I suppose, as an Englishman, I share a generic mindset with any patriot of any country anywhere in the world. I’m driven by a deep sense of love of my country, a binding with it, a sense of identity with its very fabric and a longing for its commonweal and prosperity. Simultaneously, I feel a need to protect it, to spare it from embarrassment and to rail against the machinations of those who wish it harm. I realise there is nothing specifically English in these sentiments: I’m sure many non-English relate to this mindset too. Clearly, “Englishness” is more about a uniqueness, a set of idiosyncracies which collectively mark us out as being…. us.
We live south of Scotland and East of Wales on the island of Great Britain. From the genesis of our nationhood when Saxon and Angle intermarried and settled in the land that became England we have marked out this England as our ancestral land. We were one of the first European countries to unify and form a distinct identity. We have had this identity for over a thousand years and despite William the Conqueror, the Act of Union and latterly, the onslaught of Multiculturalism, our individual nationhood has remained strong. Moreover, this sense of history, tradition, nationhood pervades my sense of Self. This is reinforced by the physicality of my environs. I am reminded of my English roots in our interesting ancient buildings, our beautiful countryside and our dramatic coastline. The architecture of our towns and cities is a unique menagerie of styles that reflect some aspect of our national journey.
For me there is a solidity, borne of the state, that is attached to being English. Our institutions are ingrained in our sub-consciousness. Whether or not one agrees with them, our monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, Parliament, civil service, armed forces and Church all work well and generally to a high standard! Centuries of refinement and testing out have resulted in evolved structures of state that can be taken as a “given”. I know they are there and that they work: I don’t have to worry about coups d’etat, dictatorship, a corrupt judiciary or biased civil service. Within this framework I am free to speak my mind, I am free to make decisions, I am free to live a lifestyle that enables me to express myself and be happy (but with the proviso that I don’t harm others and abide by our laws). Basically, I can get on with my life as an Englishman unlike, alas, many in Africa, South America and Asia.
I’m proud to be English! We have certainly made our mark on the world. Our language is universal. Our literature, music, science, engineering, architecture, TV shows etc. have all, (disproportionately for such a small nation) influenced the world scene. We spawned some of the world’s firsts…modern science through Newton, Darwin and others, the agricultural and industrial revolutions, manifold inventions and innovations, wonderful literature and poetry and fantastic music. The list isn’t exhaustive. We also spawned the largest empire the world has ever seen which, in my opinion, was a force for great good in the world and, importantly, have since become the world’s greatest de-coloniser. We established workable democracies and viable economies in these former colonies and have nurtured them in nationhood with aid thereafter. We won two World Wars. We have fraternally stood by our allies in time of their darkest hours, witness Belgium, Poland and latterly the USA after 9/11. We continue to stand up for what is right in the world, even if this means loss of our dear compatriots. We continue to contribute, innovate, invent and influence.
I think we English are a people of character. We have a great sense of humour. We like to talk to one another: even strangers will utilise the topic of the weather to break the ice. As a conversion develops humour tends to creep in at some point. I notice that English people are more likely to use smiles and other aspects of facial expression to convey a positive contact when they meet others (notice how cold many Europeans are in contrast). We tend to be very accepting and polite to others. Our cultural etiquette demands that we see our faces and that we convey an openness, an acceptance of the other and that we should attempt to be civil. I’ve noticed, having travelled abroad, the absence of this politeness and friendliness. We can be eccentric and quirky. We facilitate self-expression and tend to accept the unusual. We can be seen as libertarian but there are cultural rules of engagement to ensure a propensity toward mutual respect.
Being English for me involves a good sense of the above. It is about connecting to one’s roots, being proud of our nation’s historical journey (warts and all!) and expressing one’s self to others in our unique way.