Olympic Opening Ceremony. British and proud of it… but not English

I’ve just seen a comment on Twitter that sent my Scottish/British blood pressure sky-high. Italian journalist Gianni Riotta, commenting on the opening ceremony, said that it illustrated “straordinaria sicurezza identita’ inglese”: essentially, the English people’s extraordinary sense of, and confidence in, their national identity, to the extent of being able to laugh at themselves. Mr. Riotta wondered if the Italians or French could do the same (can you, French and Italian readers?)

I watched the ceremony from start to finish. It did indeed underscore and reinforce my sense of national identity. Which is not English.

The ceremony was wonderfully inclusive. It included performers, athletes and volunteers from all over the United Kingdom. It included children’s choirs filmed in the stadium and in beautiful settings in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Here they are, courtesy of the BBC.

It included Emeli Sandé, a Scottish singer with a Zambian father and an English mother. And it included the Scottish Sir Chris Hoy, for Pete’s sake, carrying the flag for (please take note, Mr. Riotta) the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic Team.

Just to keep some balance here, I got equally riled by Alec Salmond’s coining of the ridiculou “Scolympians”, for Scottish Olympians. Are the Welsh Team-GB members to be dubbed “Wolympians”?

Disclosure: some of my best friends are English.

By Marian Dougan

3 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, this is a very old habit: although the adjective “britannico” does exist in the Italian vocabulary, we are more likely to refer to anyone who comes from Britain as “inglese” (unless we know for sure that they are “scozzese” or “gallese”). In colloquial situations, Britain is often referred to as “l’Inghilterra”, rather than “la Gran Bretagna” and this must come from a time when England’s might and power would overshadow Scotland and Wales. As for the United Kingdom, I would imagine that only a very tiny minority of Italians would use the expression “il Regno Unito”, so somebody who comes from Northern Ireland would forever be excluded from the picture. I know that it is not just an Italian thing, as the French and Spaniards often do the same. It is not malicious, so the blogger should take it as nothing more than a linguistic curiosity.

  2. Haha, I hear you Marian. Unfortunately, I’d say if you dig in other continental media news, you’ll find similar ignorance… :-/
    I don’t like the Olympics because of the nationalist pride they convey (even more than Football, I feel). The Olympics were revived at the time when nationalisms were in full bloom. Britain might still be “great” in the imagination of British people, but France, Italy and Germany have had their bad share of nationalism. In our times of crisis, these same bad nationalisms seem to come back big time (just look at the last elections in France) and I fear national sport’s pride might just not help.
    I only have one identity : I’m European. I would have loved to see Greece beat Germany in the football European cup though 🙂

  3. I second Max G. We do the same in German. Besides that, in Pakistan, where I live, every foreigner with a fair complexion is referred to as “angraiz” (English) …

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