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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
What comes to mind when you think of Britain?
Businessmen in bowler hats and Monty Python? Lager louts and bad food? Tracey Emin and Alexander McQueen? What is the essence of Britishness?

Tourism chiefs seem to think it is the famous British eccentricity which will draw overseas visitors back in.

They have chosen images such as knights in armour playing tennis and Wellington boot-throwing contests in their new advertising campaign, to be shown in Europe and the US.

Previous attempts to rebrand the UK included "Cool Britannia", promoting Britain as a centre for youth culture and fashion.

What comes to mind when you think of Britain? What is the best way of selling Britain overseas?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

It is a land of variety and contrast

Frank, England
It is a land of variety and contrast: wet and dry, grass and concrete, modern and ancient, multicultural and nationalist, religious and secular, intellectual and ignorant, optimistic and cynical. There's something for everyone, a bit of everything to accommodate all the different tastes and opinions in the world today and that's why people like it: there will always be something that strikes a chord with each individual and so people are prepared to forgive or forget the bits that they don't like.
Frank, England

When I think of Britain all I think of is England as it is only the English who call themselves British, Scottish people on the other hand call themselves Scottish as we are proud of our culture and heritage which is thankfully very different and much richer than Englands. When I think of Scotland I think of being able to drive to middle of nowhere in a matter of minutes, wonderful drinking water straight out of the tap, the humour, ceilidhs, castles and gorgeous men in kilts.
K, Scotland

To paraphrase the recently departed and sorely missed Douglas Adams "Britain is not like every other country. We do things exactly the same here"
Darren Badrock, England

Haggis, Tartan, Irn-Bru, Whisky, mountains, wild open landscapes, lovely cities, rich histories and some of the best pubs in the world!
Sean, Scotland

Almost always raining but making the most of the sun.

James, London
Football. Bars. Beer and vodka. Comedy ranging from Harry Enfield to The League of Gentlemen by way of the Kumars and Goodness Gracious Me. Sport and the British competitive spirit. Kate Moss. UK Garage and the Britpop era. Class conflict between Eton types and the masses educated by the State. Traffic and the M25. Almost always raining but making the most of the sun. Oh, and the Sun and page 3- had to get that in!
James (16), London, UK

Pie and mash, fish and chips, street parties, union jacks, children with pudding bowl haircuts, Fawlty Towers and Raleigh Chopper bikes.
Marie Griffiths, UK

Amazing how most of the glowing reviews here are from people who don't live in Britain. Personally, having lived here most my life, what sticks in my mind is the grey ugly skies, the grey ugly buildings, the grey ugly people, the extortionate rip-off prices for absolutely everything, the population that is too gutless to stand up to their own government and demand their rights, and finally morons both male and female drinking in the streets every night of the week. Have I missed anything?
B Roberts, UK

A country where young people no longer have any respect for their surroundings. The privilege of being brought up in such a wonderful place where education is given to all without question. It is time to think about what some would do to be in our position because when they see Britain, their minds are filled with a land of opportunity which they sadly will never experience. My experiences of being in Ghana last year have made me eternally grateful for what I have.
Jen, UK

The ability to queue

Alexander Avery, UK
The ability to queue, quality, the best breakfast you can get, country lanes, the contrast, of amazing cities, to beautiful countryside
Alexander Avery, UK

Wit, pubs, trains, snow at the Tower of London on my honeymoon, starving at Stansted on stand-by while the windows exploded from the unusually hot weather, watching the sun rise and set over the sea on the same day, a kind fellow who helped me find a hotel, falling out at the idea of Darwin being buried at Westminster, trying to figure out who's under all that ivy in Highgate, nearly getting punched for laughing at some boys who were speaking rapper slang (with a well educated English accent it's hilarious), my husband's wonderful family, Victoria Station, and the pure joy of hearing people speak English after a long trek on the continent.
Michelle, Santa Cruz, CA. USA

I've never been overtly patriotic but on a very dark day in Africa several years ago, the confidently delivered words 'THIS IS THE BBC FROM LONDON' followed by the familiar signature tune hit a forgotten nerve and reduced me to tears. The world is a better place with Britain in it. Don't throw her away!
Andrew, Greece (Expat)

