An English bee in my Scottish-British-European bonnet

This morning’s “Call Kaye” phone-in programme on BBC Radio Scotland featured a discussion of whether Friday’s Royal Wedding had made Scottish listeners feel more proud to be British. Or not.

Many of the callers enjoyed and felt their Britishness reinforced by the event. Some objected to the inclusion in the service of the hymn “Jerusalem” and its reference to “England’s green and pleasant land” (my italics). Others to the description of William and Catherine by one of the BBC’s TV presenters as the future “King and Queen of England”.

This whole English instead of British business has annoyed me for as long as I can remember. When I lived in Italy I got thoroughly fed up with Italians calling me “inglese”.

I got even more fed up with English colleagues at the British Embassy in Rome referring to the Embassy as the “Ambasciata inglese” when speaking to Italian callers, or asking me if I was going home to England for the holidays. How could Italians get it right if the institution representing the UK in Italy was getting it so badly wrong?

Even Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who usually does get it right, referred recently to the British Foreign Minister as “il collega inglese William Hague” (having first used “britannico” in the same document).

This caused me a translation dilemma. Should I grit my British teeth and translate faithfully, or engage in some translatorly diplomacy and use “British”? I chose the latter. Non just to save Frattini’s face in the English-language version, but because I just could not bring myself to write “English” in that context.

I normally contact the Ministry’s press office about these slips, by the way — pointing out errors in the source text is one of the ways that translators bring added value.

For the record. I watched and greatly enjoyed the Wedding, and felt proud to be British. So did my daughter, who’s half-Italian. She said “I really hope Scotland never separates from the UK. I’d hate not to be a part of all that, and to feel that London didn’t ‘belong’ to me”. I feel the same way. I feel a wee bit Scottish (of Irish origin, but I don’t feel Irish at all), very British, and European too. And I detest the anti-Englishness that some Scots feel it’s quite legitimate to express.

My hackles did rise, however, at that line of “Jerusalem”, although I can understand why it’s a favourite with the newly-weds — it’s a very stirring hymn. There’s talk of changing the offending line to “Albion’s green and pleasant land” but that would deprive the English of what is considered by many to be their unofficial anthem. The Royal Wedding website includes a page on the music chosen for the event:

The music has a largely British theme. The Couple have put considerable thought into selecting the music, and their choices blend traditional music with some newly commissioned pieces.

I’d love to hear what you think about these issues of national identity. Have you got a national bee in your bonnet?

By Marian Dougan

12 responses

  1. Interesting post Marian! Kaye’s always stirring the muck, isn’t she? I believe Elisabeth II is also queen of Canada, Australia and a few more states, not just the United Kingdom and Northern Island. I’m not an expert though so feel free to suggest more strategies.
    I wouldn’t describe my own identity as ‘national’, i.e. I don’t like to define it according to my passport. I feel very northern French – no, not Paris, not Brittany, not Normandy ; that would be the South! – very Irish, a wee bit Galician, and extremely European (not that big economic market thingy ; the other Europe, the multilingual one that breeds multicultural families).

    1. Thanks Pierre. I’m not a monarchy expert either, I’m afraid.According to the official website of the British Monarchy, The Queen is Head of State of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms.
      Do you think Kaye’s intention is to “stir the muck”, or is that just the result of some of the comments that get phoned/texted in?
      I know what you mean – my “national” identity is a mix of family roots, my city (Glasgow), Scotland (west of, and sort of), the UK, and that same multilingual/multicultural Europe you mention. I also feel a kinship with the US, but that’s probably largely to do with Hollywood and TV providing so many of my cultural references!
      Which part of France are you from, by the way?

      1. I’m from the very North – born in Amiens (in Picardie, you probably know the name because of the battle of the Somme) and educated in Lille (in the département du Nord, i.e. ‘the North’).
        I often listen to Kaye. I don’t know whether her intentions are genuine or if she is just trying to bring more audience by putting the finger where it hurts (that’s a direct translation from French), but she definitly manages to create debate on itchy questions!

        1. I’ve visited Amiens – we stopped there once on our way back to the UK from Italy by car. My husband left a very nice leather jacket in a wardrobe of the hotel hallway. Two years later we went back, and it was still there, hanging in the same spot. We were amazed!
          And I’ve read Birdsong, much of which is set there. Haven’t visited Lille yet, but we’ve been to Arras, again on an overnight stopover.
          Italian uses the phrase “mettere il dito nella piaga”, which sounds similar to the French one. I sometimes have to switch Kaye off, when those awful bigoted whingers come on. They make my blood boil.

  2. I was getting pretty irritated by all the Scots who insisted they wouldn’t be watching the wedding. In the end, most of them did and those who didn’t missed out. I hate this anti-English sentiment of the Scots and even my own family. They seem to feel entitled to voice such horrible, in my view racist, comments in front of Malcolm (who’s half English and half Welsh). I never experienced anti-Scottish comments like that in all the time I spent down South.
    I do feel Scottish, not necessarily Glaswegian because I was born in Stirling, and also British and European, but I think that comes from living abroad. Most of the “loyal” Scots I know have hardly set foot outside the country (unless on a package holiday to Spain).
    I thoroughly enjoyed watching the wedding which was – in my eyes – just a beautiful, British affair and lifted the spirits among all the other horrible news that was happening in the world. No room for politics.

    1. Oh, well said Alison! I can’t abide that anti-English sentiment (that I hear in my family too – not the immediate family, obvs). I loved the whole Royal Wedding – the colour, the spectacle, and the marvellous crowds. Which happily included lots of happy Scots joining in the fun! And it did indeed lift the spirits – a wee bit of escapism now and again doesn’t do any harm and certainly doesn’t mean we don’t care about the big issues.

  3. I’m English although my mother was Scottish. I do often correct the Germans here when they talk about ‘the Queen of England’ and that kind of thing, although I don’t hold it against them because it is so customary. What annoys me is Irish people, including Irish-Americans, who do everything they can not to set foot in England because of historical grudges. I don’t think I’m responsible for the potato famine any more than they are. It may just be chance that I’ve met four such people, one from Northern Ireland. I have met Irish people who weren’t like that at all too!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Margaret. It’s all so petty and narrow-minded, isn’t it, this holding of grudges. Especially when, as you say, they’re historical and the grudge-holders have only a hazy notion of the facts.

  4. This doesn’t necessarily shed light on the English/Scottish/British question, but there is an interesting example from ‘across the pond’ that I could share. I was born and raised in the Northeast of the U.S., and so have always been both ‘American’ and a ‘Yankee’. When I lived overseas, I worked more with British and Australian people and never even gave it a second thought when they called me a ‘Yank’. Then, more American teachers were brought in, one of them from Texas, and he bristled at being called a ‘Yank”. To him, and to most Southerners, a ‘Yank’ is from the north and recalls resentments of Northern soldiers burning Atlanta in the Civil War, and carpetbaggers coming down afterwards to take control and swindle people out of their money.

    So we are Americans, but not always Yankees! To make matters a little more complicated, there are some people – not a lot, but some – who come from countries in North or South America who insist that they too be called ‘Americans’, because they are, after all, from an American continent.

    And this is why I laugh at people who say that we’d all get along swimmingly if the world’s people all just spoke the same language ;)

    1. Thanks for this great comment! It’s so interesting to find out about other countries’ or regions’ sensitivities.
      I only discovered recently that “Holland” refers to one part of the Netherlands, and that Dutch people from other regions don’t like it when “Holland” is used to describe the whole country.
      We’re always at risk of stepping on someone’s national toes!

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