Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Five weird things about the British

From cooked breakfasts to a stiff upper lip, certain traits make the British really stick out. If you’re visiting the UK or you’ve come to learn English on a study abroad programme, here are some of the more bizarre customs of these isles:


Morris dancing

International interest was sparked in this most curiously British tradition during the summer's Olympic opening ceremonies, in which the stick-tapping dancers were featured heavily. The origins of the folk dance are hazy, but a variation has existed for at least five hundred years. At its core is a group of costumed dancers with bells attached to the knees, dancing in unison. Sticks, handkerchiefs and even swords usually come into play. Though now only a minority interest, Morris dancers can still be found in village fêtes and town festivals up and down the country.


Cheese rolling

Displaying the kind of unique eccentricity that has made Britain famous, this annual event takes place on Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire, in the heart of the west country area. The 'rules', if such an anarchic competition could have them, are simple: a huge round of Double Gloucester cheese is thrown down the frighteningly steep hill, and one second later, a bevvy of brave/stupid competitors follow to chase after it. But the hill is at such an angle that it is almost impossible to stay upright, and there are frequently injuries – leading to recent official events being banned.


Pearly Kings & Queens

Found in the drinking holes of London's East End, these self-styled royal members of the working class have adorned themselves with pearly buttons since Victorian times. A quirky and sadly dying breed, the Kings and Queens nonetheless continue to raise huge amounts of money for charity – and have a right old knees-up while they're at it. They may be difficult to understand as they more often than not speak in Cockney rhyming slang, a language once often used in London. But once you’ve mastered the English language at a top London school like Malvern House English School, learning a bit of Cockney rhyming slang will be much easier – and it’ll make you feel very British!


Ascot Ladies' Day

The historic Ascot racecourse attracts attention for its high-class spectators as much as it does for the horseracing on the track. A strict dress code states that all women must wear day dresses and hats at the Ascot Gold Cup, leading many ladies to wear extravagant and often frankly ridiculously headwear.


Weighing the mayor

The small town of High Wycombe, just outside of London, bears witness to one of the strangest political events in the world. Every year, the newly elected mayor of the city is weighed in front of the townspeople, along with all his or her officials. This tradition dates back to a notoriously alcoholic mayor from the 17th century – the idea is that if a mayor has gained weight from the previous year, it has been at the taxpayer's expense.

Resource box
The Week takes a look at some of the more surprising Ascot headwear.
The BBC takes a lot at the origins of this tradition.
A portal for all prospective Morris Dancers.

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