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Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas
for Semester 2 Reading Lessons...
are a deeply nostalgic people and value customs and traditions above
almost everything. It does not seem to matter just where traditions
have come from or why they have survived. They are traditions, and
that is enough for them.
The rest of the world
accepts and quite enjoys the outward trappings of this English
trait. Thousands of people fly into London every year to watch
traditional jamborees such as the Changing of the Guard or the State
Opening of Parliament.
Tradition, to the
English, represents continuity, which must be preserved at all
are the least family-orientated people on earth, the English would
not dream of spending their Christmas anywhere else but in the
vipers' nest they refer to as the "bosom of the family".
This annual festival almost always ends in tears and to get over it
takes many families a good six months.
But tradition rules
and, come September, English families are beginning to plan for
another family Christmas, having apparently completely forgotten the
mayhem of the one before.
family members avoid each other religiously throughout the year
except on compulsory occasions such as christenings, weddings and
funerals. Of these, funerals and christenings, being the shortest,
are the most popular. Weddings are only distinguishable from pitched
battles by the uniforms of the participants.
Planning for these
nightmare events starts early, as do the arguments. Even though
English etiquette books try to help by pointing out who is
responsible for organising and paying for the bride's dress, the
flowers, the church, the choir, the organist, the cars, the
reception, the food, the photographers and St. John's Ambulance, the
English will fight furiously on every single issue for months
before, right through and even after the great day.
It came as no
surprise to many survivors of similar occasions to read the
newspaper report of the bride's father who initiated legal
proceedings against his son-in-law's parents (about who should pay
what) while the "happy couple" were still on their
It is the triumph of
English hope over English experience that these gatherings ever take
place at all.
For Queen and
one of the things that the English do best. Over the centuries, they
have confronted almost every race on the planet at one time or
another. Naturally, they have become rather good at it.
Nobody can curb
English pugnacity. It is in their blood, and displays of ritualised
ferocity are even seen as socially desirable and glamorous.
Nearly a century
after the armies of all other countries became entirely fighting
machines, the English still keep several large bodies of men from
mainly aristocratic families in barracks in London. One of the major
duties of these men is to dress up in period costume from time to
time and march about the streets looking fierce.
Once a year, these
same men meet on a large parade ground and do quite a lot of
marching about and looking fierce in front of the current monarch.
In this they are accompanied by noisy wind bands playing mostly
When it actually
comes to war, the English are extraordinarily tenacious once they
get going. Images of London under the blitz reinforce their
perception of their own indomitability, and the lack of proper
equipment and a shortage of men are never seen as a handicap.
And it is not only in
formal battle conditions that the English snap to attention. Their
natural bellicosity is, at all times, just below the surface. The
work started by away teams led by Raleigh and Drake is continued by
the supporters of English football squads. It seems they have a
fundamental need to prove their physical superiority not merely to
each other but to others. Despite this, England alone of the major
countries in Europe, indeed the world, has abolished military
conscription with all the opportunities it affords for formalised
are not a deeply religious race. Hundreds of years ago they decided
that Roman Catholicism with its teachings about original sin and the
unworthiness of the human race could not really have been meant for
them. So they designed a church of their own - the Church of
Attendance at church
services is not obligatory and, indeed, not a widespread habit.
Membership, on the other hand, is assumed to be the norm and English
bureaucratic forms with their inquiries about religion mirror the
national attitude to the rest of Christendom with their query:
"If not C of E, state, "other"."
The broader purpose
of religion in England is to inculcate in the natives a system of
morals and behaviour loosely seen as Christian but more specifically
as English. Originally born out of the desperation of Henry VIII to
get a divorce, the Church now officially holds marriage sacrosanct
and may well have to reinvent itself if another monarch wishes to
emulate its founder.
In English eyes, the
Church is made for man and not the other way about. Holding fast to
this belief, they are probably the most tolerant race on earth when
it comes to the beliefs of others. Mosques, chapels, synagogues and
temples abound in England and they cannot understand why the rest of
the world feels so passionately about something which is, for them,
essentially a diversion.
the country of Shakespeare, Milton, Byron and Beatrix Potter. The
first is, by common consent, a hero of the human race, a Titan of
literature against whom all other writers in the world over the past
four hundred years have been measured. The second two are worthy
names in most literate households. But the work of the fourth is
best known to the English; for while the first three tended to write
about people, Beatrix Potter wrote about animals and the English
prefer animals and understand them better.
So it is that a
mention of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Jeremy Fisher elicit
an immediate response from English audiences while the agonies of
Hamlet, Coriolanus and Othello leave the better read of them
intellectually stimulated but emotionally stone-cold.
Other nations may
thrill to Henry V's call to arms at Agincourt or warm to Juliet's
tearful pleas to her Romeo, but English audiences of all ages reach
for the tissues on hearing how Jemima Puddleduck outwits the fox,
adjusts her bonnet and escapes the cooking pot to live another sunny
Close on the heels of
Beatrix Potter comes the sinister A.A. Milne, whose Winnie-The-Pooh
- written by an adult for other adults but passed off as a
children's book - is read by adults for the rest of their lives.
