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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons", Xiangtan Normal University...




British Society and Lifestyle

Language: British Accents: The size of the British Isles often leads people to assume that the language spoken is the same, however first time visitors to the UK are often surprised to find that they have difficulty in understanding the accents and dialects of certain regions. Even within the country of England alone there is great diversity of dialect both regionally and socially. Accents are clues to where people were born and where they grew up. Although some people may change the way they speak during their lifetimes, most people carry at least some trace of their accent and dialect origins throughout their lives.

The term "British English" can be referred to as a "Northern" or "Southern" accent for example, but these do not really follow any sharp boundaries or coincide with any county lines. It is common in Britain for people who display particularly strong accents to be labeled by terms such as "Geordie", "Cockney", "Jock" or "Scouse." All of these identify a specific regional accent, most of which are recognizable to many of the people in the country.

  • Cockney accent = London

  • Geordie accent = Newcastle

  • Jock accent = Scotland

  • Scouse accent = Liverpool

  • There are many other names for different accents from different areas.

Accents are often characterized by British speakers themselves as either "posh" or "common" accents. Native speakers of British English would recognize these labels and create a fairly accurate image of the sound of these.

Social Class: Britain can be divided up into regions, or areas, but in the 1940's and 1950's (and before) it could also be divided up by social class (and to some extent still can be today). The phrases used are normally "Working Class", "Middle Class" and "Upper Class". These classes were to divide people up by the type of work that they did and by their income. Middle class is also sometimes divided up into "Lower Middle Class" and "Upper Middle Class". In the early 1900's about 60% of people were "Working Class" and over 30% "Middle Class", with less than 10% in the Upper Class category, also referred to as the "Aristocracy".

A typical middle class person may be a doctor or a teacher, whilst working class are factory workers etc. Manual workers are also known as "Blue collar" workers, whilst office staff are known as "White Collar" workers. Class can also be decided upon which newspaper a person reads, what type of television programmes that they watch etc. Class can also be determined by what type of education a person has.

The British railways now only have two classes for travel: "first" and "standard". First class is more expensive and used by upper class people or business people. Many writers now view Britain as a socially fragmented society, with life revolving around the individual, his or her family, and the idea of a better life through home ownership and consumer goods. 

A recent survey of public opinion found 90 per cent of people still placing themselves in a particular class; 73 per cent agreed that class was still an integral part of British society, and 52 per cent thought there were still sharp class divisions. 

One unchanging aspect of a British person’s class position is accent (as described above). A study of British accents during the 1970s found that a posh voice, sounding like a BBC news-reader, usually spoken by a person from the south-east of England, was viewed as the most attractive voice. On the other hand, the accents placed at the bottom in this survey, were regional city accents: Liverpool (scouse), Birmingham (brummie), Newcastle (geordie) and London (cockney). However, a similar survey of British accents in the US turned these results upside down and placed scouse and cockney as the most attractive and BBC English as the least. In recent years, young, upper-middle-class people in London have begun to adopt fake cockney accents (Estuary English), in order to disguise their class origins. 

The Upper Class: "Aristocracy" is related with the traditional upper class. They live in stately homes (large houses). They will normally have a good education, normally a private education at a top school. Their money is normally passed down through the family and they may have a tilte, such as "Lord". The modern upper class is not as visible as the former owners of the stately homes of England the new upper class is culturally more invisible. The modern upper class is still based on individuals with a common background and close social contacts. Networking is much more important to the upper class. 

Because of the privately funded education, normally at boarding schools, pupils live with each other during school terms. This allows the development of extremely close social friendships between pupils and their families. 

The Middle Class: Becoming a middle class family in Britain is now more fashionable. In the 1960's, the lifestyle of the middle class was said to be boring and repetitive. In the 1970's the middle class life was though to be dull with the same routine, Typically someone who takes the same route from his semi-detached house to work each day. At work, it is equally as dull people, at home life is boring with relatives whose idea of fun is to drink tea and visit a park at the weekend.

Most modern middle class people fall into one of four broad categories. First, the higher professionals doctors, lawyers, architects, accountants and business executives. They may lack the power and wealth of the upper class but they are certainly a distinct group. Higher professionals value education, training and independence. They have all been to university and in most cases have postgraduate and professional qualifications. They have generous pensions, holidays, expenses, sick pay and considerable freedom within their own jobs. The family members of this group tend to follow their parents into a professional career.

Second, salaried professionals. This group includes university and college lecturers, school teachers, local government officials, civil servants and social workers. They too all have attended university, and often have postgraduate and professional qualifications. They have modest pensions and some freedom over their own job.

The largest group are routine white-collar workers (Office workers). A great deal of white-collar work takes place at a desk and is heavily supervised. It is very much a nine-to-five job with little freedom. Clerical work is now becoming female-dominated. In general, lower-middle-class employees use their jobs to improve the quality of their lives through consumer goods, foreign holidays and entertainment. 

