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Numer publikacji: 23639
Dział: Języki obce

Different concepts of culture in general and of English culture in particular

Joanna Chmur

Different concepts of culture in general and of English culture in particular.

The culture is inseparable connected with each nation’s life. According to encyclopedic entries it means the arts and another manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. This quotation let me find that culture is spread on all spheres of everyday life of the society and hinge on all social groups irrespective the type of culture they prefer. It is well-known that Britain has got a rich and varied cultural heritage, of whose gross features everyone is aware, eg. colourful royal ceremonies which attract millions of visitors. It also has an international reputation for its historic sites, museums, famous institutions and worldwide cultural events, eg. Madame Tussaud’s Museum, Buckingham Palace, Jorkvik Viking Centre in York or Edinburgh Festival.
Another way of defining culture is as “the whole way of life of a particular group of people” and although the United Kingdom consists of four lands, English culture dominates the cultures of the other three nations of the British Isles. A long-term neighbourhood, mutual roots cause the situation when everyday habits, attitudes and values among the people of the four nations are very similar. However, they are not identical, and what is often regarded as typically British may in fact be only typically English.
After the Second World War Britain looked like a prosperous and friendly country for an immigrant worker, what caused the big wave of immigraton and England became a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. The large-scale immigration to Britain from places outside the British Isles change approach to them. These “new British” people have brought widely differing sets of attitudes with them. However, the divergence from indigenous British attitudes in new British communities is constantly narrowing. Newcomers integrate into the host country and culture and fulfill several stages to reach exchanges between their centuries old traditions, although this exchange does not mean loss of identity. On the other hand, the hosts must understand and accept a foreign way of living, although in the days of empire, foreigners were often considered amusing, even interesting, but not really to be taken seriously. These days, many foreign ways of doing things are admired and there is a greater openness to foreign influences. Moreover, the immigrants’ traditions and cultures hamper and stunt the process of acculturation. The cultural tradition of Britain indicated contribute to the aforementioned specifity. In keeping with that idea, we can remark many advantages, connected with overseas impacts, eg. cultural variety, tolerance to different opinions and styles of living, unique identity. These words can be proved by Beth Edginton’s theory, that: “(...) Identity, personal or national, is always created in the space between self and others, so whoever the British define themselves as beeing – and of course there are a wide variety of definitions – Britishness is at least partly dependent on the multiple interpretations of other national groups. (...)”
As one of the dimension of culture, we can also take into account English traditions and festivals. We can say that they occur “above the social segregation” and are known to the whole society, because particular beliefs and customs are usually handed down from one generation to another. We all have a wealth of experience of the national culture we grew up in, much of what we know about it is unconscious. Additionally, we inevitably belong to a whole series of subcultures of our national culture – of class, ethnicity, gender, generation – and often we simply don’t know much about the experiences of people who belong to different subcultures from us – even if we share with them the same nationality. And because of that festivals, specific habits can be these factors, which join and unite people and help them to support the national identity, as the man develops in the frames and on examples, given and established by tradition . Customs, folklore give us origin, ethnic and demographic characteristic of the inhabitants, permit to share their historic experience. Cultural traditions reflect also geography because geography proves inexorable, show people’s dependence on seasons, weather and natural phenomena. It also concerns the painterly quality of the climate found its reflection in many local conventions and customs, eg. the drown of Marzanna in Poland. People treat them as a unity with their region, as a kind of “a social microcosm”. Thus harmony can be also regarded as an idea that
“ (...) grows out of the need to prevent, cultivate, and develop the aspects of culture, values, and way of life on the area which displays unique regional or ethnic features, aimed at preserving and deeping social and cultural or ethnic identity.”
But sometimes we can see that culture of some specific places, local communities, with their folk, history, tradition develop into manifestation of some general tendencies. European countries often complain of cultural imperialism, which is connected with our postmodern reality labeled as “the culture of the copy”. We have been living in an age of various responses to the Americanization of culture, particularly popular culture. According to Siwek “(...) The 20th century technological revolution in transport and communication, together with the rapid development of the homogenizing global consumer culture dominated by multinational corporations have generated an international sensibility, but, on the other hand, have also created a certain cultural and political dislocation and anxiety, which have thrown attention back to local cultures, on the notion of community(...)” .
