欧洲文化入门 第一节课 Introduction to European Culture

06.10.13 Lesson 1

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British Culture.
Some facts about Britain.
Geographical size: 244,820 km² England: 130,395 km² Scotland: 78,772 km² Wales: 20,779 km² Northern Ireland: 13,843 km² Republic of Ireland (Eire) 70,273 km² Population: 60.6 million England: 50.7 million Scotland: 5.1 million Wales 3 million Northern Ireland 1.7 million Republic of Ireland (Eire) 4.2 million Languages: Britain has two official languages: English and Welsh. In the past, the Welsh language became very rare, and almost died out, but it has recently become more popular and is now being taught in many schools in Wales. Scottish Gaelic is also spoken in some parts of Scotland but is not officially recognized by the government (which means it is not used in official texts, road signs, political broadcasts etc.)

Currency: Pound Sterling (£) Climate: As a number of islands, Britain is subject to more changeable weather than most continental regions. Ordinarily, Britain’s latitude would make it relatively cold, but, luckily, Britain enjoys the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, a current of warm water that flows across the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream ). The Gulf Stream, along with ocean currents from the North, and winds blowing westward from the continent (Europe) all converge on Britain, creating a relatively varied climate in which rain, clear skies, and very varied temperatures may arise within a single day. Although British weather can be annoying because it is so unpredictable, British people can at least be thankful that, in general, the climate is quite mild. Average temperatures vary between roughly -5°C in winter and roughly 30°C in summer (although some regions, such as the Scottish Highlands experience significantly lower temperatures for most of the year.) Primarily Christian. Other faiths such as Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism have slowly established a presence, largely due to immigration.

Religion:

欧洲文化入门 第一节课 Introduction to European Culture

06.10.13 Lesson 1

2/5

The Many Names of Britain and the fate of Northern Ireland.
A source of confusion for foreigners, and often British people too, is the fact that Britain has many different names, depending on which countries you are talking about (see the diagram below). The name Great Britain usually refers to the island containing Scotland, England and Wales. The United Kingdom is the official political name of this group of countries and also contains Northern Ireland. To refer to the United Kingdom and Ireland (Eire) as a whole, the name British Isles is often used. Finally, the name Britain is quite indistinct, and is sometimes used to describe just Scotland, England and Wales, but may be extended in meaning to include the whole of the British Isles.

__ Geographical Location __ Political Entity

A major reason for the complex nomenclature of Britain is the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK). Ireland used to be part of the UK, but gained independence in 1921 and is now entirely self-governing. In some ways, Ireland (also known as Eire) has more in common with other European countries than it does with the UK. For instance, Ireland now uses the Euro (€) as its national currency. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, remains part of the UK and uses pound sterling (£) for currency. Ever since Ireland gained independence, there has been considerable tension within Northern Ireland between those who are happy to stay part of the UK (the Unionists/Loyalists) and those who think that Northern Ireland should join with the rest of Ireland (the Nationalists/Republicans.) The opposition between these two groups extends into the realm of religion. Most Nationalists, like the majority of Ireland, are Roman Catholic, while the Unionists are mostly Protestant, like most of the UK. These political and religious tensions have often erupted into violent conflict in which thousands of people have been killed over the years. Thankfully, in 1998, a ceasefire was established between the warring factions and has remained in effect to the present day.

A Multicultural Society?
Prior to the 11th Century AD, Britain was subject to many invasions and migrations, including those undertaken by the Romans, the Saxons, and the Normans (French). Modern day Britons are predominantly descended from these invaders, and from the indigenous Celts who had settled the land thousands of years earlier.

欧洲文化入门 第一节课 Introduction to European Culture

06.10.13 Lesson 1

3/5

In more recent times, however, Britain has experienced several waves of immigration, initially from former British colonies such as India and parts of Africa, and then later from parts of Europe, especially from certain Eastern European countries following their accession to the European Union. These modern immigrants are often called “ethnic minorities” because their ethnicity (race) is different from the majority of the population. At present, approximately 9% of Britain’s population is made up of ethnic minorities, but these are not distributed equally around the country. Instead, ethnic minority groups tend to be concentrated around certain large cities. For example, 29% of Birmingham’s population is made up of ethnic minorities. In Leeds, this figure is as high as 36%. The mix of so many different ethnicities in Britain is often cited as evidence that Britain has a multicultural society. For instance, walking through any large city, one might easily pass through many distinct ethnic districts, complete with their own shops, festivals, music, churches etc. However, the fact that these ethnic districts are so distinctly defined, and so rigidly segregated may actually suggest that these groups are not being integrated into British society as a whole. A major question facing British people today is how these ethnic groups might be better incorporated into the national culture, without robbing them of the diversity which makes them so interesting and vibrant.

