What makes the English, English?

England is an incredibly diverse place with influences from almost every part of the globe. As a result, it can be difficult to find out ‘What makes the English, English?’. In order to be able to tackle this question, one has to look into the values, attitudes and attributes of the diverse people who make up England today.

The English sense of humour

The English, and indeed, British, have a well-known aptitude for caustic satire and sharp and smart put-downs, but perhaps one of the better-known qualities of the English sense of humour is their sense of irony. For those who are not accustomed to such a common use of irony in normal conversation, the English sense of humour can often cause misunderstandings. A degree of ‘reading between the lines’ comes in very useful!

The stiff upper lip

The English have a well-earned reputation for being a stoic people, who prefer to get on with things despite obstacles that may appear along the way. It can be said that this no-nonsense attitude is mainly down to the working classes but the sentiment is carried across all levels and areas of society in England today. It is an attitude that has become especially necessary to have in present-day England and the recession that has plagued it for the past few years.

In the same vein, the English also have a tendency to towards order in life. The unparalleled and much-famed tolerance for queuing is just one of the attributes that demonstrates this penchant for order in everyday life for the English people.

Sense of duty

With over 185,000 charitable organisations registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, examples of the English sense of duty to others are not hard to find.  Events, such as Red Nose Day, are often celebrated by offices all over the country, with people doing their part to raise money to contribute whether it’s selling baked goods, or wearing outrageous costumes.

As well as a sense of duty, the English also have a sense of occasion and never shy away from going that extra mile, especially where Royalty is concerned. The recent Queen’s Jubilee and before that, the marriage of William and Catherine made for fantastic parties and celebrations across the country. Plenty more celebrations can be expected with the imminent Olympics that has London carefully transforming itself as the proud host city.

England is such a rich and diverse place that it is impossible to give a concise, short answer for the question ‘What makes the English, English’. However, by delving into the character of the English people and their outlook on life, one can start to get a better picture of what makes the English people the people they are today.


6 thoughts on “What makes the English, English?

  1. What has shaped the character of the English the most, in my opinion, is resolute defence in the face of conflict. It probably starts much earlier than I am aware of, but let’s say for the sake of argument that it starts around 50 BC when Caesar decides that Rome needs the natural resources of Britain, such as it was at the time. The Celts, Picts, Scots and others who made up Britain at the time were not united, but were able to come together to try and fight the invaders from abroad. They may not have succeeded entirely, but they held the Romans out of significant parts of Britain. Let’s skip a few invasions and go to around 1066, when William the Conqueror invaded Britain from France. Again, Britain was incredibly divided with Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Angles, Saxons and Norse communities constantly fighting each other, but was again able to come together to some extent against a common enemy. Britain (and the English as a subset) has repeatedly had to face the threat of external invaders, along with many internal crises, and this, IMO, has created the English character we see today. It’s very much a “never say die” and “fight to the last man” culture that makes the nation much bigger than its geography and demographics would ever suggest.

    And all this is coming from a colonial with little love of the “mother country”.

  2. Nicely done. Perhaps useful too as we sit across the pond and watch the Olympics in London start soon.

    • Thanks Douglas! Yes, the Olympics are going to be quite the showcase for English pomp and ceremony!

  3. Among your comments (many of which seem valid) you did commit a cultural faux pas when you noted”With over 185,000 charitable organisations registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, examples of the English sense of duty to others are not hard to find “.Please remember the Welsh people do not consider themselves English.Those who are of Welsh and English parentage may call themselves British, but still not English.When I traveled through Wales my host made a point of this distinction and when I was in graduate school a fellow student,who herself was Welsh, was interested in doing a linguistic study of the resurgence of the Welsh language and identity.

    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks for the comment – totally understand where you are coming from, however, hands are rather tied in this case what with it being the official name of the organisation.



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