Paradise Lost, sadly
deficient in the fauna department, stays firmly between its covers.
majority of English, watching television is their only real
experience of a broader "culture".
naturally, majors in sports coverage and titanic struggles occur
between television companies to win exclusive rights to televise the
most popular games. But even the English cannot quite live by sport
alone. Pandering to the competitive nature of their audiences,
broadcasters screen large numbers of quiz and games shows. In
addition they produce a wealth of news and discussion programmes and
the occasional original drama series. These are bulked out with a
staggering number of imported and specially-created soap operas and
mini-series, which are hugely popular. For the rest, it is old films
of which the English never tire.
Programmes aimed at
the more intellectual members of English society are screened late
at night so as to cause the least inconvenience to the majority.
Frenchman travelling to work reads a novel, the English read
newspapers. Their voracious appetite for printed news, gossip and
scandal is unequalled and the English newspaper market has attracted
entrepreneurs from all over the world who struggle to the death to
obtain the proprietorship of one of the chunks of it.
understands why. The press cannot hope to compete for immediacy of
coverage with radio and television. Perhaps it is because the
English prefer their news, like their climate - cold. Or perhaps it
is because they secretly believe that anything viewed in retrospect
is really more real.
theatre today is mainly supported by block bookings for new
productions of old musicals or for the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber
spectacular. These the English will pay for. When Lloyd Webber meets
Beatrix Potter, nobody will be able to get a seat.
With the cinema,
things are a little more encouraging. Rumours of its total demise
thirty years ago turned out to have been somewhat exaggerated, and
even foreign films are seen by thousands in English cinemas every
week. But then the English do love an "outing".
children behind them they will visit museums and art galleries to
rub shoulders with foreign visitors and buy souvenirs and
reproductions of famous paintings.
When it comes to art
appreciation, the English tend to be nervous, suspecting that they
are not all that good at it. On the whole they tend towards the
taste of Queen Victoria, showing a marked preference for large
paintings of people and animals by artists like Landseer. If the
picture tells a story, so much the better. If they cannot understand
it, they tend to dismiss it.
English see themselves more in the role of patrons than of artists.
For most of them culture is a luxury and too much luxury is a
governs almost everything the English do. And when it comes to the
systems by which the country is run, English traditions are at their
It is a
tradition that trains generally do not run on time unless the
passenger is two minutes late. It is also a tradition that, although
the price of railway travel is infinitely variable, concessionary
rates are only available at times or days other than those on which
one wishes to travel.
But with all its
inadequacies, the English railway system is one facet of the English
life that is imbued with more than its fair share of English
sentiment. Anoraked train spotters, those archetypal eccentrics,
still abound. Deep in the English psyche there is still a vague
memory of a golden age of railway travel when E. Nesbit's Railway
Children waved their petticoats at the train driver, thus averting
English urban buses
travel in convoys so as to ensure that passengers wait as long as
possible at the bus stops. Then, just before fighting breaks out
among the waiting hordes, three or four buses sporting the same
number will heave into view. It is always a feast or a famine.
you choose you will find that, in England, you are nearly always
late. This is because, contrary to popular belief, the English are
not punctual by nature. It is considered polite to arrive a few
minutes after the time you were invited for. English transport will
probably ensure that you do anyhow. It's all part of the system.
The Open Road
among the favourite status symbols of the English. Consequently
there are far too many of them on English roads, as any driver will
Almost every English
man and woman over the age of seventeen either owns or has access to
a car and uses it often. This leads to enormous traffic and parking
problems in towns and to terminal motorway congestion. But the
English are undeterred even if they often spend whole Bank Holidays
in their cars in traffic jams.
are quick to spot that the English, unlike other people in the
world, drive on the left - a habit they often find hard to kick when
driving abroad. Driving on the left is traditional and therefore, to
the English, indisputably right.
By and large, the
English are well-behaved on the roads. They use their horns
sparingly and give way to each other at crossroads.
Punctilious in their
observation of traffic signs, they will wait for ever at
traffic-light-controlled pedestrian crossings even if there are no
pedestrians in sight. If there are any, they screech to a halt and
wait patiently for them to cross the road. This comes as a surprise
to foreigners who are used to crossing themselves on the pavement
before running like hares across the highway.
A Good Education
children whose parents can afford it, school often means a public
(which really means private) school and frequently means boarding.
The English approve of boarding schools. They believe that children
develop better away from home. Although there are some mixed public
schools, many are single-sex establishments, where pupils have the
opportunity of experiencing some aspects of the monastic or prison
existence at an early stage in their lives.
The alternative is
the State system with its free public (which really means public)
day schools. But whether state or private, the emphasis is still on
"a good education", for the feeling is that life and all
its glories will thereafter be yours for the asking.
It all comes down to
tradition, like so many things in the English way of life, and
traditionally "you get what you pay for". The implication
is clear. If you are not paying, you are not getting much.