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What is the image of the UK around the world?

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Roger Mosey | 14:59 UK time, Friday, 4 February 2011

What's the word you most associate with the United Kingdom?

This blog is read both home and abroad, so anyone can join in - as long as you keep it clean. But the recommended answer is "generous".

The suggestion comes from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee who've been pondering the impact of London 2012 on the UK's global reputation - and reviewing how the Foreign Office is responding to the challenge.

There's approval for what is described as a "creative" campaign to burnish Britain's image - but the question raised by MPs is whether the overall message is strong and simple enough.

Here's the quote from the committee chairman, Richard Ottaway: "Experience seems to show that too many national messages at events such as this tend to muddy the waters.

"We should refer back to our original bid, that London is an open and welcoming city, and that the UK is a diverse, inclusive and friendly country. Or, in a word, that both London and the UK are generous."

The Foreign Office is, of course, just one of a number of government departments with an Olympic brief. But the search for a unifying message is preoccupying all of them, and it has been the subject of high-level meetings in Downing Street.

Crowds celebrate in Trafalgar Square as UK wins Olympic host city

London's bid described the city as "welcoming the world with open arms and an open mind". Photo: PA

The mission is twofold: one is about the nation's reputation - the subject of today's report and the task of public servants.

But the other is political. In a time of economic difficulties, a successful series of events could brighten the popular mood and make the electoral climate more benign.

It's easy to pick up murmurings from the coalition that 2012 has the potential to be the government's turnaround year.

We can expect to hear more about this in the coming months, but a cross-party committee properly focuses on the national interest and how the Foreign Office can support it - with an emphasis on the opportunities like trade and sustainability, and a preparedness for when things go wrong with a rapid response unit.

Underlying it, though, is the knowledge that the global image of the UK is far from universally positive - and that isn't just driven by ideological differences but by the perception that we can be stuffy, aloof and emotionally chilly.

The MPs say we're friendly but the world doesn't necessarily agree. Hence Mr Ottaway and his colleagues urging the rediscovery of the values that won the bid and secured international approval for a London Games in 2012.

So what do you reckon: will "generous" win the day? And is it possible to translate the aspirations of London 2012 about modern Britain into a reality our diplomats can communicate with confidence - because they're true?

The alternative, of course, is that we come up with a version of the UK that's more realistic even if it's less comfortable for the message-makers.

And we should be clear that if it's not authentic, it won't be convincing. The amount of exposure the UK will have in 2012 - the "once in a generation" experience - will leave no room for artificiality or spin.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The key question with the word 'generous' always revolves around: 'to whom?'

    Our politicians have been generous in their support to numerous Arab leaders, although whether that generosity is what the peoples of those nations wanted is more debatable.

    Tony Blair was more than generous in his support of the Bush administration, often against the wishes of many of his own people.

    Our aid budget has often been generous, although whether we should be prioritising certain highly populous nations whose GDP might suggest that the time for aid is past is again up for debate.

    And our generosity to the EU, now a State which wishes to rule us, is something which a majority of British people wish could be reined back.

    I've no doubt that there are many examples of a lack of generosity too. It's just that they tend not to be so well publicised for obvious reasons.

    But I would ask those who pose the question to focus on two words:

    'To whom?'

  • Comment number 2.


    The image of the UK abroad: A nation of boring stiff upper lip styleless & uncool, insular self-important & xenophobic alcoholics.

    As for the "generous" tag, most here have been made to believe it is the most charitable nation, but in fact it's not even in the top 10.

    http://money.uk.msn.com/news/world-economy/photos.aspx?cp-documentid=155954820



  • Comment number 3.

    Ok - "generously stupid" is my first answer.
    Anyone who comes to the UK is automatically eligible...sorry enrolled into the NHS. This is regardless of whether they're employed, before they've paid a single penny of tax into it. You won the bid in Singapore in 2005. Please visit Singapore & see how the health system there discriminates against foreigners.