The final group are the self-employed. They become the ‘stars’ if the 1980s in cultural terms. These small businessmen and shopkeepers have more control over their working lives than clerical workers. Yet they work exceptionally long hours, have no career structure and must finance their own pensions. They earn less than a routine clerical worker.

The Working Class: In the 1950's, there was a traditional picture of typical, usually male, members of the working class. They leave school without any qualifications to find a job as a manual worker. They have a regional accent,  and live in a close community in houses owned by a landlord or the council. They enjoy a pint down the local pub, a bet and a trip to a football match. The chip shop is the central aspect of local cuisine and the Sunday roast dinner was a national ritual. They always love the Labour party. The working class woman is depicted as a wife who always stays at home to look after the children with very few leisure activities. The working class consider themselves as ‘Us’ and the middle and upper classes as "Them’.

However, the greatest new division within the working class is the gap between the employed and unemployed. The living standards of those in full-time jobs have improved, but the plight of the unemployed has worsened. These changes have led to talk of the development of an "underclass" in Britain, which is cut off from the consumer society. In 1979 only 6 per cent of the population lived at the lowest rate of social security benefit. Today, the working class woman is often depicted as an unmarried single mother living on a council estate.

Social Change: In 1992 earning survey showed that the average manual worker’s full-time pay was a 268 per week, compared to a 248 for the average clerical worker. In this case, the majority of manual workers still in work owns their own homes, have a car, a fridge. A washing machine, a television, a telephone and inside toilets and bathrooms. They now go abroad on holiday and their diet no longer revolves around the fish and chip shop. The number of foreign restaurants in working class areas has increased rapidly. Foreign foods such, pasta and Australian wine are now sold in the majority of supermarkets. 

Furthermore, there is the greatest revolution in housing choice. In 1950, over 80 per cent of skilled and unskilled manual workers lived in private rented or council-owned properties. In 1988, 72 percent of skilled and 55 per cent of semi-skilled manual workers owned their own home. A recent opinion survey showed that 90 per cent of manual workers who lived in council property would like to buy their own homes. Since 1981, 33 per cent of all council tenants have bought their council houses. 

The modern working class manual worker spends less time with workmates at the pub or football match and much more time at home. The growth of DIY (Do It Yourself) superstores selling paint, wood etc. has led to more working class men spending time making their homes more attractive. Industrial change has radically altered many former working-class communities, which depended on heavy industries such as coal mining, shipbuilding, dock work, railways and steel making. New industries tend to be located some distance from where workers live.

There is an additional change in the traditional pattern of working-class life has been in the role of women. They are now going out of the home into either part-time or full-time work. Thus, female members of the working class are actually much less home-centered than ever before. Of course, much of this work is poorly paid and part time. Hence, working-class women are much less reliant on males. This has resulted in more all female social activities outside the home.

Race: The UK is made up of people from many different races. It is not now a "white" country. A majority of immigrants arrived in the UK in the last 40 years. People from countries who used to be part of the British Empire were allowed to move to the UK to live. 

The largest ethnic minorities in Britain are those of Caribbean or African descent (875,000 people). The next largest ethnic groups are Indians (840,255 people), and Pakistani and Bangladeshis (639,390 people). Overall, ethnic minority groups represent just under six percent of the population of Great Britain.

In the 1970's Britain admitted 28,000 Asians expelled from Uganda and 22,000 refugees from South East Asia. Considerable numbers of Chinese, Italians, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Poles, Australians, New Zealanders and people from the United States and Canada are also resident in Britain. 

Immigrants bring many cultures into the UK, and also many other foods. The most common foods in the UK are now Indian Curry's and Chinese food. British music has benefited form immigrants, with many black artists becoming very popular. Many immigrants bring different religions into the UK - there is now a large Moslem community in the UK, as well as a growing Jewish population.

The mix of races in the UK can cause some problems, some white people do not like the growing number of ethnic minorities in the UK. Some cities have higher populations of ethnic minorities than others, London has over 30% of the population from non white groups. It is now illegal to discriminate between black and white people, or anyone from another race in the UK.

Film Making - Cinema:
The UK has a long history of making movies. The most recent popular movies were the adaptation of Helen Fielding's best-selling novel "Bridget Jones's Diary," about a thirty something Londoner, and the best selling adaptation of "Harry Potter".  The other big British series brought to the screen this year was J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." Other recent movies include "Angelina Jolie" as "Lara Croft" in the cyber-fantasy adaptation "Tomb Raider."

Many people visit the cinema regularly in Britain, especially school children will normally go in groups to see movies on a regular basis. British Movies have classifications (age restrictions). There are:

  • U = Universal, suitable for any audience

  • PG = Parent / Guardian, young children must be with an adult

  • 12 = You must be over 12 years of age to watch the movie

  • 15 = You must be over 15 years of age to watch the movie

  • 18 = You must be over 18 years of age to watch the movie

Fashion: 1950's:
The 1950's fashion was created using the optimism which was seen after the end of the war. The focus was on the baby booming family. Being a good (and good-looking) housewife was the ultimate measure of success. High heel shoes became very fashionable.

