“When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British isles- but never England .”
George Mikes How to be an Alien
Britain- The right names
Britain – or Great Britain (GB) – is the name for England, Wales and Scotland. Britain is the eighth largest island in the world. The British lsles is the name for England, Scotland, Wales, both parts of lreland, the lsle of Man and the Channel lslands. The United Kingdom (UK) is England, Scotland, Wales and Northern lreland. It is about 250,000 square kilometers in size and 1,000 kilometres from north to south. The British government is the government of the UK.
Many people think that ‘English’ is the same as ‘British’ . But England is only one of the four nations in the UK . The Scots, Welsh and Northern lrish are British too. They sometimes get angry when they are called ‘English’ .
There are also millions of British people whose parents first came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s from the Caribbean, lndia, Pakistan, Hong Kong and other places . Their homes are mainly in the big English cities like London Birmingham and Manchester.
Most British people speak English, but Gaelic is also spoken in the west and north of Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Welsh is spoken by over half a million people in Wales. The UK also has speakers of many other languages like Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Mndarin and Cantones.There are a lot of different religions in Britain today too.
The Scots, The Welsh and The lrish are very proud of their national songs. When the English play football against Scotland or Wales, the Scots sing Flower of Scotland and the Welsh sing Land of My Fathers. But the English national song is the same as the British national song – God Save the Queen.
A person’s name sometimes tells us where their family first came from. ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’ in a surname (for example, McDonald)is always either Scottish or Irish. ‘O” in a surname (for example, O’Brien)is always lrish. Other surnames, like Morgan and Jones, are Welsh.
Sometimes, as a joke, Scotsmen are called ‘Jock’ or ‘Jimmy’ as a first name, lrishmen are called ‘Paddy’ or ‘Mick’ and Welshmen are called ‘Dai’ or ‘Taffy’. But if you don’t know someone well, don’t call them by these names!
The British character
People say that lrish people talk a lot. They say that the Welsh are great singers. The Scots, they say, are not a very happy or fun – loving nation, and the are also very careful with money. Generally these descriptions are not true! But it is true that there are some very good Welsh actors and singers like Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones and Tom Jones.
Foreigners have ideas about what is ‘British’ . But some of these things are not part of most ordinary people’s everyday life. The great British breakfast and afternoon tea, for example, are mostly found in hotels and ‘bed and breakfast’ places for tourists. And the British do not only drink tea these days. Coffee is popular too. They drink on average 3.39cups of tea each day and 1.65 cups of coffee.
It takes time to know a British person Well. British people are generally quite shy, and they do not make friends easily with strangers. Perhaps this is because they live on an island! And they are not good at learning foreign languages.
British people spend less money on clothes than the people of other European countries. Most of them are not very interested in clothes. Many British people wear suits to the office during the week, but at weekends they prefer to wear jeans.
Dr Johnson, a famous English writer, said over 200 years ago, ‘When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.’ This is still true! Conversations between British people today often begin with the subject of the weather.
The British at Home
Owning a home
Today, most British people own the home that they live in. Of all the homes in Britain 67% (16.7 million homes) are owned by the people who live in them. In the south of England, the numbers are 74.7% in the south – east and 72.8% in the south –west. In Wales 71.5% of homes are owned by the people in them. In Northern Ireland the number is 71.4%. But in Scotland the number of home-owners has traditionally been lower (now 60.2% of homes)
On average, 2.4 people live as a family in one home in Britain. This number is smaller than in most other European countries. About 65% of people over the age of 65 live alone. When children grow up, they usually leave their parents’ home for university or work. After they buy their own home, their parents do not usually come and live with them.
Number of people living in one house in Britain
1961 1981 1998
One person 14% 22% 28%
Two people 29% 32% 35%
Three people 23% 17% 16%
Four people 18% 18% 14%
Five people 9% 7% 5%
Six or more people 7% 4% 2%
The changing Family
The family in Britain is changing. By the year 2020 there will be fewer
married people than single people.
In the past, people got married and stayed married. Divorce was very difficult and took a long time. The only reason for a short marriage was usually the death of the husband or wife. But today people’s views on marriage are changing. Many couples, mostly in their twenties or thirties, live together without getting married. About 60% of these couples do get married in the end.
people get married at a later age now and many women do not want to have children immediately. They prefer to do well at their jobs first. So they often decide not to have a baby until they are in their late thirties, or even forties.
