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Geography and Nationality.Its so confusing.


So many .  A magnet for immigrants over the centuries .

Live here to find out !

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Many moons ago, in another life, I lived in Sweden. I was employed by one of the Universities there, in the Continuing Education Dept, teaching adults. More specifically, I was attached to the TOFL (Teaching Of English as a Foreign Language) section and my job was mainly concerned with Technical, Medical and Scientific English.

A lot of my students were very high powered, knowledgeable professionals whose general English would be already excellent and only needed help with the terminology and use of English in specialized areas that an ordinary TOFL teacher knew little of.

A lot of our sessions drifted rather off the point as they got me into discussions on this, that and the other. One of their favourites topics was "The United Kingdom" and I was supposed to be their fount of all information. I was English, ergo, I must know everything about these islands! Or so they thought!

Quite a few of their questions would do well to be repeated here for the benefit of ciao members who are not from these islands and indeed, some of us brought up here might learn something too! The answers to the questions have been amended to take into account changes made in the last 20 years.



The term "United Kingdom" is short for "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". "Great Britain" itself is composed of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. So the UK is made up of 4 countries and GB of 3. These are political and economic units.



This is a purely geographical term. The two main islands of "Ireland" and "Britain", together with the "Isle of Man" and all the numerous other smaller islands lying off the mainland make up the "British Isles".



No. The major part of the island of "Ireland" became independent from the UK in the early 20th Century. The Republic of Ireland was originally called the "Irish Free State" and then "Eire". Although it has very strong ties with the rest of the "British Isles", it is an entirely separate country.

"Northern Ireland" or "Ulster" as it is also known, is still part of the UK, although many people would want it to join with the southern part of Ireland and form a united Ireland, politically.



The inhabitants of the UK are a complex bunch of people and it is difficult for those overseas to known quite how to refer to them. Allegiance is technically to the crown and thus all are British citizens, but most of us will not call ourselves British. Rather we will call ourselves by the country of our birth or family heritage eg. English, Scottish or Welsh.

Northern Ireland is rather more difficult to categorize. The community in that part of the UK is polarized between the Catholics and the Protestants. Most Protestants, who form the majority of the population, want to remain part of the UK and call themselves British rather than Irish. They are also often called Ulstermen or women and sometimes Unionists. A lot of the Catholics that form a very sizeable minority in N. Ireland would prefer that the North joins the south of Ireland to break free of the Crown. They will think of themselves as Irish, not British and are also referred to as Republicans.

If the rest of the UK is a complex mix, then N. Ireland is the most complex of the complex!



The people from Scotland are usually called the "Scots" and "Scotch", an adjective, is generally applied to things like whisky, woollen goods and broth. You will notice that the drink is spelt "whisky". The "e" in "whiskey" means that it is not from Scotland. Ireland and the USA produce some fine whiskey but only one country can make whisky!



Although very closely linked to the UK, in reality they are not part of it at all.

The Isle of Man, lying in the Irish Sea, midway between Britain and Ireland, is an independent self governing territory of the Crown so is not part of the UK, nor for that matter, the European Union at all. The Queen is officially called "Lord Of Mann" and her representative on the island is a Lieutenant-Governor. The UK has a special relationship with the island, being its diplomatic representative overseas and also looking after its defence. Everything else, taxes, government, education, laws and social policies are entirely up to its own ancient parliament, the "Tynwald" to decide upon. It has no representation in the UK Houses of Parliament because it is not part of the UK!

The "Channel Islands" are geographically next to France and are thus not in the British Isles at all. They also are not part of the UK or the EU and are very similar politically to the Isle of Mans position, having their own laws and governments.



Although linguistically diverse nowadays due to immigration into these islands, several languages are indigenous to the British Isles and still spoken to some extent.

Welsh is widely spoken in North Wales and some of the rural and hill areas of that country. It is studied in all schools in Wales and has a great literary and musical tradition associated with it.