1960's: This 60's fashions are frequently marked by designers such as Givenchy, Chanel, and Pucci. The post war Baby Boom ended in the middle of this decade. Television reflected the way people dressed. The decade's fashions were heavily influenced by Rock 'n' Roll's British music. The flower loving hippies changed our views on fashion. Mini skirts, loud printed fabrics, bell bottoms, and long hair, started a fashion trend that would last two decades. 

1970's: The 1970s were literally the "anything goes" decade. For some, the uglier and chunkier the fashion, the better. For others, soft and feminine was the answer. Making a fashion statement reached its apex in the 1970s… The 1960s trend of mini skirts, bell bottoms, and long hair, lasted through this decade. Polyester knitted fabrics broke the ground to expand the continuing look. If you didn't wear polyester, the preferred textile was denim blue jeans. Skirts came in three lengths in the 1970s, mini, midi, and maxi. Television and film reflected the way people dressed. The latter half of the decade's fashions were heavily influenced by Rock 'n' Roll's Disco music.

1980's: There was no guilt about being greedy in the 80's. There was money to be made, money to be spent, and you had to look really, really good while you were spending it. You even had to look good while indulging in the new aerobics fad, dressed in skin tight material.

1990's: The 90's saw a return of different fashions from the previous century's style, from the retro floral fashions of the early 90's copying the 60's and 70's fashion, to the hippie and swing revivals of the late 90s.

There are many different styles of houses in the UK. The style of house depends upon the location and the surroundings.

Countryside: Many old buildings, farms and cottages, normally built from stone and many are hundreds of years old. There are also modern buildings in the countryside but there are many building restrictions to stop people building in certain areas of the countryside.

Towns and Cities: Most people live in, or around a city or town in the UK. The price of houses is normally more expensive in city centres. The house prices also vary between areas. The South of England is very expensive compared to the North. There are many types of houses, the main ones are as follows:

Terrace - Long rows of houses joined together, built in the early 1900's onwards, originally houses for coal miners etc. These are normally small houses for working class people or for people living in hteir first home.

Bungalow - A house which is only on one floor, no stairs. Very suitable for older people. A bungalow may be joined to another or might stand alone.

Detached - A house which is not joined to any other, detached houses are normally more expensive as they normally have gardens surrounding them.

Semi-Detached - This is where 2 houses are joined together. they may share gardens, but normally have their own.

Flats - blocks of houses, divided up into sections - normally divided into ground floor, first floor etc.

The design of houses also varies according to the age of the property etc. Most old houses are built from stone, whilst modern houses are built from brick.

Architecture: The tallest building in Britain is Canary Wharf which extends to over 86 acres and over 26,000 people working there. The tower at Canary Wharf has 50 floors and is 800 feet (244 metres) high. 

London is the capital city of England, but the City of London is only an area of about one square mile, sometimes known as the Square Mile, on the north bank of the River Thames. The boundaries are the Tower of London in the east, the Temple Bar in the west and the River Thames in the south and Smithfield in the north.

There are some big tourist attractions in the city. St Paul's Cathedral, The Tower of London, The Old Bailey, The Bank of England, Lloyds Building and Tower 42. The present St Paul's Cathedral was designed by Christopher Wren as part of the re-building of London after the fire, and the building was eventually completed in 1710.

The Lloyd's Building was designed by Richard Rogers, the same architect that designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Opened in 1986, it is one of the most well known modern buildings in London.

The district of Greenwich, is known for the meridian line, which crosses it and acts as a reference for standardised Greenwich Mean Time throughout the entire world. Greenwich is also home to the Naval College and the Cutty Sark.

The Richard Rogers designed Millennium Dome is the largest domed structure in the world. 1 km in circumference, 50 meters high, with a ground surface of 8 hectares, and a capacity for 50,000 people.

The British Airways London Eye is the world's largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the Thames. Reaching a height of 135m (450 ft), the British Airways London Eye is London's fourth tallest structure. The wheel gives passengers a totally new perspective of some of the capital's most famous landmarks and provides a bird's-eye view usually afforded only by helicopter or aircraft. London architects David Marks and Julia Barfield conceived and designed the British Airways London Eye to celebrate the Millennium and beyond.

In central London, the Royal Parks (Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Primrose Hill, Regent's, Green, and St James's Parks) are among the city's most enjoyable, interesting and accessible features. They provide greenery, fresh air and a sense of space.

Mainline Railway Stations including Victoria, Waterloo, and Kings Cross, home of Platform 9 3/4, as used by Harry Potter.

Other landmarks in the capital are Marble Arch, Oxford Street, Regents Street, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, All Souls Church and the BBC buildings.

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