Sense of humour, James Herriot, Yorkshire, Gerald Durrel, thatched roofs
Nadia, Russia

Boating down the river

Brian, Spain
Lying in sunny fields, boating down the river, lanes, brick walls, flowers, greenery, tears in my eyes when I remember. Now violence in the air, dreadful food in cafes, wet. I miss it so.
Brian, Spain

The wonderful weather. I have been to the UK seventeen times, and never had a bad weather day. Must be luck.
Thomas, Cleveland, USA

I try to visit Britain every autumn, it feels very much like I am home when I am in England. London is perhaps the most civilized city in the world. Fantastic transport, shopping, theatre.
Richard Miller, USA

History, royalty, the countryside, the weather, cups of tea.

How difficult can it be to promote a country with the most fascinating history, the most well-mannered people, and the most beautiful countryside in the world. England's tourism chiefs have the easiest jobs in the universe!
Mary, UK (formerly US)

I thought my list would be negative, but I guess this is a pretty good place to be after all!

Phil, UK
Curry, bitter, country pubs, mushy peas, beautiful countryside, traffic jams, dense population, history (good and bad), freedom. There - I thought my list would be negative, but I guess this is a pretty good place to be after all!
Phil, UK

Rudeness, violence, drunks, noisy walkmans, mobiles going off every few seconds, people who think being stupid is cool, women obsessing over celebrity magazines' latest idiots of the week, pregnant teens, laziness, poor service, wishy washy politics, out of control kids, dirt. On the plus side, lush countryside, feeding the ducks, bacon butties & tea, the BBC, the humour, bits of London & Glen Coe.
Iain, UK

Nowhere in the world can come close to an English summer day (being as rare as they are makes them more special), when it is still light at 9pm and you are sitting in the garden of a country pub. Unfortunately our desire for all things American means that our identity and national characteristics are being slowly eroded away by the constant influx of terrible TV chat shows and fast-food outlets.
Steve, UK

The good points: The irony and the comedy in everyday life. People fighting against what they believe is inevitable. The stiff upper lip. The attempt at diversity while trying to keep a sense of uniqueness. The armed forces in both past and present. The BBC. The bad points: The way people try to fix things that are not broken while ignoring the things that are. Politics, the spin, the way the main parties are the same apart from their name, not doing what is the best just what looks the best. Just about every official form I have ever seen. The universities becoming only for the rich.
Simon, England

Whether we "fawn" to the US or "suck up" to Brussels, 95% of the population could not care less, and that is the true British character.

Britain is a place that under values itself and the many wonderful things it has brought to the world. It has listened to the many negative attitudes towards it and is actually starting to believe them. Britain now seems intent to sacrifice all its historical significance and culture for the sake of other cultures, whilst regarding its own as unimportant. Britain's strong sense of fairness and will to do the right thing by all is fast becoming its nemesis. What is Britain now? A violent, crime ridden society where not even age is respected. You have to ask yourself, why was this allowed to happen??
Rog C, Brighton

The pub atmosphere on a cold day

Tracy, Australia
I love your sense of humour! Your history and architecture is fascinating. Your nation's influence on the world good and bad. The pub atmosphere on a cold day. The Beatles!
Tracy, Australia

The only way to truly think of Britain when you live here, is to see the white cliffs of Dover when travelling home. Or smelling the damp air when you get off an airplane. The rush of patriotism, and all things England come rushing to the front of your mind. I love it.
Dan, England

After 30+ years of living overseas, the last 25 being in Australia, my husband and I will be returning 'home' before the end of the year. What do we value mostly? What, when we were younger, we did not appreciate - the tolerance of the British, the freshness of the lovely green countryside, the culture and tradition and yes our family, definitely our family.
Pat R, Melbourne, Australia

Bangers and mash!
Vince Coates, England

The gentle charm of the people

Martin, Australia
As a frequent visitor to England, I find the gentle charm of the people and the countryside, the sense of history and charm of the built environment irresistible. Mr Blair's government looks like heaven after three terms of John Howard.
Martin, Australia

