Characteristics of being British

A recent Ipsos MORI poll, for Channel 4, asked people what they thought were the best characteristics of British people.  The most popular answer (45%) was ‘a good sense of humour’, followed by being friendly (34%) and tolerant of all sections of society (30%).  It strikes me as not a bad set of characteristics.  It doesn’t mean that individually or collectively they are unique to the British but in combination they do help define us.  I would place even more emphasis on the extent to which we are tolerant of different views.  I think we have become even more tolerant over the years.  I appreciate that some believe that we are too tolerant.  There is certainly the conundrum of deciding how much one should tolerate intolerance.   How can one combat intolerance without taking on the character of those one seeks to challenge? 

In terms of the worst characteristics, the most popular answer (50%) was drinking too much, followed by ignorance of other cultures (33%).  I would have thought the latter was a declining problem.  It is a shame that the first is not.   Anyway, back to the good news: 65% of those questioned thought tea was our national drink and it topped the poll (35%) as people’ s favourite drink.   Tea (and especially, as recent research has shown, green tea) is good for you.   Binge drinking is not.  I feel a campaign coming on…

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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22 Responses to Characteristics of being British

  1. Chris K says:

    Many of us drink more (and even occasionally smoke out of solaridity for an oppressed minority) because we’re so fed up of being told not to.

    I’d like to see beer vending machines around like what they have in Italy. It would be a positive sign, that the culture has shifted away from irresponsible drinking to a more continental attitude.

    It won’t be brought about by more ‘crack downs’ but by instilling better values in young people and not making alcohol seem edgy and adult. Unfortunately the former can be used as an excuse to raise taxes, whereas the latter cannot.

  2. Croft says:

    “I think we have become even more tolerant over the years. ”

    Really? Seems quite the reverse – the default reaction to things government doesn’t like is to try to ban it.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: The Government will probably appreciate being deemed the equivalent of the British people! Admittedly, there has been too much legislation, but has there been that much legislation banning things?

      • Croft says:

        As government gets away with such things because the public don’t make a sufficient fuss I do think they are equivalent and collectively responsible which is why I said what I said.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Perhaps we are too tolerant of intolerant Governments?

      • Croft says:


        I fear LN it’s apathy and to some extent much of the legal changes are contained in clause 93 subsection 294 of a bill no one is even mentioning in the press so people don’t even hear about it…

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Indeed, all the more reason to maintain an informed second chamber capable of engaging in detailed scrutiny….

  3. Lord Norton,

    It does suggest the possibility that the time has come not to be so tolerant of those who think the British drink too much tea…

  4. Neil M says:

    The list neglects our enjoyment of queuing in an orderly manner – (if only that were an Olympic sport) – and a passion for participating in all sorts of odd surveys.
    And to link those 2 themes together, apparently the average person over 50 will have spent 5 years waiting in line.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Neil M: That’s not one of the characteristics I share with fellow Britons. I am not a great fan of queuing – and I especially hate being stuck behind someone in a cafe who has ordered one of the variants of coffee that takes ages to prepare, involves nosisy swooshing noises and is followed by even louder banging of equipment. I think we should have tea rooms that serve only tea – my idea of civilisation.

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Lord Norton,

        One more reason to swallow the mixed feelings you have about the loss of CC Hong Kong and spend a little time in China… Make a tour of tea rooms of various kinds. It can be rather a wonderful way to spend time — I know…

  5. ladytizzy says:

    “Tea topped the poll not only as people’s favourite drink (38%) but also what they thought was the country’s national drink (65%) proving that we are a nation of tea lovers.”

    So, 65% of the sample think that the response to “Which, if any, of the following would you say is Britain’s national drink?” should be the drink that is first on a prescribed list, and 61% did not name tea as their favourite drink, but this proves we are a nation of tea lovers?

    And nobody mentioned pedantry. Tsk.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: More people listed tea as their favourite drink than any other drink, even though as you mention more acknowledged that it was our national drink – this despite the fact that I gather consumption of coffee now exceeds consumption of tea in this country. I continue to do my best for the nation by drinking only tea and in some quantity.

      PS You still have some way to go to catch Frank in the comments stakes!

  6. Stephen MacLean says:

    Happy to see that Lord Norton affirms ‘I continue to do my best for the nation by drinking only tea and in some quantity.’

  7. maudie33 says:

    When it comes to the amount of control government has taken over our lives and thoughts, I think of Pride and Predjudice. Had we the manners and the conscience, said to be of the time, still with us, could they dare to attempt such intolerance toward us?

    We now live with thought control and thought police. And why are we shuffling our feet and doffing our caps to it, whilst we snap to attention? The spirit of the Englishman has been assimilated with the influx of diversity methinks. We are afraid to speak of what we have in our heart as Englishmess is no longer an acceptable condition.

  8. Mon. says:

    i am not Uk citizen nor live there. but i might add some views:
    I agree on those 4 things i may add :British more polite than others. (in term of :thanks, excuse me , patience, pardon, and more) I can see the that clearly when dealing with them yet:

    in the negative side: violence (especially young who walks in band of 4 or 6 people in the street and attack you for no reason just for fun) maybe the birth of what is termed “hooliganism”
    2- They self-proclaimed (subtly or unsubtly) as “judges”, evaluators of other cultures as the maximum authority. They succeeded to some degree even in the mind of some other countries.

    in Stadium (as crowed), In chat (not seen by other), in a pack (6 guys strolling late night meeting a little kids who was there for tourism and receive insult and in other occasion thrown beer can at) for no reason, bum flashing at older people, at the whole bus (i swear i saw that), at people going out of a temple, seeing a bum flashed at them from a car window for long 30 min. I admit i laughed i was in a park and seeing this as a little kid while people going out of that building seeing in front of them bum stuck out of a car window for a good 30 min.. even i thought how can he maintain the posture that long.

    take care,

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