Religion.
Britain is predominantly a Christian country. According to one government survey, approximately 71% of the population consider themselves Christian. However, another survey reveals that only 44% of the population actually believes in God. This discrepancy in statistics might be explained by the fact that some people identify themselves as Christians even though they don’t believe in the religion itself. Instead, they might simply enjoy certain Christian customs such as the Christmas and Easter festivals, while some young people may even participate in Christian rituals in order to please their parents. Indeed, in modern times, the importance of Christianity in Britain appears to be declining rapidly. For example on average only between 1 and 4% of British people attend church every week, and most of those attendees are elderly people. Christianity itself is made up of many different sub-religions, the two most common of which (in Britain at least) are Protestants and Roman Catholics. In general, Protestants tend to be a bit more liberal, especially regarding sexual activity. For instance, Catholics are forbidden to use contraception or to have abortions (except in very rare circumstances.) Ireland remains largely Roman Catholic and its laws reflect some aspects of this religion. As a result, it is often difficult for women to have abortions in Ireland, and some often choose to travel to England to undergo the operation. Historically, Britain was for a long time a Roman Catholic country, but it became Protestant after King Henry VIII (the 8th) changed the national religion in the 1500s in order to divorce his wife. At the same time, he severed British ties with the Pope in Rome and named himself Head of the Church of England. Aside from Christianity, a number of religions also exist in small numbers, often within ethnic minorities. For example, 3% of Britain’s population is Muslim, 1% is Hindu and 0.7% is Sikh.

欧洲文化入门 第一节课 Introduction to European Culture

06.10.13 Lesson 1

4/5

Government/Politics.
There are two main political parties in the UK: the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Although there are numerous smaller parties (the next largest of which is the Liberal Democratic Party), the popularity of Labour and the Conservatives has been so great that, since 1920, one of them has always held power. At present, the Labour party is in power, led by Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. Tony Blair’s popularity is rapidly declining, largely as a result of public dissatisfaction over Britain’s participation in the Iraq War. Because of this, Tony Blair has already announced that he will retire from the Prime Minister’s job some time in 2007. The Labour Party hopes that it can stay in power with a new leader, but many people suspect that the Conservative Party will win power instead. Historically, the Labour Party has focused its policies on helping lower-class workers gain more rights, better working conditions, higher salaries and so forth. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have focused on making Britain richer as a whole, usually by exploiting the working classes. Margaret Thatcher, a famous Conservative leader and British Prime Minister during much of the 1970s and ‘80s is well known for closing down all of Britain’s coal mines. In doing so, she was able to help the British economy by buying cheaper fuels such as gas and oil. However, by closing the mines, she left many thousands of people unemployed and made very little effort to help them find new jobs. This is a good example of a Conservative strategy. In the past decade, however, the Labour and Conservative parties have become much more similar in terms of the policies they want to pursue.

Sports.
The most popular sports in Britain are football (soccer), cricket and rugby. Tennis, snooker, basketball and golf are also quite popular. English people often think they are the best football players in the world. Sadly, England usually fares poorly in international competitions, such as the 2006 World Cup where England lost to Portugal in a quarter-final competition. Hence, football is a source of much national pride for English people, but also the cause of much sadness and embarrassment.

Food and Drink.
British food is generally looked down upon by other European countries, and is often said to be heavy, bland and boring. Certainly British food often lacks the variety, colour, and strong flavours of Italian, French, or Greek food for example, but there are a few British specialties that are worth a try: • Fish and chips: the national dish of England. Fried fish and fried potatoes. This meal is usually quite unhealthy, but tastes delicious. • Pies: Britain is good at making pies, especially, big, heavy meat pies with plenty of vegetables, gravy and good tender pastry.

A Pie. Mmmm, delicious!

欧洲文化入门 第一节课 Introduction to European Culture

06.10.13 Lesson 1

5/5

Haggis: a famous dish from Scotland, usually made from mutton and various spices, wrapped and cooked in the sheep’s stomach lining.

Art.
Britain is not particularly famous for art. A few relatively well know British painters are William Blake, John Constable and Joseph Turner

Literature.
Britain is very famous for literature, mostly due to the plays written by William Shakespeare in the 1500s. Other famous British writers include Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle and, most recently, J.K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books.)

The Monarchy, Past and Present.
The word monarch means the King or Queen of a country. Britain’s current monarch is Queen Elizabeth II (the 2nd). In the past, the Kings and Queens of Britain were in charge of the entire country, and made all the important decisions, while politicians existed to carry out the monarch’s orders. Nowadays, the power of the monarchy in Britain has declined to the point where the current Queen has very little authority over the country. All the important decisions are made by politicians such as the Prime Minister, and the monarch serves a purely symbolic role. The Queen often meets with foreign visitors, and helps foster friendship between Britain and other nations. Because of the long history of the monarchy, many foreigners are interested in the Queen and in her home, Buckingham Palace. As a result, the monarchy has become an important tourist attraction in Britain, and a good source of revenue for the whole country. While some British people think that the monarchy is outdated and should be abolished, others acknowledge the important role the Queen and her family play in establishing an international identity from Britain, and in representing our history and traditions.

Further Reading:
http://www.visitbritain.com/VB3-en-GB/aboutbritain/about_britain.aspx This site offers simple introductions to various aspects of British culture including history, government, religion and the monarchy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Isles_%28terminology%29 This site explains the difference between Great Britain, the British Isles and the United Kingdom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Britain

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