This green and pleasant land ....
Barry Rochfort, England

Nowhere is perfect and don't we all miss home when we go away? We have beautiful, lush green countryside and you don't have to travel far to escape the rat race! Take a long hard look at the rest of the world and you will see we do have a whole lot to be thankful for!
Elaine H, UK

Common sense and a humorous wit seen nowhere else in the English-speaking world - it makes life worth living!
Ollie Nelthorpe, Australia

Tolerance of others, be they eccentric, of a different religion, a different culture or a different political persuasion. Why else would so many try so desperately to get there? I have lived in less tolerant countries, and this is the one virtue above all that makes me proud of my homeland.
Paul Hudson, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

The kindness and helpfulness of the average English person to tourists

Rick, USA
The kindness and helpfulness of the average English person to tourists. The reality of the beauty of the cities and the architecture of places commonly known about for years. Your food is not bad. It is rather good actually and served in generous portions and at reasonable prices. Especially your pub grub. Did I mention the kindness of your people? Art that can only be seen in England. Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick Castle, the Royal Observatory, London's great theatres. My wife and I have had the joy of visiting many European countries more than once. Not all of them will we make a return to; England we will. Did I mention the kindness of your people? Thanks.
Rick, US

Taxis; phoneboxes; teabags; black humour.
Fiona, UK

Shabby dress, Pakistani/Indian immigrants, tatooed skinhead louts, dirty streets, lousy weather, beautiful architecture, history and culture.
James Welsh, UK

Interesting how non-British people are more positive about our country than we are. I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side... mind you... the grass is SO green in Britain!!! Thats the first thing I always think about... the parks, the gardens, the moors....and all that chorophyll
Suzanne , England

I had the unique pleasure and honour of living in Great Britain during the early 60's while being assigned with a US Air Force bomber command I can say in all sincerity that of all the countries I have visited before and after, Great Britain left an impression I shall cherish forever. The England I knew was one of intellectuals, intelligent people, kind and understanding individuals, bobbies (police) with no side arms, and of course, Shakespeare! It also gave us a world wide English language so that we could communicate better with each other. I realize times change things and if I ever return to visit the change will have been apparent, but the fact that England left an impression on this US Southwestern (New Mexico) cowboy is also apparent.. I can truly say that a big chunk of my heart and soul shall remain "forever England!"
Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico

Milk bottles at the doorways and the young school children in their traditional uniforms

K. Koliha, England
The Chelsea Flower Show, Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, the food halls at Harrod's, The Royal Mews on Buckingham Palace Road, Hamley's Toy Store on Regent Street, Victoria Station, Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, London taxis and double-decker buses, the wonderful entrance ways into residents' homes with the glass milk bottles at the doorways and the young schoolchildren in their traditional uniforms are all things that my wife and I still recall.
K. Koliha, England

Sexy City gentlemen in suits, David Beckham, pigeons, and plump cows come to mind.
Karin, Sweden

What would be the best way of selling Britain overseas? Simply by making it known that good manners and generosity of spirit are all-too-often thought to be Old-fashioned here these days. However, there are still enough 'old fashioned' folk to give you some very happy memories of your stay in wonderful Britain!
Jo, North West England

Well, I've travelled all over Europe and wherever I went to people usually tried to make a friendly conversation. ''Where do you come from''etc. England was the only country where people were either too shy, or too indifferent to talk to anyone they had not been ''properly introduced'' to, before!
Massimo, Italy

Spring flowers long before we have them here. Pink-cheeked children who always seem cleaner and better dressed than US kids. Odd smelling diesel fumes (damp air or different fuel). Very efficient transit and trains (pricier than home). People queuing nicely rather than pushing and shoving. Fast foods that sound odd and taste good (mushy peas). So much that is so much older. World War I memorials in churches and parks that list so many more names than ours. Just writing about it makes me want to be there now
David O'Connor, USA