What follows some people also say that the world of “warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog-lovers, old maids bicycling through the morning mist” , English gentlemen and cream tea has gone. By the influence of Europe and world’s union, what English people eat, wear and what music they like is no longer home-grown. Today being English is about wearing Nike, Doc. Marten boots, eating chicken tikka masala, having an Apple Mac at home and going for holidays to Spain. Even in most historic cities of England that claim to cultivate old traditions and keep their old character, like Oxford or Cambridge, instead of shops that sold home-made cakes or a dozen nails packets there are places where you can buy cheap teddy bears, T-shirts and other badly made gifts.
On the other hand, the English as individualists can be highly conservative – being different is something what makes them to be proud of. As far as driving on the left-hand side of the road is concerned they will never agree to change it to the right. Among others it is difficult to imagine that they will ever buy products in kilos and grams, give up selling beer in pints or start their financial year at the beginning of the calendar year.
However, as was mentioned earlier, Full English Breakfast or Fry-up, as it was affectionately called by those who don’t object to calories, could not survive in the modern world. According to “Datamonitor”: “Britons are increasingly busy in the mornings and Full English was just too time consuming to prepare.” Despite the fact that Full English has been replaced with cereal bars for foreigners it still is one of the strongest images associated with England. As well as the tea telephone boxes, English weather and English “gloominess” when talking about one’s character, also dry humour will always belong to that nation as extremely unique and having meaningful images. Their pessimism can be broadly expressed in words: “We are not put on earth to enjoy ourselves.”
How it was mentioned above, each nation’s culture is inseparable connected with the evolution of the civilization. Nowdays, many young people in Britain have a considerable amount of freedom and the things they are interested in reflect this: music, television, sex, fashion and money predominate. One does not need to be a language expert to realize that the vocabulary, culture of a particular language grows continually with new developments in knowledge. New ideas must have new labels to name them. Without new labels, communication of these new ideas to others would be impossible. Language and culture are interdepended: each influences and is influenced by the other. Language is the main medium through which culture is expressed, it is symbolic guide to a culture. Many words come to culture from the English of special subjects such as science and technology, psychology, sociology, politics and economics. According to that, societies change over time, while their reputations lag behind. But we can see that many things which are often regarded as typically British derive from books, songs or plays which were written a long time ago and which are no longer representative of modern life, eg. wearing a bowler hat, eating “English breakfast” or the image of the British as a nation of tea-drinkers. As follows, it seems that we should also change our concepts of Englishness, as English way of living has changed through the centuries. However, some features of the English nation have remained constant according to the survey from 1951 organized by the “People” newspaper. The survey revealed that English people with their love of freedom, great courage, respecting feelings of other people, understanding education as something that helps to create one’s character, a very strong belief in marriage and the family as the institution seemed to be very unified. To tell the truth, although all principles mentioned above are the English Creed of the older generation, they can be also observed nowdays in English everyday life. We can assume that these features could have been reached thanks to tradition, way of living, habits – so called little “c” culture.
Broadly speaking, there are different concepts of English culture, depending on the view or good will of the speaker and the time of the discussion. It seems to me that there is no one definition of such a phenomenon which Englishness presents itself. For us the whole concept of English culture can be compared to a double-decker. If you take a seat on the first deck, you will see a completely different Great Britain than a person who sits on the top. Englishness with its levels can tell us much about its nature but it does not have to. It depends on the point of view of the observer.

1. Datamonitor, www.bbc.com.pl
2. Edginton Beth, http://elt.britcoun.org.pl
3. Paxman J., The English Penguin Book, 1999
4. Pennycook A. 1994, The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language, Pearson Education Ltd.
5. The Guardian, January 20 1999
6. Thompson D. 1995, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Clarendon Press, Oxford
7. Wiszniowska M., Siwek A. Sobieraj J. 2001, Local Colors of the Stars
and Stripes, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, Toruń

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