Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cultures of the United Kingdom

I find the diversity of British people absolutely fascinating. The idea that such diverse cultures occupy such a small space and despite strong socio-political influence, retain their cultural uniqueness.

The people of the United Kingdom are called British or English, Welsh, Scots, and Irish. Over 90 percent of United Kingdom residents are native-born. The ethnic minorities include West Indian or Guyanese (499,000), Indian (840,000), Pakistani (475,000), or Bengali (160,000). There are also sizable numbers of Africans, Americans, Australians, Chinese, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Italians, Spaniards, and Southeast Asians.

The English

LOCATION: United Kingdom (England)
POPULATION: Over 48 million
RELIGION: Church of England; Protestantism; Judaism; Sikhism; Hinduism; Islam

INTRODUCTION: England is unique among European countries. As an island, it has been protected by surrounding waters that form a natural barrier. No country has successfully invaded England for the last 1,000 years.

The area now called England was occupied by many European cultures and tribes. In 1066 AD the Normans, from France, invaded and became the new rulers of England. London was established as the country's capital. Soon after, England began expanding into its neighboring countries—Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. England's history has been continuously linked with these three nations through to present times.

In the seventeenth century, the first English colonies in America were established. England continued to expand its colonies and became an empire (a government with many territories under its rule) that covered one-quarter of the world.

England suffered enormous losses during World War I (1914–18). After the war, England began to lose authority over its colonies. Ireland was the first to become independent. World War II (1939–45) was also devastating to England. In the twenty-five years that followed, the British Empire granted independence to the majority of its other colonies. Most of the former colonies still retain economic and political ties to Britain. The British economy and society still have a strong influence in world affairs today. The British royal family, which no longer has any political power, is often the focus of international publicity.

LANGUAGE: English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken throughout the United Kingdom and by close to 450 million people around the globe. Many varieties of English are spoken worldwide, and many dialects and regional accents exist within England. Although Americans speak English, they may have difficulty understanding the speech of the English people. In addition to differences in pronunciation, people in the two countries often use different words for the same thing. Examples include:

FOLKLORE: The most famous folklore of England is about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. If there was a real King Arthur, he most probably lived in the sixth century AD . King Arthur is believed to have ruled justly, which was uncommon for rulers of that era. Famous characters from that folklore include Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Many books and movies tell these stories, including T. H. White's The Once and Future King and the movies Camelot and Excalibur.

Also famous are the English legends about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. These noble outlaws lived in Sherwood Forest near the city of Nottingham in the twelfth century AD . They were famous for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

CLOTHING: There is no unique national costume for England. For the most part, the English wear modern-style clothing similar to that worn in the United States and other industrialized countries. Blue jeans and T-shirts are very popular. The cold, damp winters require heavy coats, mackintoshes (rain-coats), and warm woolen clothes.

The most famous traditional costumes in England are the red uniforms and high black hats worn by the royal guard at Buckingham Palace. Ceremonial dress is worn by government troops and the royal family on official occasions. In rural areas, traditional folk costumes are worn for festivals such as May Day (May 1, a celebration of spring).

CULTURAL HERITAGE: England has a distinguished cultural heritage, including one of the greatest writers ever, the sixteenth-century playwright William Shakespeare. Other great writers include the poets William Wordsworth and John Keats; novelists Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne), George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy; and modern writers D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, W. H. Auden, George Orwell, and T. S. Eliot.

Great English painters include Joseph Turner and John Constable (nineteenth century), and Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Graham Sutherland (twentieth century). Henry Moore was a famous twentieth-century sculptor. English composers include John Dowland, William Byrd, and Henry Purcell (1500s and 1600s); Gilbert and Sullivan (nineteenth-century light operas); and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten in modern times. In the 1960s, England became a trendsetter in popular music as the home of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Read more about the English here

The Scots

LOCATION: United Kingdom (Scotland)
POPULATION: Over 5 million
LANGUAGE: Scottish dialect of English (also called Scots); Gaelic
RELIGION: Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian sect; Roman Catholic; small numbers of Baptists, Anglicans, and Methodists

INTRODUCTION: Scotland is one of four countries that make up the United Kingdom. (The other three are England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.) Scotland covers the northern part of the island of Great Britain, which it shares with England and Wales.

For centuries, social and political life in the northern (Highland) area of Scotland was organized around clans (communities of people with strong family ties). Chieftains protected clan members from invasion in exchange for their loyalty. (The cultural tradition of clans still exists today at ceremonial gatherings such as weddings.) The southern areas of Scotland were more influenced by English patterns of organization.

Repeated disputes with England sometimes led to war. Before the early fourteenth century, the Scottish were ruled by English monarchs. In 1707 the Act of Union made Scotland, England, and Wales all part of the United Kingdom.

Scotland has seen difficult times in the twentieth century. Extensive unemployment began in the 1930s, forcing thousands to emigrate in search of a better life. Oil was discovered off the North Sea coast in the 1960s. Many new jobs were created as a result, and emigration slowed. Since the 1980s national feeling in favor of separation from England has strengthened. In 1997, Scotland voted to establish its own parliament (government council) by 1999. This change will increase Scotland's independence from England.

LANGUAGE: Scotland's official language is English. It is spoken with a unique Scottish accent, or "burr," that is especially prominent in words containing "r" sounds. Scottish English (also called Scots) contains words borrowed from Gaelic (a Scottish dialect), French, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages. Its grammar sometimes differs from standard English, as in expressions like "Are you no going?" and "I'm away to bed." Gaelic is spoken as a second language by less than 2 percent of the population, mostly in the Highlands and Hebridean islands.