In the past, people married before they had children, but now about 40% of children in Britain are born to unmarried parents. The number of single-parent families in Britain is increasing. Single parents are usually divorced women (2/3) or women who have never married (1/3). The government gives help to single parents, but money can still be a problem. And studies show that, in general, children are happier and more successful in traditional two-parent families.
The number of births in Britain is falling. There are fewer marriages, but more divorces. In 1969, the divorce laws were changed and divorce became quicker and easier. But can people walk away from marriages too easily now? Do couples not try hard enough to stay together?
faces of Business
Britain still produces many things in its factories. But today British people have more money to spend. They want to enjoy themselves. So the fastest growing businesses in the UK are service industries – hotels, restaurants, travel, shopping, and computer and financial services. About 75% of British jobs are in service industries; they employ over twenty million people.
Many British companies have added new services to increase their business. Large supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Tesco do not only sell food. They also sell TVs and videos, clothes and petrol. They even offer financial services. Most supermarkets open seven days a week, and many other shops are also open on Sundays now.
A ‘round-the- clock’ service
The usual working day in Britain starts at 9 a.m. and finishes at 5 p.m. Most people work a five-day week. But now many companies want to give their customers a ‘round-the-clock’ service 24 hours a day,365 days a year.
Banks did this first. Many people needed money outside the banks’ opening hours. So the banks started ‘hole-in–the-wall’ machines. With a plastic bank card and a personal number, customers could get money out at any time, even in the middle of the night.
How hard do British people work?
The British working week is, on average, the longest of any country in Europe. In 1998 a new law was made. Workers do not have to work more than an average of 48 hours a week if they don’t want to. But about 22% of British workers do work more than a 48-hour week. Men work longer hours than women. British employers must give their workers four weeks paid holiday every year.
Full-time and part- time work
About 45% of British workers are women, but many of them are in part-time jobs. About 44% of women work part-time. Many women do not want a full-time job because they want to spend time with their family. But only 9% of men work part time, usually because they cannot find a full-time job. About 16% of men and 7% of women are self-employed. They do not work for a company, but for themselves.
There are about 3.7 million businesses in the UK. Many of these are large companies. About 3,000 British businesses employ more than 500 people. Of the top 500 European companies, about 150 are British.
Many big companies use ‘call centres’. In these centres, people speak to customers who often telephone outside the usual working hours. They take orders and answer questions. They also make calls to customers at home to increase the company’s business.
The City of London
The City of London is the biggest financial centre in Europe, and one of the world’s main financial centres – the other two are Tokyo and New York. The City’s international activities are very important and the UK is the world’s largest single market for international banking. Banks from about eighty countries have offices in London.
The world of international banking is very exciting. Charles Rogers works in the London offices of a Dutch bank. He often travels to Europe and other countries for his job.
What s the history of the City of London?
The Romans built a city, Londinium , in AD 50*. It was about a square mile in size and it had a well all round it.
In the 1300s , money – lenders from Lombardy , in Italy , came to Londinium – or London , as it was now called. They started doing business in the area of the walled city. There’s still a Lombard Street in the City today. There’s no wall now , but the areas still called the City of London and it’s the most important business centre in Britain. It’s still sometimes called ‘the square mile’ , and it has hundreds of banks, insurance companies and financial centres. The Bank of England is in the City.
What are the main kinds of business in the City?
Banking and insurance. Banks were places where people kept their money. Insurance companies started because Britain had a lot of shipowners. Their ships sailed all over the world, doing business with foreign countries. When a ship got lost at sea, shipowners lost everything. So they paid money to insurance companies to protect themselves.
Why is the City of London the financial centre of Europe?
There are a number of reasons, but London’s the capital of England, and English is the international language of business.
Do you enjoy working in the City?
yes, very much. It’s a very busy and exciting place. Nearly a million people work here during the day- that’s more than the population of Frankfurt. But the City is only busy during the day. At night it’s very quiet. Fewer than 8,000 people live there.
How many banks are there in the City?
About six hundred.
Who’s The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street?
This is another name for the Bank of England. This is the central bank of Britain. It also prints British banknotes. The Bank’s main offices are in Threadneedle Street , in the City.