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England - The People-POPULATION, LANGUAGE, RELIGION, GREETINGS AND GESTURES - Lifestyle-FAMILY, DIET AND EATING, SOCIAL LIFE, RECREATION, HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS - Culture-ARTS, MUSIC, LIBRARIES



The People
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POPULATION
England is the largest political and geographic division of the United Kingdom which also includes Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. About four-fifths of the UK's population lives in England. Since the end of World War II, there has been large-scale immigration, with people arriving from the UK's former territories in the West Indies, Africa, India, Pakistan, and other parts of Asia. These people now account for nearly 3 per cent of the population. England has been fairly successful in assimilating its ethnic communities, but racial tensions remain a problem in some areas, particularly in inner-city districts with a relatively high proportion of immigrants.
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LANGUAGE
English is the official language of the UK. There are considerable variations in regional accents throughout England. The influx of immigrants has also meant that many other languages are spoken among these communities.
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RELIGION
In 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII, England broke from the Roman Catholic Church to form the Anglican Church, which became the established church of the country, of which the monarch is head. The Church of England no longer has any political power, although its archbishops and some bishops still sit in the House of Lords. There are about 27 million Anglicans in the UK, although relatively few attend church. Roman Catholics number more than 5 million, Presbyterians about 2 million, Methodists about 700,000, and Jews about 400,000. Numerous other religions are practised in England, and in many cities there are significant Muslim and Hindu communities. Society is secular, and religious education in schools now embraces a wide range of religions, not only Christianity.
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GREETINGS AND GESTURES
Many English people will simply say “Hello”, but a handshake is the formal way of greeting and parting. On first meeting, “How do you do?” or a less formal phrase is used. Among friends, women are often kissed (by men and women) lightly on one cheek. Handshakes are firm. The use of first names is widespread. Titles such as “Mr” and “Mrs” are being used less frequently, even when children address adults.
The English are in general a reserved people, who do not approve of loud or highly demonstrative behaviour (except in very informal gatherings). Personal space is respected, and people feel uncomfortable when others stand too close to them during conversation. Touching is generally avoided. Manners are important, although standards are not as high among young people, who account for nearly one-fifth of the population.
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Lifestyle
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FAMILY
English families are small (one or two children are the norm) and often tightly knit. Fewer people are getting married and those who do are marrying later. Women are having fewer children and are waiting longer to have them. In the past three decades, a substantial number of women have begun working outside the home. In recent years, the divorce rate has risen, as has the number of single-parent families.
The standard of living is lower than in the United States and many of the country's European Union (EU) partners, though the UK ranks in the top 20 countries in the world in this respect. Since the early 1980s, the division between rich and poor has grown, but the middle class remains the largest section of society. Home ownership is high: about two-thirds of people own their own houses or flats.
Although many couples choose to live together before or instead of marriage, the most widely preferred living arrangement is still based on marriage. Marriage is legal at the age of 16 but usually takes place when people are in their mid to late 20s.
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DIET AND EATING
The traditional English breakfast consists of any or all of the following: bacon, sausages, grilled or fried tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, fried bread, black pudding (blood sausage), and kippers (smoked herring). However, fewer people now eat a cooked breakfast on a regular basis, preferring various combinations of cereal, toast, juice or fruit, and tea or coffee. Since the 1960s, the British have become more adventurous in their diet and now eat a wide variety of food from around the world. Many traditional foods such as beef and potatoes have given way to seafood and pasta dishes. Fast food has also become more available, and hamburger restaurants now rival the traditional fish-and-chip shops in popularity. Numerous Chinese and Indian restaurants and pizza houses provide take-away services, and many pubs (public houses) serve anything from snacks to full meals as well as alcoholic beverages. Traditional English dishes include roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (a baked batter) and steak-and-kidney pie.
The English generally eat three meals a day. The midday meal is usually referred to as lunch and the evening meal as dinner or, when it is less formal, as supper. Northerners often call the meal they have in the early evening “tea”. The tradition of afternoon tea, that is taking tea, biscuits, and cakes at about 4 PM, is declining. Similarly, many people no longer have more than a light lunch or snack in the middle of the day. In restaurants, a waiter is summoned by either raising the hand or establishing eye contact.
