The human mind has always been very good at placing things into boxes and categorizing the world as it sees it. One of the repercussions of this tendency has been the formation of stereotypes which generalize various cultural groups of people around the world. Brits are certainly no stranger to preconceived notions about their behavior and lifestyle.
We all know the basics: the classic British accent, the constant questions about where they’ve had a “cuppa tea” with the Queen or their rudeness and inflated pride. I can’t deny not being a stranger to all of these generalizations — before coming to the country, the stereotypes I am so familiar with shaped my expectations in many ways.
Stereotypes aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, because I think they’re a great way to track how well one is immersing themselves in the local culture. Throughout my time in the United Kingdom, I’ve disapproved many stereotypes in my head through experiences and interactions I have had with the people here. Obviously, some stereotypes have remained very much intact (hint: it starts with t and ends with a, and is great with scones).
The overlying problem with stereotypes is that some of them, despite being true, just can’t be held valid for such a large population of people. Like many other countries, the U.K. has many dialects and ways of speaking. However, unlike what I have experienced in other parts of the world, every group of people in the country is starkly different from the next one in ways that go deeper than mere way of speaking.
This weekend, I visited Bristol (an SU London day trip) and Birmingham (with friends), where I spent two days filled with sight-seeing, talking to locals, visiting markets, and further exploring the British culture. What amazed me the most was how different the two cities are from each other, not just in structure and layout but also in the way people interact with each other and carry out their everyday lives.
As our tour guide in Bristol said with a laugh, many Bristolians care deeply about how beautiful their city is. Aesthetics are so important that in the few ugly parts of the city, artists have painted over dull, gray buildings (we even saw a Banksy!) and cleared dirt on old structures to etch pretty patterns on the walls. This is probably why it’s no surprise Bristol has been named the best city in Britain to live in several times. Besides this, Bristol comprises a creative and cultural people that prides itself on its classical architecture, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and its world-famous cider.
On the other hand, during my time in Birmingham, I observed how most Brummies are super friendly, helpful people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say. At one point, some friends and I found ourselves lost in a rather quiet part of the city, but made friends with two waitresses in a tavern (who also admitted there was nothing to be found where we were). Many of the Brummies I interacted with struck me as very honest and blunt about the way they felt. They were not scared to speak their mind.
A weekend outside London pushed me to challenge the many of the cultural assumptions I’ve always imagined the Brits having. There is no such thing as a British accent- this country is home to numerous dialects and ways of speaking. Every city hosts a different kind of population, and at every corner you will encounter a new face. I’d like to say I’m en route to understanding this country a lot more than I did a month ago.