Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why the Welsh hate the English

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
common?
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.


Anon.

16 comments:

martpol said...

Regarding the language issue, Andrew:

Whatever you think of the ll's (and the rh's, ch's and dd's), Welsh is actually a very logical language, with few deviations from phonetic sense. Once you've learned the rules, you're laughing. Unfortunately, the rules do include three or four different types of mutations, one of which changes the letter C to Ngh in certain contexts...

Jeff Guinn said...

Reminds me of the Life of Brian.

Particularly regarding "What have the British ever done for us?"

Duck said...

Brit

Your series will not be complete until you tackle the most important category of Anglophobes: the English. Why do the English hate the English? That should be interesting!

Keep up the good work!

Toque said...

Hilarious!

Andy said...

On a bit of a serious note, I think the main reasons the English hate the English are:
1) England has not existed politically for hundreds of years, nobody speaks for us. We get slagged off and take it. Perhaps we then begin to believe it - like a child told he/she is bad. We're simply scapegoats. Meanwhile, Little Scotland & Little Wales haven't lost their perceptions of nationhood, and also blame us for everything.
2) The class system: The chattering classes in England are SO liberal minded. Everybody must be given a fair chance. After all, their ancestors have done very nicely for centuries. Time to give back. Accept to the English working classes. Any outpourings of national pride from the great unwashed are viewed as very unhealthy indeed. Better not to mention England at all, than let the underclass get restless - next thing you know, they'll be wanting a similar devolutionary deal to the Scottish & Welsh!

Joe said...

I am a Welsh 15 year old. I am extremely passionate and proud of being Welsh, but I completely disagree with the principle of this article: It is not true that the Welsh hate the English, we merely like to have rival, after all, we are a small country with a large country next door, isn't it logical for a rivalry to exist between these countries?!? We don't think we are the epitome of music or fashion etc, but when you consider that England's population (60m) is thirty times that of Wales' (2.8m), it is unlikely that we produce musical acts that are as successful as yours. So when we do see an act that 'makes it' we feel proud. The same goes for rugby, it is the national sport, and just like England's (football) we follow it passionately, only us rugby supporters are far less notorious as your hooligans and thugs that support your national football team. As for the language, at least it's our own, not some mixture of Latin, Norse and French (it's ironic I'm using it now). Also, you say that a school-child prefers English, well you may be empathetic, but I AM a school child, and trust me, we prefer Welsh. It is a difficult language to learn, but we prefer the term, exclusive. Mae cymraeg yn wych iawn! (phonetically- my cum-raig un wycth ya-oon).
Joe in South Wales

Brit said...

Joe:

Well said, man.I admire your passionate and eloquent defence.

The feature is all a little tongue-in-cheek, you understand, and the author is virtually an adopted Welshman himself, having lived there for years.

Although having seen Cardiff a few times I'd have to question your comment about football hooligans. They've got some brutes.

maelcholuim said...

As a person of Celtic blood there is neither love nor hate for the Saxon in me. When your peoples have been systematically dispossessed, slaughtered and disinherited from their lands, humiliated and starved to death (Ireland) and also had their languages derided and pushed to the verge of extinction, are still ridiculed and persecuted economically by a foreign power, etc etc what love doth remain for that whinging square faced drunken mob of hypocrites....

Brit said...

maelcholium

Are you a Scot, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

I think you are wonderful.
Enough said.

Anonymous said...

I am English and live in Wales. The article is clearly tongue in cheek but does contain some truth. It is a shame that it descends into arrogance (albeit humourous) as this just adds weight to the feelings the Welsh have towards the English. Personally there are lots of things about the hatred that the Welsh have towards the English that depresses me. They are such a bitter nation of people that they spend too much time on things that should be frippery rather than getting on with achieving as a nation. Their language is all but dead (and for all raging Welsh people, I read from a Welshman who is an expert in the history of Wales and lectures at Oxford that it was Welsh people who created and perservered with the "Welsh not" not the English as you so like to claim)and is dying out because most Welsh people don't want to speak it. They are so obsessed with preseving it for no logical reason (just sentimental ones) that they neglect other aspects of their children's education. Welsh is about as prevalent in Wales as Urdu is in English, it annoys me that is become such a bone of contantion for them. As for the rugby, well by and large they don't care whether they win anything as long as they "beat the English." This samll time mentality blights their nation and it is why they have never done anything throughout history. The Scots dislike the English to some extent but it seems to me that it is not their "raison d'etre" and look what they ahve achieved. They are responsible for so much of the progress of the last two hundred years rather than just being bitter, bleating malcontents.

Anonymous said...

Regarding this whole issue.I am a proud Welshman,my first language is Welsh,my wife is English.She has learnt Welsh as she lives in a Welsh speaking area and our Children are completely bi-lingual.In my opinion there are good and bad everywhere,be it English or Welsh.The feeling I get is that a fair proportion of English people are not very good with dealing with other peoples languages and cultures.I imagine that this comes down to a colonial history.They have imposed their Language/culture on many countries around the globe for centuries.Wales was probably the first English"Colony" , so considering the amount of time that has elapsed since then and that we can live happily in our own language in the 21 century,I think that's something to be extremely proud of.I travel and work around the world and try to learn and respect our different languages,not belittle them and poke fun at them.Come on English people ,show some maturity and wipe out this myth of " they were all speaking English ,then when we walked into the shop they started speaking Welsh" The reason they were speaking Welsh is because that is the language they speak naturally! not to make you feel uncomfortable or any other reason-it's simply their first language! Wales is not alone here, French in France! Spanish in Spain!-Can't they speak English? If the English were just to show a little respect towards another language and culture who happen to live "next door" to you then we would ALL benefit.I lived and worked in Yorkshire for 4 years and loved their culture,dialect and traditions and I bought into their way of life.Be proud to be English for sure,but try to enrich your own culture with that of the little mountainous Country that you live next door to.

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Anonymous said...

My grandfathers answer to "why do we hate the English" would be "because they stole our water!". Many many years ago he was arrested as part of a plot to blow up the aquaducts taking water from Wales to England. I believe they did blow up one but I don't know if it was successful or not. They were arrested before the next attempt. He was a passionate Welshman and even scaled a castle tower once to burn the non-Welsh flag that was put there!

Having said that in the time I knew him, he was wonderful - irreverant but wonderful. He would talk to anyone wherever they came from and frequently donated his Arms Park ticket to servicemen at the RAF club.

www.pontevedra-3d.com said...

This can't truly have success, I feel this way.

The Horror! Addiction! said...

I'm half-Welsh, half-English, with three Scottish names. I loved this article and I hope the Welsh readers appreciate it's not so much as an attack on them as on irrational nationality. You have a lot to be proud of as people.

But I wanted to mention the feller who said about Life of Brian. I was thinking about this earlier - why the Roman empire is referred to with terms such as "empiric magnificance", with a heavy regard for it's progress? These people are clearly not ignorant of how that empire spread - rape, murder, search and destroy.

Do you think one day that the British empire (or, really, English empire) will be so regarded? It seems with the advent of the recorded word and then film, TV and the internet, the "statute of limitations" on grudges, beefs and "emotional debts" for lack of a better term, is no longer existant. Word of mouth pretty much diminishes hate over time, but now that's all out the window. I considerd myself a fan of George Carlin until I read his anti-english tract in NAPALM AND SILLY PUTTY, in which he refers to the English (not nobility, not the empire) as "degenerate" and "the uncivilized, murderous backward English". Note how no one has ever called George Carlin a racist...