Penny Lane by the Beatles, black cabs, and ice cream cones with flakes, and sailboats on the Duck Pond at Kensington Palace.
Helena Conacher, USA

Fantastic scenery......and the home of proper crisps !!!
Richard Woodward, Emirates

Concerning London specifically, good things are the phenomenal diversity of people, the feeling that things happen there, the ability to be left alone without others interfering, efficient (although expensive) public transport, the remarkable museums and galleries, and a surprisingly large proportion of parkland and green space. Bad things are a minority of rude and arrogant people, excessive traffic, aeroplane noise, and poor-quality, expensive housing.
Alastair Scott, Scotland (now living in England)

Bad teeth, bad breath, unfriendly people, bad food, bad weather, good public transport
Anonymous, USA

Standing stones and crop circles, great museums, shops, tea, fish and chips, Devonshire cream, droll humour, coastal cliffs, castles and royalty, intellectuals, cultures throughout history, accents, European sensibility, spiritualists, old mines, moors and fields and farm animals. Love it all, we'll be back!
Carl Schroeder, USA

The sharp wit of the everyday person

Mark, Canada
The sharp wit of the everyday person; friendly people, tranquil countryside; bustling towns; pub grub; lovely beer; statues; sense of history; and people that quietly get on with it. It's the people.
Mark, Canada

Fish 'n chips, rainy days, green countryside, country lanes, pubs, football, church bells on Sunday morning, tabloids, curry, Coronation Street/Eastenders, BBC News/Angela Rippon/Nicholas Witchell/Michael Burke, Pint cups of tea in greasy spoon cafes, pubs, red buses, black cabs, pubs, Radio One roadshow, cricket on the radio, pubs..... I'm a Geordie stuck in USA waiting for a green card and there's plenty English to dream about!
David Lawrie, Chicago

Beautiful, beautiful post-boxes - the only true British thing that they have yet to ruin!
Lesley Hartley, Canada

There's no place like home! Simple as that....they sat the USA is the land of the free and the plenty. I have been here 6 years and it isn't! There is only one land of the free and it happily exists as an island not too far from France.
Pete, USA

British identity is less to do with the iconic objects themselves - they are countless - but depends instead on the very British pride with which they are treasured.
Giles, England

Things that come to mind when I think of Britain: Big Ben, The Beatles, the Union Jack, John Locke, William Shakespeare, Scotland Yard, The Battle of Britain, the Spitfire, high-helmeted "bobbies", Jack The Ripper, The Rolling Stones, Benny Hill, Monty Python, James Bond, red double-decker buses, St. Paul's Cathedral, Edmund Burke, Guy Ritchie movies, Joseph Merrick (The "Elephant Man"), The BBC, Tea, Fish & Chips.
Anthony, USA

Our old colonial rulers who used to have plenty of money and stole/robbed/looted around the world.
Manoj Mathew, India

The Sex Pistols, Blackadder, and endless traffic.
Anon, England

Expensive merchandise, queues, rain, traffic jams, late trains, road rage

Tes, UK
Expensive merchandise, queues, rain, traffic jams, late trains, road rage.. Ah, don't you just love it here!
Tes, UK

The good: Summer, rolling green pastures, picture postcard villages, London's grandness, red buses. The Bad: Skinheads wrapped in Union Jack flags, 'summer; 2 days of sunshine and a thunderstorm'. The ugly: M25 as a car park and 60's council blocks.
Nick Garner, UK

I'm just relieved, amazed even, that we are able to celebrate anything to do with our culture/history/heritage (with all its eccentricities & idiosyncrasies!) I thought that under the tyranny of the PC loony left, this was strictly "verboten"! It may come as a surprise to them, but it wasn't and isn't all bad! Is there now "glasnost"? Am I now allowed to be proud and patriotic of my own country for once, and celebrate and promote it openly? Or is that still just a privilege only certain "diverse" groups can enjoy?
Anon, UK, now in USA

Compton Valence and Tony Blair. Trying to drive on the opposite side of the road while gear shifting with the wrong hand. Windy roads and warm Guinness. Winston Churchill. The UK is the best place in the world to be.
Bonney Prince, Massachusetts, USA

