As China Tunes Into The Olympics, A Chinese Dissection Of Britishness - Warts And All

As China Tunes Into The Olympics, A Chinese Dissection Of Britishness - Warts And All
Maio Qian

The Royal family, the English pound and driving on the left, none of these British characteristics seem to be in synch with the rest of the world. However, the British don’t particularly care what others might think. Their traditions have a special meaning for them. They are the most complicated, most contradictory, and most interesting people on earth.

Queuing up

Let’s start at the beginning -- with queuing. It is a feature of life that seems to offer a particular kind of pleasure for the British. They line up and wait quietly, showing their respect both for others as well as their trust of this queuing culture itself. I used to believe that all the people from the developed world behaved this way until a British friend told me, jokingly, that “Perhaps it’s because the Brits don’t have much imagination that they don’t know how to take advantage…” Then he pointed out that the Italians are certainly not like this. In comparison to the noisy southern Europeans, the British demonstrate a cold sense of order, while at the same time revealing their character and its innate sense of distance.


Privacy, clearly correlated with the sense of distance, is a commonly used term. It’s as if the word has been created for the British. Jeremy Paxman, the famous journalist-author called it the “castle in every Englishman’s heart.”

The British, for example, don’t talk about money directly, even among close friends. It is almost like they are afraid to be infected with the stench. Similar attitudes apply to their relationship with religion. With its rich history of freedom, any religion’s believer can find their spiritual sustenance. In London, Christian churches, Islamic mosques and Buddhist temples live side-by-side, whereas the Museum of natural science offers a place for the atheists to confirm their beliefs.

Yet rarely do the British inquire about each other’s religious orientation, because religion relates to one’s faith and faith is about one’s soul. To talk about such things would be considered as extreme vulgarity.

Likewise, one’s political orientation is another taboo topic. Though the English are famous for being particularly caustic about their government, politicians and public figures, it is nonetheless inappropriate to inquire about other people’s political inclinations, which would be like asking them about their sexual orientation.


With its long aristocratic tradition, this country has also transmitted the profound appreciation of chivalry and gentlemanliness to its people. We can define this as the courage to take responsibility, to take the lead.

In the various wars of British history, the death toll of the aristocrats was often proportionally higher than that of the commoners. It is precisely the embodiment of such a spirit. Britain’s heroic performance in World War II was also derived from this kind of spirit of sacrifice.

One can even say that the fact that the Royal Family hasn’t fallen apart after suffering a series of crises is thanks to their great perseverance and the desperate resistance of its people during the War.

Though the aristocracy and chivalry have declined, gentlemanly manners are passed on, and are expressed through clothing and graceful behavior, appropriate conversation and care towards women.

In English literature, the character that best reflects these traits is Sherlock Holmes. He is knowledgeable pragmatic, calm, attentive, brave, good at analysis and at self-deprecating wit.

Arrogance & self-deprecation

Arrogance and self-deprecation are the most peculiar and interesting conflicting characteristics of the British. The coexistence of the two opposing personalities can be expressed as the British character, or British charm.

The British do have enough reasons to be proud. As an old civilization, it possesses a unique culture and artistic tradition and it has long been a world leader. It is also where modern science and the industrial revolution originated.

However, the British’s deep sense of pride doesn’t have much to do with their country’s glory. As an island nation, though the British were bold in developing trade overseas and had colonies all over the world, British subjects care about their own life more than about what’s happening in other parts of the world. Their narcissism and arrogance might be rooted at this.


Yet there is much more to the British: they can parse their own character and shortcomings in equal measure, and often it is expressed in a humorous manner.

Mr. Bean, the sweepingly successful comedy series, is the classic of British self-analysis. Mr. Bean is always preoccupied. He loves competition. He is self-righteous and neglects others’ feelings. Meanwhile he is good-hearted and loves mischief. As social anthropologist and author Kate Fox, describes it, “British humor contains at least a bit of teasing, mockery, irony, or pretentious understatement. It is also self-deprecating. It is to laugh at oneself or just to play the fool.” Like Mr. Bean. She adds, “For the British, the rule of humor is the law of nature in the culture. We follow automatically the rules of humor just as we are obliged to follow the rule of gravity.”

The self-deprecating spirit is most obvious when facing Americans. The two nations share much mutual respect, and yet are not entirely convinced about each other. Though a small number of English look at the people of their former colony with superiority, and despise the Americans for being naïve and unsophisticated, even they are keenly aware of the fact that the U.S. has replaced Britain as the world hegemony.

Stiff upper lip

That very English expression of the “stiff upper lip” captures the particular personality of perseverance, calm and composure, of never showing emotion. Not to allow one’s upper lip to wobble unconsciously when in fear or weakness is what a determined Englishman is supposed to be. Think: James Bond.


The British used to be the world’s overlord. They once had an empire. But when the hegemony was lost, they returned home and now attempt to influence the world with design, music and new ways of thinking. Though their hierarchical society shapes their law-abiding behavior, their thinking has a unique vibrancy and flexibility.

It makes for a high level of inclusiveness. Ironically perhaps, this particular British quality can today even be seen in the most exclusive of positions: the current Queen Elisabeth. Born of the Royal family, she represents tradition, kindness, perseverance, and even the sense of humor. She also has woman’s finesse and gentleness. In short, she is Britain’s most excellent calling card.

The author lived in the UK between 2003 to 2011

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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