    How about "generously poor"?
    Being stupid is bad. But when you combine stupid & poor? The UK believes that it is a "rich country". If that was the case, why do you need the Olympics to regenerate a place like East London? Why not do it WITHOUT the Olympics? Do you really need an excuse of Olympic proportions to do this? Why not stop all the overseas aid & spend it on your own country? We've got both Comic Relief & Children in Need this year. Why not use all that money on UK development programmes? £9 billion is a lot of money.

    How about "generously arrogant"?
    The 2nd World War ended more than 65 years ago. The UK today is NOT the colonial power it was back then. In fact, the UK today is a much weaker nation. Many ex-colonies have taken their own paths to progress & prosperity & some are even ahead of the UK. Sometimes it has been at the expense of democratic values. But most people would rather be comfortable in a lesser democracy than distressed in a so-called democracy such as the UK. History shows us that the UK is the cause of many of the world's conflicts (Iraq, Israel, India/Pakistan, Cyprus).
    But UK arrogance prevents it from seeing this.

    Though I have more to say, I'll stop here. I have other things to do.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well, I think post #3 illustrates what I was going to say.

    Being a successful nation has a harmful impact on your global reputation. Empire has left a very bitter legacy in many parts of the world, even among those countries that benefited from that legacy. The UK has been a mover of events for the past three hundred years and having meddled (sometimes necessarily, sometimes less so) in the affairs of other nations, we are bound to be unpopular. The US has been learning this truth over the past thirty years, and as American power eclipsed British and then Russian power, they have been the primary target of international hatred.

    The idea that Britain was "the cause of" the troubles in Israel and India/Pakistan is, however, ludicrous. The potent combination of religion and nationalism that erupted in the late 19th and 20th centuries was always going to make these countries into battlegrounds. At worst, Britain failed to prevent the outbreak of these conflicts, but as you point out, our military power was all but spent by the time they came to be. Honest attempts by the UK, and the West in general, to peaceably salve the wounds have only exacerbated the situation.

    In short, ask people from all over the world what they think of the UK and you will get a world of answers. People with "legitimate" historical grudges (if there are such things when nations are involved) will hold them against the British regardless of what our govt. does in the meantime.

    However, as our global role continues to diminish, these issues will lose importance. It is easy for the international community to like small, inoffensive nations - nobody has a bad word about the likes of Eire and Denmark. Being a big player on the world stage can only generate animosity.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm afraid your article Roger is only going to encourage those who are anti-English/anti-British to have a rant about all they hate about our country.

    I'm a Londoner and love my city. It's a city which welcomes people from all countries, and this is what I'm most proud of. You can visit the UK from any corner of the globe, and you can still find someone from your country in the city, a restaurant with the food you're used to and even a shop selling goods from your country.

    I don't know about using the word 'generous' as a tag for the 2012, the foreign office should simply stop worrying so much and let the games speak for themselves. The games will be the antidote to the very well run but obsessively stage-managed Beijing games, with far more flexibility and appreciation/support of all competitors and countries.

    As for the person quoting an msn 'top 10 for the most generous countries' as proof of his/her argument, I can only shake my head in disbelief at such an attitude. You do realise msn do about five 'top 10s' a day and they're all just made up to gain interest, with no actual evidence to support them? Instead, look at the statistics for aid after the 2005 Tsunami, where the UK excelled in providing an incredible amount of money both from the general public and the government.

  • Comment number 6.

    You're asking for trouble with this. You're just going to end up with a load of moaning Brits putting the place down because they're miserable, or a load of anglophobic foreigners with nothing nice to say about the UK but are still happy to get all their news from our state-funded broadcaster.

  • Comment number 7.

    What I wanted to say in a nutshell yottskry.

  • Comment number 8.

    @ 3: just how, exactly, is the UK the 'cause' of conflicts in Iraq, Israel, India/Pakistan and Cyprus. The fact that the local populations are incapable of living in harmony with one another, because they lack vital civilizing qualities that are a hallmark of modern British history, can hardly be blamed on the UK. Both the British and Gandhi were against splitting India, for example, but it was done for extremist religious reasons and the UK respected the will of the people. It cost the lives of millions as a direct result, when Moslems and Hindus turned on one another. Cyprus became divided because Turkish forces moved in to protect Turkish descendents and prevent Greek anexation of the entire island. The UK was drawn into Iraq in the wake of 9/11 sympathy, not realizing it was a personal Bush vendetta against Saddam Hussein. Maybe we share some blame for wanting to give the persecuted Jews a homeland in the aftermath of the WWII horrors, but it was always planned that Jews and Palestinians would live together in harmony, not that the Jews would annex the territory and the Arabs would try to expel them. try to keep a balanced view of history and not succumb to ideological propaganda.

  • Comment number 9.

    @ 4: what a contrast to No.3! Your post is an excellent example of the 'vital civilizing qualities' and 'balanced view of history' that I referred to above in No.8. I take my hat off to you.

  • Comment number 10.

    Quirky. A bit insular. Great history. Enjoyable place to live. Pubs. Culture. Sometimes distressing social differences. Cantankerous at times. The best broadcaster in the world (BBC). Cricket in the summer. Teen pregnancies. NHS (for better or for worse...).


    That's from a foreigner (Norwegian) who like very many has a soft spot for the UK. There is plenty wrong in the UK but there is plenty great as well, not much different from other countries I have lived in, but I do like the UK - actually in great part because of what I consider multiculturalism. But generous - that is not where the UK stands out for me.

    Of course if you asked me about British politicians or the incessant growth economy etc - well, I might have come up with some other adjectives, but a question like this can be answered in many ways - I went for the first things that came to mind when thinking about the UK.

  • Comment number 11.


    5. At 11:34am on 06 Feb 2011, dodger9 wrote:

    "As for the person quoting an msn 'top 10 for the most generous countries' as proof of his/her argument, I can only shake my head in disbelief at such an attitude. You do realise msn do about five 'top 10s' a day and they're all just made up to gain interest, with no actual evidence to support them?"

    With the difference that this isn't a top 10 COMPILED by msn ie top 10 things you can do for a woman to fancy you, but an Index based on aid figures etc REPORTED by msn.


    4. At 11:33am on 06 Feb 2011, Medieval-Evil wrote:

    "The idea that Britain was "the cause of" the troubles in Israel and India/Pakistan is, however, ludicrous. The potent combination of religion and nationalism that erupted in the late 19th and 20th centuries was always going to make these countries into battlegrounds. At worst, Britain failed to prevent the outbreak of these conflicts, but as you point out, our military power was all but spent by the time they came to be. Honest attempts by the UK, and the West in general, to peaceably salve the wounds have only exacerbated the situation."

    What are you on about. That's the stuff Bush has been telling Americans and they believe him. Ie we're intervening into others' business to save the world from evil and bring peace.

    Noone is doing things for their mother's soul. Everyone knows how England interfered amidst the ruins of WW2 in order to split nations and benefit ie. "divide and conquer", often inciting and funding civil wars or "revolutions", in Eastern Europe as well as Africa. Also via 'foreign aid' ie. loans with ridiculous terms for centuries of financial benefit. Everyone knows about how they interfere in peaceful or not so peaceful ways to put their preferred "democratic" governments into power or those that'll give them the best commercial/trade deals. Everyone knows about the "honest attempts" to sort out the Spanish colonies, or later the Falklands, or to control the Suez Canal, or the petrol riches further down. Also everyone knows about the years and years of slavery & torture in their colonies, or more recent events eg. Guantanamo Bay coverup etc. That's one of the reasons, on top of being the US's best mates and the "we're don't need you" anti-Europe/EU/Fifa etc stance by gvt and public that everyone hates the UK and certainly not because they're "successful".

    History is written by the winners hence Hitler is who he is and Churchill Roosvelt etc are angels.




  • Comment number 12.

    I'm damn annoyed why people in this country go on about what other people think of us! If those on the outside worry about us too much, then they really need to focus on their own domestic affairs.

    Plus I think generous is an understatement. Interesting how cuts are made yet foreign aid was frozen and if a Haiti or Tsunami occur we have to rush out the aid at the drop of a hat. Plus what do we get from the EU? Did we get financial aid for the floods 4 years ago, 7/7 attacks? I personally feel we should just look after ourselves.

    Plus I'm annoyed that we have to pander to anyone from outside these shores for the Olympics. When someone is in a foreign country, they respect the hosts and their culutre and everything and have no right to think they can dictate and everything how they like. Not Racist or xenophobic but the truth! I see this in this article! This will be the same on those entering London (athletes, officials, media, fans). The way this agenda is going I think this country will need a red carpet out for everyone (Mr Rogge and IOC the exception). The world will have to respect our laws, culture and everything during the Olympics. Having been to Silverstone for the GP last year (international event) I can certainly say that many from outside these shores, weren't showing much respect to their hosts!

    Plus I can see people deeming it offensive when our athletes are lining up in their respective events or win medal (or the Golds and celebrations that go with) and being cheered. Chinese did it for their own in Beijing, Greeks for their own in Athens etc etc. I would be interested to know what right people think it is offensive that we aren't allowed to celebrate home success in our home Olympics? Are we not to give the biggest cheer either during the opening ceremony when our athletes enter the stadium last (as per host country tradition)?

  • Comment number 13.

    @ 5: I fear your opening paragraph may be spot on. However, I find your post and No.4 encouraging, clearly showing that it is not only ranters who contribute to these blogs.
    I fully agree with you that the government should allow the Games to speak for themselves and just concentrate on the organizational aspects. Each participant will take away a personal memory of the Games, made up of individual experiences. And it is up to the British hosts to ensure, on an individual basis, that those experiences are as positive as possible. If each one is as friendly, welcoming, helpful and efficient as possible, the Games legacy will be an excellent one.
    As for generosity, the OS debate has already shown the Labour government's generosity with the taxpayers' money.
    Finally, when I lived in London it was indeed a cosmopolitan city and one could walk anywhere, virtually at any time of day or night, with the greatest fear being of the "ghosts" of the country's (sometimes extremely violent) past. While it remains a cosmopolitan melting pot, I am a little perturbed to hear that the place is becoming divided into ghettos, with certain parts now virtual no-go areas for people who are not part of that local community. I realize that immigration isn't the only cause, but it seems to be the principal one. I am very much an advocate of immigration, being one myself over here, but this has to be accompanied by assimilation, so that people do not feel the need to congregate for their own protection. I feel I understand what Blair, and now Cameron, are trying to get across when they address this issue. People who adopt another country as their home need to respect the essential values and laws of their new country and try to assimilate as much as possible (it doesn't mean surrendering one's identity), just as the local population needs to extend a welcoming hand and help them make the adjustment. Otherwise, we face an erosion of those 'vital civilizing qualities' I referred to in No.8 and regression towards becoming ever more like the polarized trouble spots No.3 refers to.

  • Comment number 14.

    #11

    I'm not quite sure what your point is. Sure, history IS written by the winners, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong. It goes without saying that most international actions are taken for selfish, short-term reasons. But to deny that nations can also have altruistic motivations is a little too strong. The UK and other nations would benefit from peace in the Middle East, but a desire to alleviate human suffering is also a factor.

    And at no point did I deny that Britain had made some pretty catastrophic errors, but these errors came from our dominant global position - the success I referred to - and the hangover since. Nations that dominate the global landscape interfere where less successful nations don't have the means to do so. This is what generates the bitterness you are displaying. And like I said, as our global role diminishes, the dislike people have for the UK is now more generally focused on the USA, who have long since usurped our role as intervener-in-chief.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ 11: I fear you are digging yourself into a bigger hole. Are you now advocating that Hitler has been unfairly treated by historians and was really rather a nice guy when you got to know him, while Churchill and Roosevelt were really the evil ones? This is the sort of thinking that allows such evil to propagate. We realise the horrors of Nazism weren't "a peculiarly German thing" (probably could happen anywhere, under a similar set of circumstances - see the excellent film "The Wave"), since we have seen it repeated in Cambodia, Ruanda, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, on varying scales, but writing such things off as "the history of the winners" undermines the message that 'we really should do everything in our power to avoid it ever happening again'.
    As for your hodgepotch of anti-British sentiment, I think in most cases you are confusing the USA and UK. The latter was hardly in any state to interfere anywhere post-WWII and mainly concentrated on withdrawing from it's former empire, partly to reconstruct its wrecked economy (1 and a 1/2 years of fighting alone had wrought devastation) and partly in gratitude for the superb way its colonial allies had fought alongside it to resist the Axis attempts at world domination. That this was replaced by the very successful and expanding Commonwealth is a tribute both to the mutually warm feelings between the countries and to the UK's generosity as a nation.
    Slavery has been a characteristic of primitive peoples everywhere and was going on in Africa long before Europeans arrived there. That the Europeans took advantage of it is not to our credit, but the UK was the first country to take a stand against the trade and it was stamped out largely by the guns of the Royal Navy. So I think it's time to turn over that page and move on, don't you.
    I could address your other points, but suspect I might be wasting my time. I do concede that a certain petulant insularity does surface occasionally, but I think it is overblown by the trash mags and is more an honest reaction to the feeling we all get sometimes that the world is going to the dogs and there isn't a lot we can do about it. However, that tends to blow over very quickly, because the UK is without doubt one of the world's most outward looking countries and has an interest in what is going on everywhere.

  • Comment number 16.

    @ 12: continuing the theme at the end of No.15, while I sympathize with insularity and the temptation to say "to hell with the rest, I'm going to look after my own interests", it is also one of the chief reasons the world is in the mess it is. Living where I do, it is quite clear to me the huge potential of this developing country is not being realized precisely because, with a long history of governors who are more interested in lining their own pockets than helping the people, there is little sense of citizenship but more a feeling of each one for himself. This flies in the face of logic, both at a community level and on a spiritual one. No society can function properly on the basis of each one looking purely after their own interests. And while we are all supposed to be looking at ourselves as works in progress, on the spiritual level, we are also supposed to be helping others to develop too. I know it is frustrating when others act in a selfish way (or do anything else wrong, for that matter), but that is no reason for acting wrongly ourselves. There is no price one can put on the value of a clear conscience.
    I haven't heard anyone telling the Brits how to celebrate at the Olympics, but there is an important distinction between jingoism and showing pride in one's country. Further down the road of human evolution, nationalism will go the way of tribalism anyway, as we realize that we are all 'one world'. I think it was Shaw who pointed out that nationalism is the greatest expression of egoism - it is saying that is the best country in the world, just because you were born in it!

  • Comment number 17.

  • Comment number 18.

    The UK has one of the most tolerant societies in the world. We are not perfect but we an extreme democracy prepared to almost bend over backwards to be fair to everybody who comes to this country and accept them. We are one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world. I’m afraid though that many will only judge the UK on its recent foreign adventures hence the worry of perception outside these shores.
    I suspect some of the tenet of the blog is twofold:

    To show that the Foreign Office is keen to repair some of that damage if possible.

    Bring back the legacy agenda to the fore and promises that were not properly thought through.

    This is further politicising the commercial decision that is under way with the OPLC. Always better to under promise and over deliver, not the other way round. The world economically is a very different place to 2005 and I think most people everywhere understand that, although looking at the 2005 legacy proposals, they were not economically viable even before this devastating recession.

    Having read the Foreign affairs report thoroughly the below paragraph stuck out for me:

    "London 2012 will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, when the eyes of the world will be on the UK and unprecedented numbers of VIP guests will be arriving on these shores. A simultaneous trade event, held at a suitable and accessible venue, would secure the maximum commercial benefit to the national economy."

    After the Olympics and Para Olympics have left town, nobody apart from the people living here will give a toss about the legacy. How many knew about Athens till you showed the pictures?

    A boost to the national economy is what we need right now.

  • Comment number 19.

    I've lived in and/or visited quite a few countries, and encountered the complete spectrum of attitudes towards us. Where I live now, a lot of things about our country are admired, but if you went to one of the countries I lived in previously, you might not hear a good word for us. It should be added that some parts of the world don't give us a second thought. And then of course, within the UK itself, one part can look on another differently.

    As already suggested, some of us seem to worry too much what people think of us. I have a problem with trying to tell the world we are 'generous'. It's got too much of the ISO Certificates about it. People don't need to be told you are generous, and I have to say it's not what immediately comes to my mind when I think about home. That's not to say generosity doesn't exist, but as the first poster says "To whom?", and then you might add "By whom", "How?" and "Why?

    As pointed out above, this blog is an open invitation to those who seem to be permanently on standby for any opportunity to spout their caveman racial stereotypes, often when it bears no relevance to the topic. There are a lot of things wrong with my country, but there are a lot of things right too. And one of those is, the significant number of people who don't blow their own trumpet.

  • Comment number 20.

    11: You seem a hateful man at the best of times but comparing Churchill and Roosevelt to Hitler is pushing it even for you.

  • Comment number 21.

    @2 Nibs.
    "The image of the UK abroad: A nation of boring stiff upper lip styleless & uncool, insular self-important & xenophobic alcoholics."

    Amazed at the level of vitriol in this (styleless and uncool was funny though), then looked through your comment history. Almost without exception, it takes exception to all things British/English, it's actually monomaniacal after a while. My question is, why do you feel the need to read and comment on the BBC?

  • Comment number 22.

    As a brit living in Texas I find that most americans think of us as friendly (though they are much friendlier themselves), intelligent (no idea why), and socialist (because we will never place the same emphasis on individual liberty as a 'wild west' state).

    But I would say that one of the major differences between the UK and the US is our sense of fair play. Sure we will want to win every gold medal, but would inevitably feel guilty if we did so. We will support the underdog and expect justice. The most talented athletes should win, not those with the most expensive coaching.

  • Comment number 23.

    @8 - @3 was probably referring to some events that predated 1947..... The British Empire was very active prior to that date....

    In general there is an arrogance to the question, to wondering what the ROTW thinks of when they think about Britian, the reality is that most don't think about Britian at all, the sun has long since set.

  • Comment number 24.

    Dodger9 in #5 and Yottskry in #6: I asked the question because it is, of course, the one that will be put about the UK in 2012 whether we like it or not.

    But I think Dodger and people like Hankiesjh in #18 are onto something when they talk about their view of what this country and its people are actually like, as opposed to the international reputation of the "state" or out-of-date stereotyping.

  • Comment number 25.

    What does the world think of the UK...it's a tricky one...

    My grandfather would say we stand for "fair play" yet Irish and Arab friends would probably have a good laugh at that, citing the dodgier deeds of the Empire era and the Arabs would back that up bby painting our more recent actions in their part of the world in a dark light.

    Friendlier foreigners would probably call us "stubborn", "dry", "blunt"...others would say "arrogant", "ignorant", disrespectful". It's not easy because because I don't always associate myself with some of these descriptions and I do think other countries make us suffer for the actions of the government and/or history

  • Comment number 26.

    The question is 'What is the image of the U.K?', depending on what part on the world you live, the answer will differ entirely. One thing I think alot of people will agree with (although not all) is that the world is a better place because of the British empire. Countries accross the world still benifit from when they were part of the empire (ie. India still use the same trains and lines built from the 1930s on a daily basis) bringing democracy and a better way of life for many to this day! OK this is isnt true for every circumstance but on the whole, alot of people on this planet are better off for legacy lasted from the time of British rule. In todays world, Britian has a much smaller influence than it did 50/60 years ago, but I believe we are still a powerful and active country and will be for many years to come.

  • Comment number 27.

    Generous? no. I prefer "Variety" after all thats what the UK offers, you have the High Class Aristocracy where one speaks with a plumb in ones mouth and 2Km down the road you have a lower class population speaking in such a way it requires subtitles for 90% of the world to understand it. You have the beauty of the Cotswolds, the Gower Peninsular and the Lake District and surrounding them the Industrial Centres from Swansea to Liverpool. You have the beauty of the traditional London such as St. James Palace and Westminster mixed with the City of London and the new buildings that go with this. So generous? no, variety? absolutely

  • Comment number 28.

    I can see why directors get obsessed with buzz-words and suchlike. I can sort of hear phrases like "staying on message" floating around in the background.

    But for most of us on the ground, I think that sort of thing is fairly unimportant. We know that come the Olympics there will be a lot of strangers floating around, some of them probably lost. By and large you can bank on people doing the right thing. If they don't, well, a buzzword isn't going to make them.

    Just pray for good weather!

  • Comment number 29.

    Generous isn't the word that comes to mind for me, at least not in the sense that the Government seems to be using.

    When i think of Britain i think of all the pioneers and innovators we have produced over the years. British people have done more to help progress the world in the last few centuries than perhaps any other country.

    Intellectuals like Newton, Darwin, Hawking, Jenner, Berners-Lee, Crick and Watson, Turing, Snow and Lister are just a small handful of Brits that have changed the world as we know it.

    Authors like Shakespeare, Carroll, Tolkien, Orwell, Austen, the Brontes, Chaucer, Marlowe, Rowling and countless others have brought joy to people across the world with their writings.

    How about the host of British architects (Wren), engineers (Brunel), artists (Blake), musicians (Lennon), poets (Milton), philosophers (Bentham), politicians (Churchill), economists (Keynes) etc that have pushed the world forwards.

    That is what Britain should show the world, we should show them what we've given them. Not through generosity, but through inventiveness, creativity, innovation, and the pursuit of knowledge.

  • Comment number 30.

    One undeniable attribute of the British, as demonstrated by many of the other comments here, is a tremendous capability for public angst and self deprecation.

  • Comment number 31.

    Dan in #29: yes - and Britain as the home of many global sports, too.

  • Comment number 32.

    Having spent the last two years in Australia most aussies - despite the steriotypes to the contrary - have an affection for things British but to some up in a word, I'd say "confused". not surprisingly that very much stems from the fact that the United Kingdom isn't a nation but a union of 3 and half nations, each with there own identity. but i also say its because the british isles is constanly reinventing itself.

  • Comment number 33.

    @ 22: I would suggest that the concept of "fair play" was the UK's greatest gift to the evolution of civilization, even if its citizens don't always adhere to it themselves. :o)
    @ 26: yes, in a world where colonialism is generally frowned upon and disproportional emphasis is placed on the injustices perpetrated around the empire, people generally overlook the fact that the UK invested huge amounts of money installing infrastructure in their colonies, a legacy that most of those former colonies strive to maintain till today.
    @ 28 and 30: :o)

  • Comment number 34.

    The thing that sums um Britain to me? 'Grey'. The weather is grey -- cloudy, depressing, and ever-present in conversation. The politics are grey -- no black and white here, just shades of brighter or dimmer greys. The morals are grey -- a country moving towards secularism, with some evangelical minorities, but also the home of some of the greatest ethical philosophers and moral theorists ever to have lived. The history is grey -- interventionist, unapologetically conquest-oriented, but also undeniably a source of good for a lot of places.

    No easy answers. Complex issues, undercurrents of feeling disguised by that famous upper lip, but with passions breaking out, sometimes shockingly. Why try to sum all this up with a simplistic, inevitably trite soundbite? As Ben Goldacre might say, "It's a bit more complicated than that."

  • Comment number 35.

    I think that an earlier post might have mentioned this, but I rather feel that generosity is a quality that, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. I would be rather suspicious of anybody who emphatically declared their 'generosity' or certain other admirable qualities that should be left to the judgement of others (yes, I know we're not supposed to judge others, but you know what I mean :o).

  • Comment number 36.

    Are you sure you used the full quote and it wasn’t 'Generous spirited'??

    It makes little difference what is chosen as a suitable message as long as it's positive and as you said, realistic. I would have thought the FCO was capable of coming up with something without the need for a national debate on it, but clearly if 'generous' is the best they could manage then they do need some help.

    Stick with 'welcoming' and be done with it!

 

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