Daffodils, steak 'n' kidney pudding, cider, Jeremy Paxman, cuppa tea, curry, the Proms, green hills, old people complaining about the "youth of today", miserable London commuters, the most amazingly beautiful gardens in the world. I miss them all...
Ruth, USA (ex-UK)

When the name "Britain" comes to mind I think of drinking English tea; of people who would dress up for dinner/lunch even if it is in the middle of the jungle; of people who like gardens; of castles; the land of Shakespeare, Wadsworth; the land of Oxford and Cambridge; the land where police never carried guns until recently; and how Prime Minister Blair is trying to shatter all these images; and most of all, their beautiful accents. Everyone in English-speaking countries should speak English as well as the English.

While electorates of almost entire world are inclining towards rightwing, British have their continued faith in "liberal and leftist" Labour! It is unique.
Kadavul, US/India

A country committed to an interdependent future, no longer hanging on to its imperialistic past

Rhys Jaggar, England
Everything from great cosmopolitan cities to bleak, wondrous wilderness. A spirit of competitive aggression, allied to fierce independence. A country of innovation, which would benefit greatly from the engaging pragmatism of more patient foreign investors. A country where Indians, Africans, Europeans, Chinese and people from all nations on earth can succeed, given sufficient luck, hard work, family support and passion. A country proud of its traditions, yet not to proud to reinvent itself on a regular basis. A country with a unique historical legacy, allowing it far greater influence in the world than might be expected on a population-basis. A country with vast tracts of land ripe for redevelopment. A country committed to an interdependent future, no longer hanging on to its imperialistic past.
Rhys Jaggar, England

The Americans already think we are a Hollywood parody of cockneys. This nonsense isn't going to help.
Paul , UK

Hmmm, let's see. Mini Coopers, double-decker buses, Spitfires and Lancaster's, 007, bad weather, really bad beer (sorry, it's the truth), humble people, abundant history, and a collective national eccentricity that is simultaneously endearing and confusing to the rest of the world. At the risk of sounding trite, if I weren't so proud to be an American, yours is the only other nation on earth I would be honoured to be a citizen of. Hold your head high, Britain. You have much to be proud of.
Mark, USA

Colonization and the opium war
A'hura, Iran

A mix between the strength of Winston Churchill and the humour of Monty Python

Matthew, France/UK
I think it has to be a mix between the strength of Winston Churchill and the humour of Monty Python. I wish Tony could come up with the same wit that Churchill had, because all we can hear in Westminster are echoes of Monty Python saying: 'Get on with it'!
Matthew, France/UK

Queues, curries, beer and bad weather.
Mike, UK

National Trust, Salvation Army, Oxfam shops, Queen Victoria statues, World War I memorials, church bells, flapping sails, sheep and umbrellas. Isn't it wonderful!
Anthony, England

Hairy cows and the kindness of a Glaswegian cabbie

Jennifer Ethington, NJ, USA
Yobs. No, I'm kidding. My lasting images are little things, and people more than monuments. I can't forget how every time I saw a highland hairy cow I couldn't get my camera focused before it moved away. To this day all I have is a stuffed doll. Oh, and the taxi driver in Glasgow who made me cry when he was taking me to the airport. He actually took my hands and said: "Yer no layvin us, are ye?" He then asked me when I was coming back. The only time a stranger has brought me to tears. I didn't want to leave. I didn't spend enough time in England to erase my long-standing association with John Cleese, and I've not yet been to Wales or NI at all. So hairy cows and the kindness of a Glaswegian cabbie it is.
Jennifer Ethington, NJ, USA

Fish and chips, Scotch whisky, cricket pitches, Stonehenge, cow parsley and bluebells, mini coopers and London taxis, red buses, Austin Powers, Naomi Campbell, David Beckham, punks and Mr Bean. It depends on the target age group.
Anon, UK

Curry and acid house, Stonehenge and Brick Lane, wet autumn leaves and pints in the pub.
Ben Bradford, UK

Britain is a poor vassal-state of Brussels, which has thrown away its heritage in terms of everything: faith, politics, culture, architecture - you name it. Even in my lifetime is has become evident that England 2002 is another planet compared to the England I was brought up in and to which I aspired to become a contributing adult. And the best way of selling Britain overseas? It already has been, many times over. Sold short, sold up the river; the old Genesis title comes to mind "Selling England By The Pound" - it should be our new National Anthem.

