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 fourth and final blog post comes from Alex Dold, and Erasmus exchange student from the University of Bonn.
First things first: I am a German student who has been living in Scotland for a little over two weeks now. Prior to that I have only ever been to Great Britain on holidays and it was confined to England, mostly London. Now living in Scotland as a resident, this post shall present my personal experiences so far and describe what British identity means to me as a German. I will try to define what British identity is, though I am not sure if an exact definition is even possible. For this purpose, I would like to limit my descriptions to one particular place where I had to spend quite some time so far trying to get everything I need: the supermarket. Apart from the fact that some supermarkets are open 24/7, there are other factors that surprised me and that represent British identity to me.
First, the obviously very British habit of queuing. Apparently British people do not only queue perfectly at bus stops (as we were told in school), but also at the checkout counter. In contrast to Germany, no one is annoyed when it takes me a while to fit all my food into my backpack and they sometimes even flash me a reassuring smile. To me, it seems to be British is to be sophisticated and polite while waiting in line, not only in the supermarket but also at the bus stop even when a bus is already late and yet everyone has to buy a ticket.
Another observation I have made so far concerning British identity is patriotism. Coming back to the example of supermarkets, this can be found here as well: on blueberries, milk cartons, and spinach packages. No matter what I am looking for, there is always a locally produced alternative bearing the Scottish flag. It might not be British identity per se, but definitely Scottish. I am not used to that kind of patriotism since there are only few occasions at which we Germans present our flag: national holidays, to pay respects, and during the football world cup. This might be due to the historical background of Hitler’s Germany or because we simply are not as proud of our country, but either way, there is a striking difference to Great Britain.
Lastly, I would like to talk about the thing that appears as the most British to me: drinking tea. In the supermarkets, there is an enormous variety of different kinds of tea. Shockingly for me, I did not know any brand from Germany which made the decision about which one to buy quite difficult. Of course, there were also brands showing off the Scottish flag, but also the British one was presented. As per usual, I got the wrong brand of black tea, according to my Scottish flat mate. I let myself be guided by a British flag, thinking this was as British as it gets, and of course, the low price. However, the tea experience does not stop there. The same Scottish flat mate then showed me how to make the perfect ‘English’ tea, letting it steep just short enough and how much milk (from a carton bearing a Scottish flag) is needed. Quite confusing.
So far, I have learned some things about British identity: the rumours about the queuing are true, at least the Scottish marketing is quite proud of their country, and not even the locals know exactly when to differentiate Scottish, English, and British identity (as seen in the example of the perfect ‘English’ tea from a ‘British’ brand made by a ‘Scottish’ guy). British identity cannot be summarised in a short blog post like this one, but it can be presented roughly. In my opinion, there often is no clear distinction between Britishness and, for example, Scottish identity because no one can actually make out a difference, only point out similarities.