British Humor, British Patriotism, and British Brexit

UnknownMyself and my classmates are fortunate to be in London during what should be a milestone in both British and European History: The British Brexit. Today I saw many British citizens out and about donning red and blue ribbons supporting the cause to either stay in the European Union or become an independent nation. Even in the wake of the death of Jo Cox for her views on the Brexit situation, many citizens appear to take the matter very seriously. The bottom floor of my internship’s office was designated as a voting area, and I saw enthusiastic voters donning their ribbon color of choice each time I walked in and out of my building. Strong opinions regarding Brexit led me to believe there must be a strong feeling of British national pride. Consequently, I was surprised to read some of the statistics in Kate Fox’s chapter covering British Humor in Watching the English. For example, at least two thirds of England’s population reported they were unaware of their national holiday, St. George’s Day, and only 22 percent stated they always felt proud to be British. These statistics were supported by observations I’ve picked up on the street, such as hearing citizens grumble over their “useless” healthcare system or “annoying” tax system. Because of this contrast, I wondered where these strong opinions on Brexit were coming from if British citizens were as unenthusiastic about their nationality as they appeared to be.

Some of the response to this question appeared to be obvious. After researching why some of the British wanted to leave the European Union, I found economic arguments that explained wanting to distance the British government from the euro and EU economic policies. These reasons made sense because they very little to do with national pride. However, the Vox article I used as reference ( listed threats to British sovereignty within the European Union as the top argument behind the argument to leave. This reason didn’t make sense to me; as did many of the other arguments that seemed to build on some sense of British pride. Fox’s chapter on humor in Watching the English explained some of this difference in opinion; that “Not being earnest,” a key element of British humor, encourages Brits to denounce patriotism even when they feel pride for their country. In fact, despite the primary statistics Fox gave that denounced British patriotism, she found 83 percent of the population she surveyed felt some sort of pride towards being a UK citizen. As a result, many of the Brexit “leaver’s” point of view made sense after reading Watching the English. It will be interesting to see what the final result of Brexit is tomorrow morning.


Image Source: via Google Images.

  • It is definitely interesting how Brexit has played out, isn’t it? I find it interesting that you searched up the reasons for Brexit to occur, because there have been news reports in the last few days about people who voted to leave who regret their vote, with some saying they felt misled about the economic consequences. Back on the subject of pride as a UK citizen, due to devolution, people may identify less with the UK and more so with England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Also, somewhere in the book Watching the English, Fox mentions that there are many instances where the British will disapprove of something, such as the NHS, but will defend it if foreigns are in doubt of the institution/concept. What you have been observing is probably a great example of this phenomenon.

  • I completely agree with you that some of the pro-Brexit arguments seemed to contradict Fox’s statements regarding the “importance of not being earnest” in British culture. Walking into the Russell Square tube station on my way to work on mornings leading up to the EU referendum, I was constantly bombarded by both Remain and Leave campaign flyers and stickers. Not just the amount of patriotism of many of the Leave campaigners but the amount of care and emotions both sides put into campaigning confused me given Fox’s statements. I only came to understand Fox’s point of view after the Brexit. The first day I was at work following the EU referendum, my boss and one of his friends who was in the studio that day were discussing what Hermoine mentioned about many people regretting their vote to leave or claiming they felt misled about the economic consequences. My boss made a comment about how “it’s such a bloody mess there’s no point in trying to be serious about it all.” I came to understand that in times of stress, the British will often “not be earnest” and use their sense humor to overcome the situation.

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