Chips and gravy.
David Roundell, Oswaldtwistle, England

When I think of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, immediately many different things spring to mind. However, when I think of Britain as a whole there isn't much. Probably the British flag and the Royal Family.
Graeme, UK

On the one side is the traditional image of Britain of beefeaters, castles, and policemen with strange headwear. On the other is the "Cool Britannia" motif. Personally, I prefer the latter for two reasons. The first is that the traditional image of Britain is universally known and is now a little hackneyed. The second is that our entertainment industry is indeed top class. Our music, clubs, theatres and fashion wipes the floor with the rest of the world.
John G, London, UK

One of the overriding impressions is of poor food

Martin, UK
Having just spent some time with visiting American friends, and having spoken to other Americans who have visited our country it would appear that although they love the country and being in it, one of the overriding impressions is of poor food. Traditional English cuisine may not be imaginative, but for it to be such a recurring complaint from so many different people would suggest we need to try and do something about it!
Martin, UK

Quite simple: being British means being allowed, even encouraged, to be a quirky individual. There is no nation on earth that is less concerned with conformity than Britain. It translates into all fields of endeavour with often brilliant, ingenious results. Yet it is imperilled by the ridiculous political "need" to "belong" to something, anything. Like the EU. Or be accused of being America's lapdog. Britain remains a lion, a quirky, irascible and ultimately lovable lion.
Peter C. Kohler, USA

When I think of England, I remember bad weather (even though it was in July), tacky seaside towns like Blackpool, expensive clothes and drink. One good thing though, great nightlife.
Jessika Anderson, New Zealand

Nice cup of rosy lee and a bacon sandwich.
Shelly, UK

When I think of this country I think of a great many things. It is the only place you can get PROPER beer in a proper pub set in beautiful countryside. I think of my Mum's Sunday Roast. I always think of London lit up at night along the Embankment. Wimbledon fortnight with strawberries and Pimms. The FA Cup and the Six Nations, I think of our bars and clubs and restaurants. It makes me laugh when people say our food is bad. The restaurants in this country are fantastic. One of my favourite pastimes is scouring the vintage clothing shops. British women love to shop. But my most British thing is bacon sarnies, a strong cup of tea and Eastenders on a Monday night after work.

Being able to sit in a pub with one drink all evening and socialise. Travel outside of London to see the real England, go to the smaller villages and meet the people.
Helene, Canada.

A decent cuppa tea.
F Mamo, Malta

Whenever I think of Britain I think of the green fields, the small country lanes that are so narrow you have to pull over to let other cars get passed and lots of sheep in the fields. Also castles, heritage, history and diversity. There is more to Britain than London. The real England to me is the countryside and the greenery and the fresh air. Village fetes, shepherd's pie, bangers and mash and Beefeaters. Plus for some bizarre reason - Morris dancers!
Sharon B, UK

Two things remind me of the UK - punk rockers with the whole chains and hairdo look, and the purely British sense of irony.
Gennie, UK

Good things - the British sense of irony, British beer, the vast range of regional accents and dialects for such a small place, the Worcestershire countryside. Bad things - appalling 'little Englanders', our insular attitude towards Europe, our fawning attitude towards the US, English football supporters, London-centred Government policies, the Conservative party, Margaret Thatcher.
Peter, England

Being from London, heaps of green and black bin bags, German teenagers dressed up as punks and a new Starbucks every 10 yards!
Mark, UK

Definitely innovative-though we don't see any bowler hats today!
Miss Choushry, UK

Extremely poor service.
Pauline, Scotland

See also:

17 May 02 | Business
31 Aug 98 | Letters from Britain
09 May 02 | England
11 Mar 02 | Scotland
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