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
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
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: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own