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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 00:05 GMT
Do they mean us?
Foreigner perceptions
Young people around the world admire British institutions but find Britons cold and unwelcoming, a new report claims.

MTV's Beavis and Butthead may think of Britain as "that dumb little country where everything sucks"; and last week the head of the CBI said the country sometimes reminded him of a run-down banana republic where nothing works.

But a survey by the British Council - called Through Others' Eyes - finds Britain is widely admired around the world.


The British always give me the idea of old and boring

Singaporean interviewed for the survey
According to the report a rising "successor generation" of global movers and shakers is "generally positive about the UK" though many think British people are beset with "negative personal qualities such as an inability to change with the times and an unwelcoming attitude to outsiders".

The UK is admired for its democratic institutions and educational system but, at the same time, disliked for the "cold and condescending" attitudes of its people.

Media to blame

The report's author, Robert Ratcliffe, claims many perceptions about the UK are unfair, out of date and based on the image of Britain presented in TV sit-coms like Benny Hill and Upstairs Downstairs.

He says foreign TV stations also concentrate on the ceremonial side of British public life.

"The media makes great play of the longevity of our institutions - the pomp and pageantry - because it works well on TV and so many people around the world naturally think 'well, that's all there is'," says Mr Ratcliffe.

Benny Hill
Widely known: Benny Hill
The survey involved interviewing 6,000 people in 30 countries over a period of two years.

The aim is to help the British Council improve its official efforts to promote a positive image of the country.

Mr Ratcliffe says: "Countries relate to each other these days much more on a people-to-people rather than government-to-government basis.

"People power has become as important as politics".

Atlantic Alliance

The council found Britain was most admired in Nigeria and least liked in Greece.

Mr Ratcliffe says: "We wondered if the Greeks were less keen on Britain because of issues like the Elgin Marbles and the dispute over Cyprus.

"But the hostility came from Britain's role in the Nato action in Serbia and the close alliance with the USA - that was very unpopular in Greece."

Another finding was suspicion among young French and German people that the UK was more interested in working with the US than with them.

Generally, Mr Ratcliffe claims, the UK tends to be most admired in countries where the US is also popular or seen as a model, as in much of the developing world.
Survey Facts
6,505 people interviewed, face to face
All were graduates, aged 24-40
Interviews took place last year in 17 countries from Argentina to Vietnam
Western Europeans are less 'pro-British' than Africans or Asians

Concern over standards in the British education system do not seem to be shared by foreigners.

The council found nine out 10 foreigners were either "fairly positive" or "very positive" about British universities.

Only the American higher education system was rated more highly, and the UK is way ahead of Japan in third place.

Young people in Argentina, Bangladesh, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and the Gulf are the keenest on education British-style.

But potential students from the EU, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea were less enthusiastic.

Less than one in five young Japanese think British universities are "very good".

Rude and Unpleasant

The debate meanwhile rages on whether the British are really as cold, unfriendly and stuck up as the image suggests.

Reacting to the report Gerry Hanson of the national Campaign for Courtesy claimed the British were not as welcoming as they once were, lag far behind places like Malaysia and Japan in the courtesy stakes, but were still far more hospitable than many other nations, notably the French.

A lot of them are drunk. They like to get drunk and cause trouble

Hong Kong interviewee

Nevertheless, says Mr Hanson, standards have slipped.

He says: "The British have lost their reputation for politeness and that is a great shame. We all need to learn to smile a lot more and be patient."

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See also:

11 Oct 00 | UK
What is Britishness?
22 May 00 | UK
So, how rude are you?
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