FOLKLORE: The oldest Gaelic songs tell stories of warriors battling Norsemen, magic rowan (mountain ash) trees, and monstrous old women living in the sea. There is also a rich folk tradition of belief in fairies and other supernatural forces. The most famous character in Scottish folklore is the Loch Ness monster. "Nessie" is said to be a dinosaur-like creature living in a large lake. Although it has supposedly been sighted by hundreds of people, its existence has never been scientifically proven.

A popular Scottish legend tells the tale of the "wall flower." In a castle near the river Tweed, a fair maiden was held prisoner because she had promised her love to a member of a neighboring enemy clan. Her lover tried various tactics to rescue her. He finally was able to get inside the castle by pretending to be a troubadour (wandering musician). Once inside, he found the maiden and the two made a plan for her escape. She climbed out the window, and planned to climb down the wall of the castle using a silk rope. While her lover waited below to rescue her, something went wrong, as this poem relates:

Up she got upon a wall
Attempted down to slide withal;
But the silken twist untied,
She fell, and bruised, she died,
And her loving, luckless speed,
Twined her to the plant we call
Now the "Flower of the Wall."

CLOTHING: People throughout the world generally picture the Scots in their famous traditional costume, the kilt. However, this skirtlike garment is generally worn only for ceremonial and formal occasions. Otherwise, most Scots wear standard Western-style clothing. Because of the cold, damp climate, Scottish clothing is usually made of heavy fabrics such as wool, including the native tweed. Each of Scotland's clans has its own tartan (or plaid), developed over the centuries. There are over 300 designs in all. Women's ceremonial costumes include tartan skirts and white blouses worn under snug, black, vestlike bodices.

The Scots have a particularly distinguished tradition in the realm of literature, especially poetry and novels. Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns, lived and wrote in the late eighteenth century. Lord Byron (1788–1824), another Scottish poet, was born and educated in Aberdeen. Other famous writers include Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), both writers of adventure novels. Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), another Scot, created the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's countryman J. M. Barrie (1860–1937) wrote the famous play Peter Pan, which has delighted audiences throughout the twentieth century.

Read more about the Scots here.

The Welsh

LOCATION: United Kingdom (Wales)
POPULATION: 2.8 million
LANGUAGE: English; Welsh
RELIGION: Methodism; Anglicanism; Presbyterianism; Roman Catholicism; small numbers of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs

INTRODUCTION: Wales is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. (The others are England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.) The Welsh people are Celtic (central and western European) in origin and have their own language and cultural heritage. The southern part of Wales was colonized by Normans during the eleventh century AD . The last independent principality—Gwynedd, made up of most of North and Central Wales—was conquered by Edward I of England in 1284. Edward's oldest son was given the title Prince of Wales. That title has been held by the oldest son of England's reigning monarch ever since. Wales was officially joined with England in 1707 by the Act of Union, which established the United Kingdom.

South Wales became heavily industrialized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the development of coal and iron mining. In the twentieth century, much of the Welsh population has emigrated to England and other countries in search of better job opportunities. In recent decades there has been a renewal of Welsh nationalism (patriotism). Political and cultural groups have worked to strengthen a unique Welsh identity separate from a British identity.

LANGUAGE: Both English and Welsh are the official languages of Wales. The use of Welsh has declined gradually since the late eighteenth century. Almost all Welsh people speak English. Welsh is a Celtic language, closest to the Breton language spoken in a part of France. Welsh was recognized as an official language in 1966. Since the 1960s there has been a movement to increase the use and recognition of Welsh. It is now taught in schools, and there are Welsh radio and television broadcasting facilities.

Welsh is known for its long words, double consonants, and scarce vowels. English-speakers find the language quite difficult to pronounce. The Welsh language contains what is probably the longest place name in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a town name that means "Church of St. Mary in the Hollow by the White Aspen near the Rapid Whirlpool and Church of St. Tysilio by the Red Cave." (It is usually referred to as Llan-fair.)

FOLKLORE: Welsh culture is full of myths and legends. Even the country's national symbol—the dragon—is a mythical beast. Almost every mountain, river, and lake, as well as many farms and villages, are associated with some legend of tylwyth teg (fairies), magical properties, or fearful beasts. The Welsh claim that the legendary British hero King Arthur, as well as his magician-counselor Merlin, were from Wales. Another popular subject of Welsh legend is the prince Madog ab Owain. He is said to have discovered America in the twelfth century AD.

CLOTHING: The Welsh wear typical Western-style clothing for ordinary casual and formal occasions. However, at festivals one can still see women wearing their traditional national costumes. These consist of long dresses, checkered aprons, white collars, and tall black hats (something like a witch's hat but less pointy and with a wider brim) worn over white kerchiefs. On such occasions, men may wear striped vests over white shirts and knee-length breeches with high white socks.

CULTURAL HERITAGE: Welsh-language literature is among the oldest continuous literary traditions in Europe, with some of its earliest masterpieces dating from the sixth century AD . Welsh poets have gained recognition in the English-speaking world since the seventeenth century. Wales' most illustrious modern poet was Dylan Thomas (1914–53), author of the beloved A Child's Christmas in Wales, the radio play Under Milk Wood, and many well-known poems.

The Welsh are a very musical people. Their choral tradition includes celebrated male choirs, a variety of soloists, and pop singers including Tom Jones. Rock bands like the Alarm and the Manic Street Preachers also come from Wales. Several famous actors are Welsh, the best-known being Anthony Hopkins and the late Richard Burton.

Read more about the Welsh here.

Every Culture. "United Kingdom". Every Culture. Posted: n/d. Available online: http://www.everyculture.com/wc/Tajikistan-to-Zimbabwe/United-Kingdom.html

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