What does it mean to be English?

Although I am the Member for England on the Communications Consumer Panel, I don’t feel particularly English. In fact, I’m half Italian. My wife does not feel English either, but that might be because she’s half Welsh and half Czech.

Most of our closest friends are not English either – they are American, South African, Czech, Slovak,  Chinese, half French, half Spanish, and so on. We live in the most cosmopolitan city in the UK (London) and in the second blackest borough in Britain (Brent).

Nevertheless I’m proud to be English and to live in England. There is something special about the people and the place.  But what does it mean to be English?

The “Daily Mirror” today publishes the results of a survey of 5,000 people who offered 50 things that make us English. In fact, the survey does not capture what I think is a defining characteristic of the English: tolerance.


  • Mavis

    I agree with ‘tolerance’ but would add ‘live an let live’, but don’t push us and make us angry – then the balloon goes up.

  • Ben

    If you haven’t done so already, I’d recommend reading “Watching the English” by Kate Fox. It’s a sociologist’s response to the same question. Fascinating book actually.

  • Phil Holt

    My family (past and present)are all English with a bit of North Welsh which is nearly English. They (North Welsh)come to Liverpool to do the shopping! However, I can´t say I´m proud to be English when I see the way many act in Spain. Many are intolerant and moan about immigrants in the UK whilst they sit in the sun and prefer to live in places where there are are only English and visit English run restaurants which are in fact more expensive. Few bother to learn more than a couple of phrases of Spanish. I think that every nation offers up people who have the kind of values we (the English) think are praiseworthy. I have met many tolerant Spanish (and others) as well as many intolerant ones. I´m personally intolerant of the intolerant. Is that English? Peace to everyone including the intolerant (it is Sunday).

  • David Barry

    Well I am not English – I am a British Irish Dual national and live in work in London.. From that perspective I would have two observations::-

    1. London is so diverse – a true world city, by population the second largest Bengali city in the world and the sixth largest French City in the world, – that it has its own character, like a country of its own. A country with the population of Switzerland, bigger than Scotland and Wales put together and larger than a number of other EU states… Where “Englishness” is involved I suppose is that this has not happened in England by accident.

    2. The two things that are absolutely core to the English way of doing things are the rule of law with an independent judiciary and an uncorrupt civil service appointed on merit and which is politically impartial. On these two inventions everything else rests. That the English seem to take this for granted and not be as proud of it as they should be…well that is maybe another aspect of Englishness.


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