Stereotypes of the British

Stereotypes of British people are found in several cultures.[1] Some stereotypes relate to specific ethnic groups of Britain while others are directed at British nationals in general.

Common stereotypesEdit


Both historically and in the present day, the British have often been associated with good manners by many people around the world,[2] similar to Canadians.[3]


British humour is well known for its use of sarcasm, dark comedy, and irony.[4] Monty Python was a famous British comedic group and some of the most highly regarded television comedies, such as Fawlty Towers and Mr. Bean, are British.[5]


A cup of tea with milk

Drinking tea - specifically the more oxidised black tea - is seen as a key part of British culture.[6] Originally introduced as a luxury product in the 17th century, cheap imports from colonial India allowed its consumption to significantly increase during the second half of the 19th century.[7]

Today it remains a popular beverage, with surveys from 2017 showing that the UK had the 12th largest tea consumption per capita in the world,[8] and that almost 75% of British people who drank tea daily had at least two cups a day.[9]

Other hot drinks, especially coffee, are also popular.[10]

Lack of emotionEdit

The British are often seen as reserved and unemotional.[11] This perspective has been bolstered by popular British phrases such as "stiff upper lip", which means displaying an emotionless and determined exterior in the face of hardship; "keep calm and carry on", which was taken from a motivational poster produced by the UK government in preparation for World War II; and "always look on the bright side of life", which was lifted from a popular Monty Python comedy song about persevering in the direst situations.[12]


Americans often joke about the British having bad teeth.[13] This stereotype appears to stem from a particularly American view of dental health in which artificially straightened and whitened teeth (sometimes referred to as "Hollywood teeth") are the healthiest,[14] but this primarily affects only the outer appearance of teeth and some evidence has shown that artificial whitening actually has a negative effect on dental health.[15] In reality, British teeth have been ranked as the fifth healthiest in the world, with American teeth behind in ninth place.[16]

Jokes about British teeth appear in American popular culture. In The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield", a strict dentist scares Ralph Wiggum into brushing his teeth by showing him a fictional book titled The Big Book of British Smiles that depicts a Queen's Guard member and Prince Charles with exaggeratedly crooked teeth.[17] A Rimmel cosmetics television advertisement featuring Georgia May Jagger became an internet meme in 2014. In the advertisement, Jagger says "get the London look" and viewers ultimately associated the "London look" with the gap between her front teeth.[18]


Jokes are often told about British food being either poor quality or inedible. Historically, British cuisine was generally fairly bland after the World War II period, but globalisation and mass immigration have caused it to become more diverse.[13][19]


There is a common stereotype that the British are only able to speak English.[20][21] This has some truth to it, as (like in many English-speaking countries) levels of bilingualism are relatively low.[22][23][24][25][26] Additionally, the number of people who speak a language other than English as their first language is reasonably low, especially among those who were born in the UK—even among those with immediate immigrant ancestry.[27] However, most British schoolchildren receive at least a few years of compulsory French, German or Spanish lessons.[28] This used to happen during the first years of secondary school,[29] but teaching foreign languages at an earlier age has been viewed as increasingly important.[30][31][32][33]

Anti-social behaviour abroadEdit

In some tourist-heavy European countries such as Cyprus, Greece, and Spain, British holidaymakers are closely associated with anti-social and violent behaviour, usually related to binge drinking.[34] Similar to Americans, British tourists have also been stereotyped as preferring to shout and talk slower in English when interacting with foreigners instead of making an effort to use the local language (see "monolingualism" above).[35]


  1. ^ "12 Stereotypes of British People You Need to Know About". Gap Year. 3 March 2017. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  2. ^ Mills, Sara (19 October 2017). English Politeness and Class. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107116061. Retrieved 20 May 2019 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Most Common Cultural British Stereotypes". 15 July 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  5. ^ Ivie, Devon (21 November 2018). "The Definitive Guide to British Comedy TV Since Fawlty Towers". Vulture.
  6. ^ "English Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction?". Tandem - Speak Any Language. 30 August 2017. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  7. ^ "UK Tea & Infusions Association - A Brief History". Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  8. ^ Smith, Oliver. "Which country drinks the most tea? The answer might surprise you". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  9. ^ "UK: average cups of tea per day 2017". Statista. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Tea vs. Coffee | YouGov". Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  11. ^ Deacon, Michael (3 October 2012). "Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: an Emotional History of Britain, BBC Two, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  12. ^ Geddes, Linda. "Is being reserved such a bad thing?".
  13. ^ a b Finnis, Alex (24 April 2018). "The stereotypes Americans have about Britain which are actually completely wrong". Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  14. ^ Mamona, Sheilla. "From Kylie Jenner to Kate Middleton: The most dramatic celebrity teeth transformations".
  15. ^ "How dangerous is teeth whitening?". September 20, 2015.
  16. ^ "10 Countries Whose Citizens Have Healthy Teeth". October 16, 2017.
  17. ^ Stoppard, Lou (13 June 2019). "Why 'British teeth' are something to smile about". Financial Times. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  18. ^ Das, Shanti (31 January 2021). "How Instagram changed modelling: the lies behind where the power lies". The Times. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  19. ^ "Chicken Tikka Masala and its History". 15 June 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  20. ^ "Parlez-vous English? Brits 'getting better' at languages on holiday - Telegraph". 21 July 2013. Archived from the original on 21 July 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  21. ^ James A. Coleman (2009). "Why the British do not learn languages: myths and motivations in the United Kingdom" (PDF). Language Learning Journal. 37 (1): 111–127. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  22. ^ "Oh, to be bilingual in the Anglosphere". New Scientist. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  23. ^ "British people 'least likely' to speak foreign language".
  24. ^ Nardelli, Alberto (26 September 2014). "Most Europeans can speak multiple languages. UK and Ireland not so much".
  25. ^ Worne, John (27 January 2015). "Language learning in the UK: 'can't, won't, don't'".
  26. ^ Paton, Graeme (20 November 2013). "Three-quarters of adults 'cannot speak a foreign language'".
  27. ^ "Languages in the UK". Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  28. ^ "Britons aren't xenophobic about language learning – and we should stop saying we are". 14 December 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  29. ^ Tickle, Louise (13 May 2013). "Languages in UK schools: where we are vs where we need to be". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  30. ^ "Languages to be compulsory in England". BBC News. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  31. ^ Pisanu, Angela (22 January 2019). "Welsh pupils to learn new languages at an earlier age". Education Business. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  32. ^ "Most P1 pupils learn a foreign language". 11 February 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  33. ^ "learning a second language in Northern Ireland's primary schools". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  34. ^ "From Barcelona to Malia: how Brits on holiday have made themselves unwelcome". The Guardian. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. ^ Kampfner, John. "Shouting at Johnny Foreigner is no substitute for learning the lingo". The Times.