Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 24 April

Stereotypes in the UK have been the butt of jokes for centuries. But a recent survey adds new light, says Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I was shocked that the results of a recent survey investigating characteristics of people in different regions of the UK were given wide publicity. Isn’t stereotyping a thing of the past?
Connie Hill, Birmingham

Dear Connie,
A survey was carried out by Cambridge scientists and the BBC’s Lab UK project, and published in the academic journal PLOS ONE. The BBC headlined the ­findings: Londoners are apparently unwelcoming and argumentative, as well as lazy (which I don’t understand) while many residents of Wales show high levels of neuroticism. The Scots, though, are not dour as assumed, but more friendly than people elsewhere. So in this last instance, the stereotype is reversed, which can’t be bad.

Returning to London from my Easter break, I saw from my car the contorted mouth of some youth shouting on the pavement. ‘Yes, I’m back,’ I thought. ‘This is London.’

It’s a human tendency to make catalogues of books, plants, dogs and people. We need to have a map of some kind and to place ourselves on it. What’s more, the notion of varying characteristics of people in the UK has a certain charm when it often appears that the population has become identical, all speaking estuary English and trolling up and down high streets composed of chain shops. So it is heartening to know that this is not quite the case. On social media the response to the survey is generally positive – many feel that the characteristics of their own corner of the country have been accurately identi­ ed and express pride in this.

All the same, as you point out, stereotyping is a dangerous business. It’s useful to know that the survey is in reality more complex than has been reported. The people of Hammersmith and Fulham score the highest for extroversion while occupants of the City of London are the least agreeable. Extroversion includes creativity and outgoingness, while Agreeableness, in a psychologicalscienti ­ c way, is a separate area for assessment. So you might be outgoing but not agreeable.

Perhaps I am optimistic, but don’t most people know what they’re doing when it comes to stereotyping? We say, ‘The French like garlic,’ knowing perfectly well that this does not describe every single French person. It would be o– ensive, of course, to meet someone from Wales and say, in the light of the ­ ndings, ‘So let’s establish all the ways in which you are neurotic.’ The stereotype refers in some general way to the group, describes in many cases a centuriesold cultural identity. But it never describes individuals, except in the ways that they interestingly vary from it. That is the whole point.

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... CREAM TEA LUNCHES

I was distressed in the recent fine weather, when many were suddenly out in cafes, to see cream teas being consumed at lunchtime. I must admit that previously when I have witnessed this phenomenon it has done me little harm. I have not even got as far as thinking, ‘Well, people can do what they like. It’s a free country.’ But now, I am troubled. In a busy cafe, why, when those wanting lunch at lunchtime are battling to get in, should space be taken up by persons demanding, in full public view, scones and cake? Maybe in the privacy of their own homes they could carry out these practices, but the shamelessness of it going on in front of everyone, especially in these modern eateries where tables are shared, is horrifying.

What have they got against lunch? Salad and hummus presumably they consider they have risen above. Only pastries, cream and jam at their great elevation are good enough for them. For this they must distort the timehonoured progress of the day through breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.


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