war, sums up US-UK relations pre-WWI nicely. Basically it comes down to not being worth the money for either side to start up another war for very long. Since the war, Britain and the USA have since been fairly close allies, sharing military technology and intelligence, often banding together politically against the rest of Europe, especially France (which is amusing when one considers that the exact opposite was true in earlier times, with the USA and France acting as mutual allies against English interests).
The relationship can occasionally be strained, particularly when an American utters the Stock Phrase "We saved your asses in World War Two" (the civil response is usually something along the lines of "When you finally got round to it..."). It's not as hostile as Hollywood would like you to believe, though; it's not like the UK's still fighting the Revolution against the traitors.
The United Kingdom was, and still is, a valuable power projection place for the United States, considering it "an unsinkable aircraft carrier" (The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier was the name of a 1984 investigative work into US bases in the UK). This is probably the reason why Britain is called Airstrip One in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Europeans sometimes accuse Britain of being America's lapdog, a feeling that many Brits share - especially with regard to the Iraq war, which many accuse Britain of entering just to keep on America's good side.
They also share another unsinkable aircraft carrier, Diego Garcia, in the British Indian Ocean Territory.
The Bear and the Lion - Russia
The UK and Russia fought on the same side in the two World Wars, mostly because the Germans were on the other side. They also teamed up against the French in the Napoleonic Wars, too. Between times, it's not been a particularly good relationship. The Crimean War is a prominent example.
During the Cold War and more recently, Tu-95 (also now Tu-160 as well) bombers would regularly enter the UK Air Defence Zone to probe British defences, getting chased out by the RAF. The range of the Tornado F3 (the interceptor form of the Panavia Tornado) was designed to travel the long distances involved. The Eurofighter Typhoon is now taking on this role.
The threat of Mnogo Nukes led to the setting up of a US radar station in Yorkshire to give warning of incoming Soviet missiles. While this gave the US about thirty minute's warning of nuclear attack, the UK only got about four, hence the term "four-minute warning".
There's a bit of a diplomatic dispute going on at the moment over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko- the UK wants a Russian suspect for questioning, but the Russians refuse on grounds that their constitution prohibits extradition of their own citizens. They are, seemingly, willing to try said suspect locally, but claim the British haven't provided enough evidence.
Ashes to Lords: Australia
The UK has a very good relationship with the Land Down Under, in a Vitriolic Best Buds manner. There is much gentle mocking of each other's customs and a fierce cricketing rivalry that is the most watched international cricketing contest in the UK. If there's any nationality that can expect a universally positive welcome in Britain (outside of an Ashes year) it's the Aussies.
Australia is also reknowned amongst many Brits to be the most British 'foreign' nation in the world, as the Aussies share the style of humour enough to laugh at British jokes and the British laugh at theirs. Generally it is regarded as a 'sunny England' and a prime holiday location (minus the local wildlife, of course). The beer is okay, too.