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SOCIAL LIFE
It is customary to telephone before visiting; the English guard their privacy and in general do not like to be taken by surprise. When invited to a meal by friends, guests often bring a bottle of wine, chocolates, or flowers. If invited by strangers, it is usual to take a bottle of wine or nothing at all. A thank-you note should be sent after a formal occasion. After an informal dinner with friends, it is appreciated if one expresses thanks by telephone.
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RECREATION
Wintertime national sports are football (soccer) and Rugby Union. Rugby League, which is played mainly in the north, switched from a winter to a summer season in 1996. One of the most popular spectator sports is horse racing (over jumps in the winter and on a flat track in the summer). The traditional summer sport is cricket. Modern lawn tennis was first played in England, and the rules of modern boxing originated here. The English are avid walkers and also enjoy golf and fishing. Gardening is a favourite way to relax and represents a huge industry (gardening books can become best-sellers). Other sports that attract enthusiasts are sailing, rowing, squash, snooker, and darts.
The pub remains a popular place to socialize with friends. Relaxing in the home, however, is still more popular. The British watch more television than the people of any other nation with the exception of the US; British programmes are generally of high quality. Videos are also popular, but many people equally enjoy seeing films at the cinema. All types of music and theatre are well supported. The country also has a wealth of art galleries and museums.
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HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS
In northern England, on New Year's Day (1 January) the old custom of “first-footing”, being the first to cross the threshold of a home in the early-morning hours, is sometimes practised. To bring the household luck, the “first-footer” must come laden with breads, cakes, cheeses, and a lump of coal.
Pancake Day, another name for Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent), was traditionally a day to make pancakes in order to use up all the butter and eggs that would not be allowed during Lent. In an annual race held in Olney since 1945, women run 380 metres (415 yards), each carrying a pan and a pancake that must be flipped three times.
Mothering Sunday, traditionally the fourth Sunday in Lent, is a day to visit one's mother, bearing a cake or flowers. On 1 April, April Fool's tricks are played until noon.
May Day (1 May) used to be a time for dancing around the maypole and crowning a May Queen; now it is England's Labour Day. On the second Saturday in June, Queen Elizabeth II's birthday is celebrated. The queen's birthday is actually in April—the date discrepancy is perhaps due to the typically unpleasant April weather. Guy Fawkes was caught trying to blow up the houses of Parliament on 4 November 1605. His failure is celebrated on Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night) on 5 November throughout the country with fireworks and bonfires on which effigies of Guy Fawkes are burnt.
On the second Sunday in November, Remembrance Day commemorates those who died in World Wars I and II and later conflicts. Red paper poppies are sold by the British Legion to raise money for veterans.
During Christmas dinner (25 December), the traditional “cracker” is laid beside each plate. Those seated next to each other pull the ends of each other's crackers, which make a loud bang. Inside there is a tissuepaper hat and a trinket. Boxing Day (26 December), so called for small earthenware boxes that tradespeople and civil servants traditionally carried around to collect tips, is now simply a leisure day and a very busy day in the sporting calendar. Many offices, but not shops, close for all the period from Christmas to New Year.
New Year's Day, Good Friday (the Friday preceding Easter), and Easter Monday (the Monday following Easter) are three of England's traditional “bank holidays”, on which banks and other businesses close. The other bank holidays include May Day (the first Monday in May), the spring and summer bank holidays, Christmas Day (25 December), and Boxing Day.
Most employees get four to five weeks' annual vacation. Most people take their main two- or three-week vacation in July or August. A sizeable minority also take a winter vacation, usually to go skiing or somewhere warm and sunny. Short trips of two to five days to other parts of the country or to continental Europe have become increasingly popular.
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COMMERCE
Office and shop hours are generally from 9 AM or 10 AM to 5:30 PM. Government offices tend to close for lunch, as do many shops in rural areas. Banks close between 3 PM and 5 PM, and most offices are closed at weekends. An increasing number of shops are lengthening business hours and staying open at both Saturday and Sunday, following the liberalization of Sunday shopping hours in 1994.
