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Custom and Tradition

Custom and Tradition

The English are a deeply nostalgic people and value customs and traditions above almost everything. It does not seem to matter just where traditions have come from or why they have survived. They are traditions, and that is enough for them.

The rest of the world accepts and quite enjoys the outward trappings of this English trait. Thousands of people fly into London every year to watch traditional jamborees such as the Changing of the Guard or the State Opening of Parliament.

Tradition, to the English, represents continuity, which must be preserved at all costs.

Family Gatherings

Though they are the least family-orientated people on earth, the English would not dream of spending their Christmas anywhere else but in the vipers' nest they refer to as the "bosom of the family". This annual festival almost always ends in tears and to get over it takes many families a good six months.

But tradition rules and, come September, English families are beginning to plan for another family Christmas, having apparently completely forgotten the mayhem of the one before.

Christmas apart, family members avoid each other religiously throughout the year except on compulsory occasions such as christenings, weddings and funerals. Of these, funerals and christenings, being the shortest, are the most popular. Weddings are only distinguishable from pitched battles by the uniforms of the participants.

Planning for these nightmare events starts early, as do the arguments. Even though English etiquette books try to help by pointing out who is responsible for organising and paying for the bride's dress, the flowers, the church, the choir, the organist, the cars, the reception, the food, the photographers and St.John's Ambulance, the English will fight furiously on every single issue for months before, right through and even after the great day.

It came as no surprise to many survivors of similar occasions to read the newspaper report of the bride's father who initiated legal proceedings against his son-in-law's parents (about who should pay what) while the "happy couple" were still on their honeymoon.

It is the triumph of English hope over English experience that these gatherings ever take place at all.

For Queen and Country

Fighting is one of the things that the English do best. Over the centuries, they have confronted almost every race on the planet at one time or another. Naturally, they have become rather good at it.

Nobody can curb English pugnacity. It is in their blood, and displays of ritualised ferocity are even seen as socially desirable and glamorous.

Nearly a century after the armies of all other countries became entirely fighting machines, the English still keep several large bodies of men from mainly aristocratic families in barracks in London. One of the major duties of these men is to dress up in period costume from time to time and march about the streets looking fierce.

Once a year, these same men meet on a large parade ground and do quite a lot of marching about and looking fierce in front of the current monarch. In this they are accompanied by noisy wind bands playing mostly German music.

When it actually comes to war, the English are extraordinarily tenacious once they get going. Images of London under the blitz reinforce their perception of their own indomitability, and the lack of proper equipment and a shortage of men are never seen as a handicap. Remember Dunkirk.

And it is not only in formal battle conditions that the English snap to attention. Their natural bellicosity is, at all times, just below the surface. The work started by away teams led by Raleigh and Drake is continued by the supporters of English football squads. It seems they have a fundamental need to prove their physical superiority not merely to each other but to others. Despite this, England alone of the major countries in Europe, indeed the world, has abolished military conscription with all the opportunities it affords for formalised aggression.


The English are not a deeply religious race. Hundreds of years ago they decided that Roman Catholicism with its teachings about original sin and the unworthiness of the human race could not really have been meant for them. So they designed a church of their own - the Church of England.

Attendance at church services is not obligatory and, indeed, not a widespread habit. Membership, on the other hand, is assumed to be the norm and English bureaucratic forms with their inquiries about religion mirror the national attitude to the rest of Christendom with their query: "If not C of E, state, "other"."

The broader purpose of religion in England is to inculcate in the natives a system of morals and behaviour loosely seen as Christian but more specifically as English. Originally born out of the desperation of Henry VIII to get a divorce, the Church now officially holds marriage sacrosanct and may well have to reinvent itself if another monarch wishes to emulate its founder.

In English eyes, the Church is made for man and not the other way about. Holding fast to this belief, they are probably the most tolerant race on earth when it comes to the beliefs of others. Mosques, chapels, synagogues and temples abound in England and they cannot understand why the rest of the world feels so passionately about something which is, for them, essentially a diversion.

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