National identity and attitudes
In the past, the four nations were distinct from each other in almost every aspect of life. The people in Ireland, Wales and highland Scotland belonged to the Celtic race; those in England and lowland Scotland were mainly of Germanic origin. This difference was reflected in the languages they used. The nations also tended to have different economic, social, and legal systems.
Today these differences have become blurred but they have not completely disappeared. Although there is only one government for the whole of Britain, some aspects of government are organized separately and sometimes differently in the four parts of the United Kingdom. Moreover, Welsh, Scottish and Irish people feel their identity very strongly.
People in Scotland have many old traditions and reminders of their distinctiveness. First, several important aspects of public life are organized in a different way from the rest of Britain, for example, education, law, and religion. Second, the Scottish way of speaking English is very distinctive. Most people in the lowlands speak their dialect known as Scots in everyday life. It is difficult to understand by people who are not Scottish. Third, there are many symbols of Scottish people, which are well known throughout Britain, such as the kilts, the pipes, the haggis, the sight of a man in a skirt or a Dundee cake.
In comparison with some other European countries, and with exception of Northern Ireland, neither religion nor politics are important in people’s social identity in modern Britain. This is partly because the two do not go together in any significant way. The question of identity in Northern Ireland is much more complex issue. Northern Ireland is a polarized society where most people stay there for the whole of their lives. The two communities live side-by-side, their lives are almost entirely segregated. The British, like the people of every country, tend to be attributed to certain characteristics. Most of them derive from books, songs, or plays which were written a long time ago and which are no longer representative of modern life. Food and drink is a typical example. The traditional ’Engish” breakfast has changed to a ’continental one. British as a nation of tea drinkers is another stereotype that is somewhat out of date.
The largescale of immigration to Britain in the twentieth century turned the country into a multicultural society. There are areas of London for example, in which distinctively Indian way of life predominates. These communities have different sets of attitudes but these are not as strong as in the United States. The British do not behave in traditional ways but they like symbols of tradition and stability. Their conservatism can be combined with their individualism. They are rather proud of being different. It is very difficult to imagine that they will ever agree to change from driving on the left hand side. Also developments at the European Union level which might cause a change in some everyday aspects of British life are usually greeted with suspicion and hostility. The love of the countryside and the love of animals can be another aspect of British conservatism. The countryside represents stability. Nearly half of the households in Britain keep at least one domestic pet. Perhaps this concern for animals is part of the British love of nature.