Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us

So says British Council’s survey of 5,000 people. And don’t get them started on the weather...

Senior Reporter

The UK is full of heavy drinkers with bad eating habits who are ignorant, intolerant and too nationalistic – so it’s just as well that we are also very polite.

It might sound like a stereotypical list of national traits, but these are the views of more than 5,000 young adults from five different countries who were asked to give their opinion on modern Britain by the British Council.

Its report As Others See Us, published today, shows that the UK is struggling to overcome certain long-held negative perceptions about its poor weather and cuisine, which are viewed as its least attractive features. Culture and history are seen as its best qualities, with its best-known cultural icons cited as Shakespeare, the Queen, and David Beckham.

Worryingly, it seems that the UK is right to be worried about its binge-drinking culture and the loutish behaviour with which it is associated. Asked to name British people’s worst characteristics, 27 per cent of those surveyed ticked “drink too much alcohol” – a figure which rose to 34 per cent if the person had actually visited the UK and experienced the drinking culture first hand.

Other commonly cited negative traits included “bad eating habits”, “too nationalistic” and “ignorant of other cultures”, with “intolerant towards people from other countries” also ranking highly in the league table of ignominy.

But it was not all bad. Asked to name British people’s best qualities, 46 per cent mentioned politeness and good manners, while others ticked “educated and skilled”, “friendly” and “respect the rule of law”. The British sense of humour completed the top five. In general, perceptions of the UK improved among those who visited the country.

“They say ‘to know us is to love us’ and this survey shows young connected people around the world generally do,” John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council, told The Independent. “But they also still believe the stereotypes – bad weather, hard drinking and most unfairly of all, bad food.

“The evidence is that the more we can attract people to actually visit the UK, study here or do business here, the better and more fully they appreciate us. That matters to our future prosperity and standing in the world.”

Overall, the UK fared well for overall attractiveness, finishing second in a list of 15 countries behind only the United States and on an equal footing with Australia, which the report’s authors described as an “excellent ranking”.

Asked to name someone associated with current UK arts and culture, survey participants mentioned musicians such as Adele, the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Elton John, while JK Rowling, Banksy, Tracy Emin and Winston Churchill were also popular answers

The report argues that an “important shift in influence” is taking place globally, making the way in which British citizens are perceived by other countries more important than it used to be. Young Britons should be taught the importance of having an “international outlook”, it adds.

“Power is drifting away from governments and being picked up by people, brands and movements; established hierarchies are being challenged by new local, national and global networks,” the authors write. “The international landscape is being transformed by hyperconnectivity, social media, and the rapid rise of direct people-to-people connections unmediated by states.”

More than 5,029 18-34-year-olds from Brazil, China, Germany, India and the US took part in the survey, which was carried out by pollsters Ipsos MORI via an online questionnaire on behalf of the British Council.

The worst of Britain

  1. Drink too much alcohol (27% thought so)
  2. Bad eating habits (23%)
  3. Too nationalistic (22%)
  4. Ignorant of other cultures (22%)
  5. Intolerant towards people from other countries (20%)
  6. Rude (17%)
  7. Unfriendly (13%)
  8. Complain too much (13%)
  9. Too pessimistic (11%)
  10. Lazy (10%)
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick