A contributor – who, for reasons of professional integrity and personal safety, wishes to remain anonymous – has submitted the following worthy addition to Think of England’s Hating the English series.
I’m safe at the moment, as an Englishman in Wales. Not that I haven’t been discovered: I’ve lived here, on and off, for ten years now. But though the flags have been taken down, and the street parties have dried up, there’s a sense of profound optimism and excitement in Wales, a renewed sense of national pride and identity….
…And the reason? They won a rugby match, of course.
Now this may not seem like much to a proud, self-assured Englishman. We have, after all, dominated rugby ourselves from time to time. And football and cricket. And, come to think of it, pop music, fashion, art, theatre and empire-building. But for the Welsh, a rugby win is A Big Thing, and I’m safe for now in the knowledge that I won’t be derided or beaten for having an accent east of the border.
They’re a plucky lot, you see, the Welsh. They thrive on self-confidence and embrace any indication that they might be better at something than the English, even if it’s only for a while. This was last highlighted in the mid- to late-1990s, when the horrible phrase “Cool Cymru” was adopted to describe another renewed sense of identity. It was a time when some limited devolution was achieved, rock acts The Manic Street Preachers and Catatonia were riding high in the charts, the Millennium Stadium was being planned, and the national economy was finally getting back on its feet after the collapse of the mining industry.
But when things aren’t going so well in Wales (i.e. most of the time), an English accent alone (especially Received Pronunciation) is enough to land you in the doghouse: the victim of the cold shoulder, the disgusted shrug and, occasionally, open abuse. So why exactly is it that the Welsh so hate the English?
(1) The English as conquering scum.
Wales hasn’t been a fully independent country since 1282, when Edward I rode in, killed Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (named, with typical Welsh optimism, Llywelyn the Last) and took his severed head back to London.
Welsh people aren’t that keen on the fact that, having stood up effectively to the arguably fiercer Anglo-Saxons, the English got the upper hand, took charge, and didn’t see the need to legally annexe Wales until three centuries later.
Of course, the English as Conquering Scum also built most of Wales’s best known historical buildings – including the magnificent castles at Caernarfon, Conwy and Caerphilly, all to keep the Welsh under control – except the fortress in Caerleon, which was built by the Romans. Doubtless, the Welsh also begrudge the fact that the imperial English gave them their trade links, transport systems and political representation.
But the odious English don’t stop there. We’re still ‘colonising’ Wales, apparently, in the form of, er, retired couples buying holiday cottages in Snowdonia and not learning enough Welsh. There was actually a Welsh terrorist group, Meibion Glyndwr (Sons of Glyndwr) dedicated to stopping this sort of thing in the 1970s and 1980s. Another group, Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Welsh Defence Movement) was responsible for numerous bombings. Until two of its members accidentally blew themselves up, that is.
(2) The English as uncultured morons.
A favourite myth of many Welsh people (particularly nationalists who can’t put their finger on exactly why the Welsh are ‘superior’) is that English people ‘have no culture’.
This, you may say, is a bit rich coming from the country which didn’t produce Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, Elgar, Turner, Blake, Wilde, cricket, football, pubs and the full English breakfast.
But what they mean is that we don’t have a true culture, a tradition stretching back for many centuries. Unlike the Welsh, of course, who have the National Eisteddfod (an ancient festival of music, poetry and dance dating back to all of 1819), their own tartans (another 19th-century invention, even less historically rooted than the Scots’ kilts) and the delicious seaweed and vinegar based laverbread (which, fair enough, is theirs and theirs alone).
The Welsh also like to think that they have a fantastic legacy of pop music icons, which might somehow rival the Beatles, the Stones, the Smiths, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Radiohead, the Sex Pistols, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Queen, the Clash, The Who, Joy Division, the Stone Roses and all the other countless legends England has produced. When in fact, they have Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, and…the Stereophonics.
(3) The English as monoglots and linguistic imperialists.
Let’s leave aside that this isn’t strictly accurate: the English are at least as good as the Welsh at modern European languages, which is to say as good as we need to be, which is to say, rubbish.
Plus, England has a higher ethnic minority population, which brings all sorts of other languages to the party. In Wales, there are two main languages: Welsh (spoken by 20% of the population) and English (spoken by everyone).
It’s hard to deny that Welsh was systematically destroyed by an education system enforced by England for many decades. But ask any school pupil (at least, any in an English-medium school) which language they value most, and they’ll tell you English.
Welsh is useful within Wales, if you want not to sound too ignorant when you deal with a Welsh speaker at a meeting or on the phone. But English is a proper language: it’s spoken widely in at least 50 countries, and learnt in many more. English is the most learned foreign language in the world’s fastest growing economy, China, and throughout Europe. And this is despite it being a difficult, frustrating, illogical language to learn. People throughout the world want to speak English. Wales, we’ve done you a favour.
(English may be difficult compared to say, Esperanto, but compared to Welsh it’s a doddle, surely? All those ‘lls’ w’s and ys. Use vowels, you daft leek-munching male voice choir singers! - Ed)
(4) The English as arrogant know-it-alls.
This sentiment actually starts off as “The English always seem to have it good. Why can’t we?”
But a mixture of pique, jealousy and an inferiority complex turn such feelings into rage at the English being arrogant show-offs who think they’re best at everything. Of course, much of this is based on the fact that we are good at so many things. Let’s take the perennial Welsh favourite, rugby (a game described, incidentally, as “a Welsh game” by a pundit recently). Wales’s recent performance in the Six Nations gave them their first Grand Slam victory since 1978. In those same 27 years, England has done it 6 times. Nonetheless, Welsh crowing reached the level of this sort of joke, surely something which would have been beneath England fans:
Q: What have the England Rugby Team and a three pin electrical plug got in
A: They're both useless in Europe!
The Welsh also vilify the English for their supposedly aloof middle-classness, and to understand this we have to look at the socio-economic structure of Wales. There are basically the same three lots of people in Wales as in England – the poor, the rich and the somewhere in between – but in Wales there’s a substantially lower proportion of the last lot, and very few rich people at all. If you’re rich in Wales, you live in Cardiff (one of the swankier areas like Lisvane or Llandaff), the Mumbles area of Swansea, or a village in the Vale of Glamorgan. In England, you’ve got large chunks of the south-west and south-east, as well as increasingly gentrified big cities like Manchester. Wales’s poor, however, remain comparatively very poor. Until the accession of the 10 new members last year, plenty of areas in Wales were Objective 1 regions (i.e. the poorest in the EU) and received truck-loads of European regenerative funding. (The stoppage of which gives the Welsh a whole load of other people to feel bitter about, such as Poles, Slovaks and Estonians.)
‘Blame it on the English’
All of which finally shows why the English really are superior: if we’re arrogant, or self-confident, it’s because we can stand on our own two feet. When the money dried up in the docklands of Liverpool, they set about reinventing themselves as the cultural capital of Europe. In Wales, they blame it all on the English.
Devolution delivered to Wales, as per Labour’s 1997 manifesto promise? It’s either too much or not enough. Blame it on the English. Welsh not spoken enough in Wales? Blame it on the English, even though language and education policies are in Welsh hands.
Thankfully, we English can rise above all this and be grateful. After all, given that everything is in England, most of us never really need to cross the border. Except perhaps to look at some mountains.
But everything that goes wrong for Wales is always the fault of the English. Especially Thatcher.
And that is Why the Welsh Hate the English.