Is your Britain a fantasy?

Some time back I featured a post from a writer who claimed to know what the Britain is really like. It’s deep fried Mars bars, homophobia, abandoned churches and tabloid hysteria. In my “rebuttal” post (Will the REAL Britain Please Stand Up?), I described what I thought Britain was, or rather, what I hoped it was. The two descriptions were poles apart.

mushy by Robert Couse-Baker
mushy, a photo by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr.

What do you think Britain is? Do you spend all y
our time watching period dramas, eating shortbread, and talking medieval architecture, or do you quietly shake your head at those clueless, idealistic Britophiles?

Here is a myriad collection of quotes–some derogatory, some sweet, some classic–about the Britain we hate and love. Maybe we could all benefit from seeing this land from a little different perspective. Feel free to leave a comment with something quotable of your own; what do you think Britain is really like?

In England the only homage which they pay to Virtue – is hypocrisy.
-Lord Byron
At the moment, in Britain we’re facing such enormous cutbacks in education programs and music programs and art programs that you feel you are knocking your head against a brick wall.
-Peter Maxwell Davies

The people of England are the most enthusiastic in the world.
-Benjamin Disraeli
I have been trying all my life to like Scotchmen, 
and am obliged to desist from the experiment in despair.
-Charles Lamb
A family with the wrong members in control; 
that, perhaps, 
is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.
-George Orwell

In the end it may well be that Britain will be honored by historians more for the way she disposed of an empire than for the way in which she acquired it.
 -Lord Harlech

If you lead a country like Britain, 
a strong country, 
a country which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in bad, 
a country that is always reliable, 
then you have to have a touch of iron about you.
-Margaret Thatcher 

tal-y-llyn lake gywnedd wales by plot19
tal-y-llyn lake gywnedd wales, a photo by plot19 on Flickr.

“Being hanged in England is preferable to dying a natural death in Ireland.”


Snobbery – the “pox Britannica”

– Anthony Sampson

In Wales it’s brilliant. I go to the pub and see everybody who I went to school with. And everybody goes ‘So what you doing now?’ And I go, ‘Oh, I’m doing a film with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins.’ And they go, ‘Ooh, good.’ And that’s it.
-Catherine Zeta-Jones

Britain - spy nation by Clive Power
Britain – spy nation, a photo by Clive Power on Flickr.

England is nothing but the last ward of the European madhouse, 

and quite possibly it will prove to be the ward for 
particularly violent cases.
-Leon Trotsky
If you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts.
-W. Somerset Maugham

Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, 
which doesn’t.
-Stephen Leacock

If I could create an ideal world, 
it would be an England with 
the fire of the Elizabethans, 
the correct taste of the Georgians, 
and the refinement and pure ideals of the Victorians.

-H. P. Lovecraft

No one in Scotland can escape from the past. 
It is everywhere, haunting like a ghost.

-Geddes MacGregor
Eilean Donan,The most Iconic image of Scotland by PMacR
Eilean Donan,The most Iconic image of Scotland, a photo by PMacR on Flickr.

England is a nation of shopkeepers. 
                                                                     -Napoleon Bonaparte

“I fall in love with Britain every day, with bridges, buses, blue skies… but it’s a brutal world, man.” 
― Pete Doherty

There are few more impressive sights in the world 
than a Scotsman on the make.
-James M. Barrie

Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain – which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad – Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying ‘mustn’t grumble’ and ‘I’m terribly sorry but’, people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays – every bit of it. 
-Bill Bryson


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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Anonymous Reply

    Bill Bryson has put it very well.
    I live here–my country & I love it.

  2. Catherine Reply

    Love Bill Bryson! I slso like this quote from Helene Hanff:

    “But I don’t know, maybe it’s just as well I never got there. I dreamed about it for so many years. I used to go to English movies just to look at the streets. I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English Literature, and he nodded and said: “It’s there.”

    I’ve always been able to find the Britishy things I look for, and at the same time I see new (or new to me) things that surprise me. I’m rarely disappointed, except on Oxford Street (shudder).

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