British Stereotypes Reinforced? 1The YETI 2007 London experience
When I was first informed by the British Council that I was
one of the six young lucky English teachers to travel to the
UK in the scope of the YETI 2007 programme, after
jumping for half an hour out of happiness and excitement, I
started to think about what the biggest benefit from this
journey would be: being able to listen and talk to native
speakers? Seeing the world‟s most popular sights?
Learning about the culture? All of these are invaluable for
an English teacher who has never been to the UK. However,
I felt that the cultural side would be of the greatest use:
seeing and living through all those things that you have only been reading and learning about for years. What I really wanted to do once I was in London was to discover whether the stereotypes about the British and British way of life are true or not. Here are my 'findings'; far from being universal and exhaustive; they rather reflect my personal perception of British life.
Stereotype No 1. the British weather: it is always rainy – TRUE
I have always thought that it is exaggeration to say that it always rains in London. I seemed to be right when the 2006 YETIs said that that it was extremely hot all through
their stay. So I took mostly T-shirts, tiny
skirts and dresses with me to London. How
wrong it was of me! I did not see the sun
until the seventh day of my stay! It was
raining all the time, and it was the type of
rain when you are too lazy to open and hold
the umbrella, because the drops are so tiny,
but then in a few minutes your hair suddenly
goes curly! I hated it! And I hardly had
anything to wear. I had to buy a sweater or
A rainy day in Cambridge
YETI = Young English Teachers Initiative; all those English teachers, who have finished Faculty of Philology, who do not have more than three years of teaching/working experience, who have never been to the UK before and who are members of ELTA, can become a YETI and go to London or Oxford for a three-week-long teacher training and experience accumulating dream journey.
Then, in the second part of my stay there were some nice, sunny days, too. Those were my best days, with an unforgettable day in Windsor, and a dreamlike afternoon in Hyde Park.
Stereotype No 2. British food is tasteless - FALSE
As far as food is concerned, I was prepared for everything: tasteless, boiled vegetables, raw meat, no spices at all. However, I enjoyed all the food I ate during my stay. My host-mum‟s food was very nice, spicy enough for my taste. I have to mention the famous
British cheese cake (which I still dream about) and cream tea (which is actually not tea with cream, as I had thought earlier, but tea + (fruit) scones with (strawberry) jam and clotted cream, all of which are excellent!
Cheesecake A restaurant serving cream teas
Stereotype No3 – The British are very polite – TRUE
Always a wide smile, always a nice tone, never a bad word – this is my experience with
the British people. They never react with a simple „thanks‟ or „good‟; it is always
„brilliant!‟, „fantastic!‟, „you‟re a star!‟, or something similar. Even if you have just done some photocopying, which, to be honest, does not really need special skills, you feel as if you were the biggest expert in the whole world.
The always smiling staff of King’s
Stereotype No 4 – The British have a good sense of humor –TRUE
The British are famous for or stereotyped as having an absurd (?!) sense of humor. My experience shows that they indeed have a very good sense of humor, which, of course, cannot 24/7 be the Monty Python style, but is very original and, what is very important, they can really laugh at themselves.
Monty Python musical in Palace Theatre
Stereotype No 5 – Busy pub life – TRUE
Big, comfortable armchairs, nice, wooden
bar counters, a pint of Guinness and
pleasant atmosphere – this could be the
basic description of London pubs.
Although I was in pubs only a few times
during my stay in London, just walking in
the street made me part of pub life, since at
weekends after 5-6 in the afternoon people start to fill pubs so heavily, that many, who can‟t go in, stay outside next to the entrance, and they have their beer standing there. This means quite big crowds of loudly talking and laughing (mostly) men all round the pubs in the centre of London.
Stereotype No 6 - You have to queue everywhere – TRUE
And I had always been nervous when I had to queue here, in Subotica somewhere for ten
minutes! If I had only known that somewhere
some people do it for far longer and far more
often! In London it is just part of everyday life:
at the station, in the post office, in the shop, for
various tickets…Wherever you go, there are
always people in front of you. You are never
the first or the second! The longest time I had to queue was in Windsor: first we had to queue for about 40 minutes to buy the entrance ticket to the Castle, then after an amazing walk in the Castle‟s garden we had to queue for another 40-50 minutes to enter the Castle itself to see the famous doll‟s house of Queen Mary's and all those rooms full of famous
paintings, marble and gold which the Queen uses as her official residence (besides Buckingham Palace and Holyrood Palace), so every minute of the queuing was worth it!
So far I have found only one stereotype to be false, that about British food, but there are some more to examine, so my project is far from finished. Maybe next time.
Finally I would like to enumerate the highlights of my stay, those moments which made my stay unforgettable:
1. A pub evening with eight people around the table, from eight different countries,
from Vietnam through Spain to
Japan, all together speaking at least
ten different languages, plus
English, where each of us could
speak at least one of the others‟
language (ok, I admit that nobody
except the Vietnamese boy could
speak Vietnamese, and nobody
apart from me spoke Serbian);
2. The day in Windsor, my dream town, which very interestingly has a good deal of
Mediterranean atmosphere with its tiny, narrow streets, colourful buildings, small
pubs, cafes, street musicians, parks and a river;
Windsor Castle’s garden A street in Windsor
3. My first walk in Hyde Park – it was the first sunny day of my stay after a week of
rain; which must have given extra value to that day. The size, the cleanness, the
greenness, the peace just amazed me;
Take a rest in Hyde Park
4. The evening in Shakespeare‟s Globe Theatre - ok, I have to admit that it
was very difficult to remain standing all through the three hours of the play (of course we bought the cheapest 5? tickets, let‟s say, because we wanted the original yard
experience;); I also have to admit that I did not understand 60% of the original text (David, my mentor reassured me that even British do not understand everything ); and ok, I know that the present building is only ten years old. However, the experience was extraordinary;
In front of the Globe
5. Staff garden party – I was very lucky, because usually, I was told, there are three
parties at King‟s: at the beginning and at
the end of summer and at Christmas, and I
could be present at one of them. It was nice
to see the teachers in a much more relaxed
mood, when they did not have to think
about the work. They even made an “on the
spot” band, and they made a pleasant
atmosphere with their improvisations;
6. Farewell champagne in the staff room – “Let‟s talk about today‟s lessons in the
staff room” – said David to me. I followed him, as I usually did. But that day something different was waiting for me there: there were the staff with champagne, nibbles, a nice card where everybody wrote some nice words and some touching farewell wishes... It was the time to say goodbye.
Hajnalka Veres – YETI 2007
Miroslav Antic Primary School, Palic