This week, we’re delighted to publish a series of blog posts written by our new intake of MLitt British Studies students at the University of the Highlands and Islands. As part of their induction onto the programme, we wanted to get our students thinking about the nature of British identities, so we set them a blogging task: to answer the question ‘What do British identities mean to me?’
Our third post comes from Grischa Dick, an Erasmus exchange student from the University of Bonn.
When I think of the term ‘British identities’, I try to approach the two words that constitute the term separately in order to come to a valid conclusion. Therefore, it is reasonable to begin with discussing British and to talk about the associations that are triggered by thinking about the term. In the first year of studying I figured out that I had been using the term ‘British’ in a misplaced sense since I had always associated Britishness with characteristics such as the Royal Family, James Bond, London’s and Manchester’s music culture, as well as an overall politeness and a propensity for drinking tea. When I realised that those factors do not primarily refer to the nation of Britain but rather to solely England, I was shocked and I felt somewhat ignorant. From that moment onwards, I have been trying not to mix characteristics up or even forget about non-‘English’ (in the sense of solely England-based) contributions. But on the other side, this mistake made me realise how England-centered mine and others’ notions of Britain actually are and how little, especially in the German school system, was being done to challenge those assumptions.
Talking about identity, it is reasonable to refer to it as a complex as well as a very dynamic phenomenon. Identities are constantly being constructed and re-constructed and therefore, there is no such thing as a static identity or the identity. Applying this approach to answering the actual question, it feels harder to find an adequate answer for the question ‘what does British identity mean to you’. In order to find a remedy, I furthermore think of factors that constitute identities in general, such as social surroundings, the society, (personal) conflicts and the (constructed) interest in specific fields. Considering the ‘pool’ of various hybrid sub-identities, I think I have gotten closer to a personal definition or rather understanding of an actual British identity.
Since Britain consists of different countries, one must not forget that each of those countries contribute to the understanding of Britishness and British identity, and this is basically the point. All those different countries (in this context one could as well call them factors) have their own important characteristics of which some are internationally known. However, since each of the British countries is ruled by one monarchical system, they do share one specific political system, which in a way connects them. The different states could be regarded as siblings and Britain is the institution that holds together, the family so to speak. Another aspect that is shared across Britain is they have the same supermarkets. This leads me to one specific point that I associate with British, namely the supermarket Tesco. Whenever I am in Britain, I look forward to going shopping at Tesco’s since there is the best that you can get as a vegan, as well as if you would like to have an inside into local food culture. Britain is known for its tasty food, whether it is simple fish and chips, salt-and-vinegar crisps, fudge or the infamous haggis. I believe that nearly every British citizen can tell a story about a specific dish and tell how to serve it best, and that is very special.
To sum up thus far, it has been stated out that identities are not something static and can be seen as hybrid phenomena. Finding a specific definition for British identities in this case is subjective and my associations are based on the experiences that I have made in Britain through the years and what I have taken from my studies so far. It is important to me that I have changed my original (and mostly false) notions of Britain during my undergraduate studies and I am curious to find out more about the important aspects that constitute a British identity.