Sunday, March 23, 2008

Great British

So, you want to have a good time with a British person? Try asking them what the name is of the country that they're from.

First they'll be very sure and tell you something like "England" or "The U.K." But they they'll start to waffle and say "Great Britain" and try to explain that, well, "Great Britain" really only refers to the one island. If you question them further they'll get belligerent and tell you they don't need to have a simple little name for their country because they've been around for more than 250 years (to which you say "Yeah? Like Spain? Or France?")

Then they'll start screaming and throwing things and shouting about the Scottish Parliament, North Sea oil, and the Magna Carta.

It's about at this point you realize that they just aren't going to answer the question.

I actually had a British ex-pat try to explain that England was a sovereign state because England can compete in the World Cup (I replied "So, if me and some of my blokes were to play a game of footie with Manchester United, we'd be a country too?")


And you can't say "What country are you a citizen of?" because as an Irish fellow once pointed out: "Well, they aren't citizens, they're subjects."

Just imagine his thick Irish brogue and single raised eyebrow peering over a pint of beer in a dim bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and you'll get the gist of centuries of pent-up irony lobbed at his neighbors across the Irish sea...


In any case, the question can be put more precisely: "What is the name of the sovereign state you are a citizen of?" And yes, you can use citizen to mean "subject". (Actually you can be a subject of this country without being a citizen but I don't wanna go into that because it just gets too wacky.)

Anyway, I finally found the name of their weird country:

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

That's right. "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." Apparently they don't teach that in their schools. Or perhaps it's too ridiculous of a name for them to say out loud.


Yes, we're quite aware the license plates are from the Netherlands.


Phillip Drawbridge said...

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is what is says on my passport. I always assumed Britain was the physical area and the United Kingdom the political. But it's far to confusing to worry about, and really rather dull.

Now the rules of cricket on the other hand.....

Andrew Bellware said...

Perhaps the rules of cricket are what take up all the time in school and keep the British from learning the name of their country.

Of course, I don't understand the rules of baseball so what do I know?

The real issue with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the peculiar relationship to colonies and former colonies, as well as the very odd issue with the "Commonwealth" countries (the citizens of which are, or were, "subjects" but not "citizens" of the United Kingdom.)

I can't think of another country that's like that.

Laura, Queen of Mars said...

Plus: Why "Great"? Here in America, if we have a North Dakota, we have a South Dakota. (Ok, there's West Virginia, fine, never said this was a compelling argument.) Is there a "Lesser Britain" somewhere?

Andrew Bellware said...

"Lesser" Britain. Isn't that what they call America? ;-)

Anthony said...

I object to my brogue being characterised as "thick"! Anybody wanting to jusge for themselves can hear me in action here:

See? I don't have an accent at all! It's all you Americans who have accents...

Andrew Bellware said...

Hey, you're lucky I didn't describe you as having a beard and a pipe and then going on a diatribe of Leftist politics while creating that stereotype! ;-)

But all that being said, you didn't even know the name of that country.

I think our neighboring countries really are just called "Canada" and "Mexico" although there's some argument about how to pronounce the "x"...

Anonymous said...

There was indeed a Less Britain - modern Brittany. When the Anglo-Saxons invaded the island of Britain after the Romans left, some of the British fled to Brittany. It became known as 'Less Britain' and the original Britain was called 'Great Britain' as it was the bigger of the two.