Gaelic in several forms is spoken in parts of Ireland (Irish Gaelic), Scotland (Scottish Gaelic) and until a while ago in the Isle of Man. Manx Gaelic is now a dead language but has undergone a resurgence of interest in recent years.

In Cornwall, Cornish is no longer spoken except by scholars and students of it. It is related to Welsh and just across the Channel, to Breton that is spoken in Brittany.

Of course the many dialects that survive in the UK can have people asking "Is that really English?"



The flag that most will recognise throughout the world, after the "Stars and Stripes" of the USA, is the flag of the United Kingdom with its red and white crosses on a blue background. It should be called the Union Flag, although 99% of us call it the Union Jack. It is a combination of the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Do not refer to the Union Flag as the flag of England for each of the countries of the union has a flag of its own.

The flag of England is a red cross on a white background. (The cross of St. George)

Scotland`s flag has a white diagonal cross, a saltire, on a blue background. (The cross of St. Andrew).This flag is also just referred to as the "Saltire" and is reputed to be the oldest flag in the world, dating back to the 12th Century!

Wales has a very dramatic flag. A red dragon on a background that is white and green horizontal halves.

The flag of Northern Ireland is unofficial. It was designed as late as 1953, for the coronation but has been unofficial since 1972, after the Northern Ireland government, Stormont, was broken up. It tends to be used by the Unionists and is based upon the English flag, a red cross on a white background, with a red hand, dead centre and a crown above it.

The original flag of Ireland that has been incorporated ito the Union Flag is the cross of St. Patrick. It`s a diagonal red cross, a saltire, against a white background. It is rarely used by itself but does get utilized in the badges and flags of some organizations in Ireland and the North.

The Manx flag will be rarely seen outside of the Isle of Man. It`s a red flag with the unique Manx 3-legged symbol in the centre.

The Union Flag will be used incorrectly by many England fans in their support of the English team during the World Cup in Korea/Japan.



The evolution of teams to represent the population of these Isles is a complex one that sometimes defies logic.

In football, each of the home nations has a separate team. So we have teams from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In rugby, there are teams from England, Scotland, Wales and an Ireland team that is drawn from both sides of the border! I think it is unique for a team to be picked from two separate nations!

In athletics, the only time that the home nations compete as separate teams is in the Commonwealth Games. At all other times, the team is referred to as the Great Britain team but this is incorrect as it should really be the United Kingdom team as Northern Ireland athletes are included.



God! Now you`re asking about a very complicated set-up that we`ll have to go into another day.

And anyway, I`m too tired!

All these questions are actual ones that have been put to me in my years overseas and that I have done my best to answer.

Please comment freely and put me right where I am wrong. Also tell me if there are points that I`ve forgotten about.

Bwanamdevu 2002.

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Comments about this review »

craggsy23 26.04.2005 22:48

What a great review, I've learnt a thing or two about my own country. Well written.

sorrellwestgate 12.02.2004 14:46

good writing but don't agree that most people don't think of themselves as British. I am Welsh but think of myself as British as do many of my friends, so please don't generalise.

adorable1 11.02.2004 16:09

Hi there, I am quite new to this and I am learnign very quickly how to write things in a manner suitable for everyone. So hopefully I do this right and do not offend you. There are also different types of Gaelic in Scotland depending on whether you are from the isle or the mainland and even at that depending on the East coast or West coast of Scotland. I am from the West coast and have a very hard time understanding those from the isles, as dialects and alot of words vary. All so the difference in the way Highlanders speak to Lowlanders. It can be confusing but I am proud to be able to speak the language of my own Country as well as English. I really enjoyed your review. Tracy

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This review of Member Advice on UK Culture has been rated:

"exceptional" by (1%):

  1. craggsy23

"very helpful" by (95%):

  1. silver_g18
  2. ukusa
  3. fuzzibear

and 94 other members

"helpful" by (4%):

  1. JeffreyB
  2. sorrellwestgate
  3. yewgardener

and a further member

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.