Text 1 The English

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The English

Almost every nation has a reputation of some kind. The French are supposed to be amorous, gay, fond of champagne; the Germans dull, formal, efficient, fond of military uniforms, and parades; the Americans boastful, energetic, gregarious and vulgar. The English are reputed to be cold, reserved, rather haughty people who do not yell in the street, make love in public or change their governments as often as they change their underclothes. They are steady, easy-going, and fond of sport.

The foreigner's view of the English is often based on the type of Englishman he has met travelling abroad. Since these are largely members of the upper and middle classes, it is obvious that their behaviour cannot be taken as general for the whole people. There are, however, certain kinds of behaviour, manners and customs that are peculiar to England.

The English are a nation of stay-at-homes. There is no place like home, they say. And when the man is not working he withdraws to the company of his wife and children and busies himself with the affairs of the home. "The Englishman's home is his castle", is a saying known all over the world; and it is true that English people prefer small houses built to house one family, perhaps with a small garden. But nowadays the shortage of building land and inflated land values mean that more and more blocks of flats are being built, and fewer detached and semi-detached houses, especially by the local councils.

The fire is the focus of the English home. What do other nations sit round? The answer is they don't. They go out to cafes or sit round the cocktail bar. For the English it is the open fire, the toasting fork and the ceremony of English tea. Even when central heating is installed it is kept so low in the English home that Americans and Russians get chilblains, as the English get nervous from stuffiness in theirs.

Foreigners often picture the English dressed in tweeds, smoking a pipe, striding across the open countryside with his dog at his heels. This is a picture of the aristocratic Englishman during his holiday on his country estate. Since most of the countryside is privately owned there isn't much left for the others to stride across. The average Englishman often lives and dies without ever having possessed a tweed suit.

Apart from the conservatives on a grand scale that the attitude to the monarchy typifies, England is full of small-scale conservativisms, some of them of a highly individual or particular character. Regiments in the army, municipal corporations, schools and societies have their own private traditions that command strong loyalties. Such groups have customs of their own that they are very reluctant to change, and they like to think of their private customs as differentiating them, as groups, from the rest of the world.

Most English people have been slow to adopt rational reforms such as the metric system that came into general use in 1975. They have suffered inconvenience from adhering to old ways, because they did not want the trouble of adapting themselves to new. All the same, several of the most notorious symbols of conservatism are being abandoned. The twenty-four hour clock was at last adopted for railway timetable in the 1960s, though not for most other timetables, such as radio programmes. In 1966 it was decided that decimal money would become regular from in 1971 - though even in this matter conservatism triumphed when the Government decided to keep the pound sterling as the basic unit, with its one-hundredth part, an over-large "new penny".

I. Answer the following questions:

  1. What kind of reputation do the French, Germans and Americans have?

  2. What words and expressions can be used to describe English people? Which of them sound positive and which are negative?

  3. What is a foreigner’s view of the English usually based on?

  4. What do English people say about their homes?

  5. What does an Englishman look like from the point of view of a foreigner?

  6. Where can one see conservativism in England?

  7. When did the metric system come into general use in Great Britain? What other changes are you aware of?

  8. What new facts about the British have you learnt from the text?

II. Give the antonyms of the following adjectives:

Dull, formal, efficient, energetic, vulgar, cold reserved, small, steady, easy-going, slow, reluctant, notorious, gregarious, boastful.

III. Talking points:

  1. Television, films, books have probably given you an idea about what British people are like. Perhaps you’ve been to England yourself. Do you agree with the author of the text? What do you think about the English character?

  2. What kind of reputation do you think the Russians have? What words would you use to describe the Russian character?


Why I Like England

(after Sue Townsend)

I like living in England because everywhere else is foreign and strange. The only language I speak is English. But I wouldn't like anyone to think that I don't like Abroad. I do. Abroad means adventure and the possibility of danger and delicious food, but Abroad is also tiring and confusing and full of foreigners who tell you that the bank is open when it's not.

Being a town dweller I passionately love the English countryside. Though I must admit it looks better on the telly than it does in real life. I only fully appreciated the varied nature of the English countryside after driving for two days through a Swedish pine forest.

I like English weather; like the countryside, it's constantly drawing attention to itself. I started this article in a room filled with piercing sunlight, but now a strong wind has materialized and the room is full of gloom.

I like the reserve of English people, because I don't particularly want to talk to strangers in trains either, unless of course there is a crisis such as a "cow on the line" causing an hour's delay. In which case my fellow passengers and I will happily spill our life stories to anybody we can get to listen.

I like the way in which the English cope with disasters: cut our water off and we will cheerfully queue at a standpipe in the snow. Throw us into rat infested foreign jails and we will get out saying that our brutal-looking jailers were "decent chaps who treated us well." I bet somewhere, pinned on a dirty prison wall, is a Christmas card: "To my friend and captor, Pedro, from Jim Wilkinson of cell 14."

The England I love best is, of course, the England of childhood, when children could play in the street without the neighbours getting a petition. I'm happy to live in a country that produces important things: wonderful plays, books, literature, heart surgeons, gardeners and Private Eye. I was asked to write about why I like England in 700 words. Now if I'd been asked to write about why I don't like England I'd have needed 1000, and I suspect, it would have been easier to write. It's our birthright and privilege to criticize our own country and shout for revolution. I asked a friend of mine where, given the choice and enough money, he would choose to live. He replied gloomily, "There isn't anywhere else."

I. Answer the following questions:

1. Why does the writer like living in England?

2. What difficulties can a tourist run into abroad?

3. What's peculiar about English weather?

4. Are the English really very reserved?

5. What England does Sue Townsend love best?

6. Why is she happy to live in England?

7. Are there any things people dislike while living in this particular country?

  1. Why did the man refuse to live anywhere else?

9. What do you think is the tone the story is written in? What is the author’s real attitude towards England?
II. Explain the following words and phrases or give synonyms:

Abroad is tiring and confusing; the varied nature of the countryside; a strong wind has materialized; piercing sunlight; to spill life stories to somebody; queue at a pipe; birthright.

III. Talking points:

  1. Give your opinion of the things the English people could be proud of in their country. What do you like about England?

  2. If you were to write about the things you like and don’t like in your own country what particularly would you write about?

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