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Culture
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ARTS
Major English writers who contributed to the development of the English language and who are themselves still widely read include Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene and D.H. Lawrence.
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MUSIC
There was a strong tradition of madrigals and chamber music by the 16th century and a distinctive tradition of Anglican church music developed later. Well-known madrigal composers include Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes, and John Wilbye. Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel were leading composers of the baroque era of the late 17th and 18th centuries, but English orchestral music then lost its reputation until the turn of the 20th century. Prominent modern composers include Sir Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, and Frederick Delius.
Folk music in England is often dance music, traditionally accompanied by pipe and tabor, or fiddle and bagpipe. Modern accompanying instruments are the melodeon and concertina. Common dances include the quadrille and country dance, antecedents to the American square dance; and the reel, jig, and hornpipe. Morris dancing is a form of ritual dance with pre-Christian origins. It is danced on Whit Sunday in the spring by men dressed in white clothing with bells, ribbons, and flowers, and holding handkerchiefs and staves. A modern revival of English folk music, known as English roots music, was begun in the 1980s by popular musicians and has drawn attention to traditional music.
Beginning with the Beatles in the 1960s, England has had an internationally influential popular music industry. In addition to western pop music, it is the home to world-music fusion genres such as bhangra, a mix of English and Punjabi dance music.
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LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
More than 500 public library authorities administer some 40,000 branch libraries throughout the UK. Among libraries in London are the British Library, the various divisions of which constitute the largest library in the UK; the University of London Central Library; the Science Museum Library; and the Public Record Office Library, which contains the National Archives. Universities also maintain extensive libraries. The Bodleian library at Oxford University is a copyright library and is therefore entitled to a copy of every book published in the UK.
Many cities and towns have museums of art, natural history, and archaeology. The best-known and largest museum is the British Museum in London, which contains collections of art and archaeological specimens from all over the world. Other outstanding galleries and museums in London are the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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Society
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GOVERNMENT
England is the largest division of the UK, which has no written constitution. The constitutional arrangements are the result of acts of Parliament, common law, and precedent. Parliament's first bid for supremacy came in the 1642–1649 civil war and the subsequent execution of King Charles I. Oliver Cromwell then ruled as a dictator, but the monarchy was re-established upon his death. Uncontested parliamentary sovereignty dates from the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Catholic James II was ousted and the Protestant William and Mary were invited by Parliament to become joint monarchs. The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is head of state, but elected officials govern through Parliament.
The House of Commons is the main legislative body, with 651 members. The party with the most members of Parliament (MPs) forms the government, and that party's leader becomes the prime minister (officially appointed by the Queen). The prime minister and Cabinet (senior ministers) govern as the executive body. The voting age is 18, and elections are held at least every five years. In practice, they are held more often, because they can be called by the prime minister at any time.
Parliament's upper chamber is the House of Lords, which has more than 1,200 members. About two-thirds are hereditary members, and the remaining third are members appointed for life, including those who sit at the UK's highest court of appeal. The chamber can vote against legislation, which in practice simply delays it. Because the House of Lords is not an elected body, it cannot completely block legislation.
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ECONOMY
By the end of the 18th century, Great Britain had established itself as an important trading nation. Following rapid industrialization in the 19th century, it developed into the world's leading industrial power, but the effects of two world wars greatly diminished the UK's economic strength. During the post-war years, many parts of the economy were nationalized; thereafter the country fell significantly behind the other large European economies. In the three decades from 1950 to 1980, the economy grew by just under 2 per cent a year on average, compared with 3.5 per cent in France and more than 4.5 per cent in West Germany. In 1950 the UK was ranked sixth in the world in per capita income. By 1980 it had fallen below the top 20.
After Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, there was a major shift in emphasis towards industry deregulation and market forces. Many industries were privatized, and the power of the trade unions was greatly reduced. As a result, the manufacturing sector became more competitive but smaller, and unemployment and social discontent increased. From 1983, on emerging from recession, until the late 1980s, the UK's economy was one of the fastest growing in Europe. After another surge in inflation in the late 1980s, the rate has been brought down to manageable levels, but it is questionable whether an inflationary tendency has finally been curbed. The UK has since been among the first of the European countries to show signs of recovery after the recession of the early 1990s. However, unemployment remains high, and there are still worries about the UK's competitiveness.
The UK does the bulk of its trading within the European Union (EU). Natural resources include oil, coal (a once important coal industry has shrunk dramatically in the past decade because of competition from other fuels and from less expensive imported coal), natural gas, and iron ore. Important exports include crude oil (from the North Sea), manufactured goods, and consumer items. The service sector is more important than manufacturing, and London is one of the world's most important financial centres. The currency is the pound sterling. Of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP), industry accounts for about 25 per cent (1991), while agriculture's share is less than 2 per cent (1991), though the UK's farmers supply the country with about 60 per cent of its needs.
In 1992 England accounted for 80 per cent of the UK's economy. The GDP per capita is higher in England than in the rest of the UK. In general, the most prosperous parts of England tend to be in the south. The heavy manufacturing industries of the Midlands and northern counties have gone through a massive decline, and there has been a substantial shift towards the service sector.
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TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATION
Travel by road has become the favoured method of transport for both people and freight since services on the extensive railway system, created in the late 19th century during the reign of Queen Victoria, began to be cut back in the 1960s. In common with the Japanese and Australians, but contrary to the practice in most other countries, the British drive on the left-hand side of the road; therefore, their cars have steering wheels on the right-hand side. Rail links between major cities are good, but rural services are sparse, and many local commuter services are heavily criticized by those who rely on them. In the early 1990s the Conservative government introduced a controversial plan to privatize the rail system, which is now under way. Taxis are common in the cities, but public transport is mainly by bus. London has an underground system known as the Tube. The domestic air network is good, and international air links are extremely good. London's Heathrow is the busiest international airport in the world.
Because it is an island nation, shipping has always been important to the UK. There are ferry services to Scandinavia and Ireland and across the English Channel. In 1994 the UK opened a direct rail link with France via the newly built Channel Tunnel. The “Chunnel” carries private cars and freight underneath the English Channel. On the French side of the tunnel, high-speed rail services run to Paris. On the English side, equivalent high-speed services to and around London are unlikely to be in operation much before the turn of the century.
Telecommunications are well advanced, with fibre-optic cable links and satellite systems. Most British homes have telephones and televisions. Numerous daily newspapers are available throughout the nation.
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EDUCATION
Schooling is free and compulsory for 11 years, between the ages of 5 and 16, although many students stay on until age 18. Children go to primary school until the age of 11, when they move on to secondary school. State schools are those run by the state and public schools are private ones. The private equivalent of the primary school is the preparatory (or prep) school; many preparatory schools teach children until the age of 13. The official national examinations are the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations, which are usually taken at the age of 16, and the Advanced (‘A') Level examinations, which are taken two years later. Most people who go on to university will have passed in at least seven subjects at GCSE level and three at ‘A' level. Students who do not attend university may attend one of a variety of technical schools; schooling after the age of 16 is known as “further education”, while schooling after the age of 18 is known as “higher education”. The UK's school system is a subject of considerable debate. Many critics say that the split between private schools and state schools is socially divisive and perpetuates the class system. Those in business bemoan the lack of basic skills displayed by many secondary school graduates. Others believe the system of ‘A' levels, in particular, forces young people to specialize too early; they support a move to a broader-based educational system like that in most other European countries. England has many universities, which attract students from around the world. The former polytechnics are now known as “new universities” and compete for students with the “old” or established universities. The two most famous old universities are Oxford and Cambridge, whose alumni have traditionally played an important part in government and business.
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HEALTH AND WELFARE
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) provides free medical care, although there are charges for prescription drugs and dental treatment, except for children and senior citizens and certain other categories of patients, such as pregnant women. The quality of medical care and facilities is high, but the country struggles under the increasing cost of financing the NHS. Private health care is also available, and many people now pay into private insurance plans to avoid long waits for surgical treatment under the NHS.
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