Are people who are from countries in the British Commonwealth 'British'?
October 13, 2004 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Are people who are from countries in the British Commonwealth 'British'? For instance, would you say that someone from New Zealand is 'British'? Is being 'British' cultural, or legal, or some amalgamation of the two? Anyone care to explain this to a confused Yankee?

Sorry if this has been asked before. I looked, but my google fu is not super.
posted by geekhorde to Society & Culture (21 answers total)
No, they're not.

British refers to things pertaining to Great Britain, which is a small part of the commonwealth. It's got much the same relation as 'American' does to the USA.

The Commonwealth, which is no longer even called the British Commonwealth, grew out of the separation of British colonies into territories, dominions and countries of increasing separation. As they became more independent, membership in the Commonwealth was the remaining bond. Then countries which had never been British colonies were admitted. Now, a lot of what it does now is sort of UN/WTOish. Try for more information on the organisation.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:46 PM on October 13, 2004

Australasian is a good general word that I don't think is insulting to New Zealanders. At least, I've heard Kiwis use it.
posted by smackfu at 1:51 PM on October 13, 2004

Would you say that someone from New Zealand is 'British'?

No. But my great great grandmother, who was born and bred in NZ and had never been to Britian, probably thought of herself as British, albeit transplanted. This kind of colonial mindset is pretty much totally gone now in NZ, especially in the last 20 years, only surviving as a kind of unconscious Anglophilia in the older generations.

My understanding is that British refers to people from the island of Great Britian, on which sit England, Scotland, and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, so it's not 100% synonymous with the UK.
posted by dydecker at 1:55 PM on October 13, 2004

For instance, would you say that someone from New Zealand is 'British'?

If you go to New Zealand you will see a lot of kiwis do like to associate themselves with the "mother" nation with a lot of references to Britain, and certainly when I was there 5 years ago, NZ TV was full of British programs. You'll see British pubs, weird things like Highland games going on, and lots of Scottish references in the South Island (Dunedin, Invercargill).

But call them British?

No way. Probably one way to upset a kiwi. Most kiwis support two teams. New Zealand and whoever plays against England.
posted by SpaceCadet at 1:58 PM on October 13, 2004

Okay. Thanks. A friend of mine, whose mother is an expat Scot, claimed that people from New Zealand were British. I told her she was wrong.

Anyone have any documentation? A link I could point her to?
posted by geekhorde at 2:01 PM on October 13, 2004

A link like the Constitution of New Zealand? Or she considers them British due to bloodlines?

Commonwealth countries maintain stronger cultural ties (the pubs, some vocabulary, tv shows, etc) and that's about it. Some beneficial trade ties as well.

My mother emigrated here (Canada) from the UK, but I don't consider myself British. I mean, I like hockey. British people don't like hockey. They're crazy, those Britons.
posted by Salmonberry at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2004

British citizenship defined
posted by dydecker at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2004

No. I barely think of myself as British, and I'm a Canadian who's originally from there.

As someone said above, the commonwealth is an old ideal, and aside form some inter-olympic games and some common faces on the currency (we still have ol Liz on the 20).

And what Salmonberry said about hockey.
posted by sauril at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2004

India is a part of the commonwealth but I doubt anyone would use British to refer to Indians.
posted by riffola at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2004

Jacquilynne isn't entirely right. In a nutshell..

Great Britain is a landmass comprising England, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom comprises those countries and Northern Ireland. The British Isles is a geographic term (mostly offensive to Irish people, certainly if used politically) comprising Great Britain, Ireland, and all the other small islands.

Britain is acceptable shorthand for the United Kingdom, and British is acceptable shorthand for being a citizen of the United Kingdom - as well a certain other places, including Gibraltar. But not countries with fully fledged identities of their own, such as New Zealand or India, which are just members of the British Commonwealth. Which is a largely meaningless body anyway.

Wikipedia is quite good on this.
posted by ascullion at 2:41 PM on October 13, 2004

A British citizen is a person who has the right to reside indefinitely and be employed in the UK and may enter and leave the UK, at will. A citizen of New Zealand does not have those rights, but must apply for permission to reside and work in the UK. Therefore, a citizen of New Zealand is not a British citizen.

A person from New Zealand may or may not wish to consider themselves 'British', for historical, ancestral or cultural reasons, but 'Britishness' in that sense confers no tangible utility.
posted by normy at 2:44 PM on October 13, 2004

Get it right, mate. New Zealand and whoever's playing Australia.


My grandparents' generation had a sense of being British. That was fading by the 60's and is altogether gone now.

Anyone from Hong Kong here? Because I think it was a bit of a shock to discover just how not-British they were when the handover happened and they couldn't get UK citizenship...

"British" to me is a quaint-sounding term redolent of the vanished Empire.

I myself am interested in whether Scots or Welsh or Irish people would ever use the term.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:04 PM on October 13, 2004

Some say the only people happy to call themselves British are politicians, Unionists in Northern Ireland, people from Gibraltar, and the English when it suits them (ie, when a Scot wins an Olympic medal). I think that pretty much sums it up.
posted by ascullion at 4:49 PM on October 13, 2004

Although it was called the British Empire, I've always thought of it exclusively as the English Empire.

'British' implies equality within the collective nations, I think. There was never any doubt that Scotland and Wales were subservient nations when the Empire was in existence, and had no input into the decision making process.
posted by Blue Stone at 4:56 PM on October 13, 2004

i am joe's spleen:
well, Southern Irish folk (like all my relatives in the generation preceding mine) would not be British, in culture or in law - even though they were born in the years before Ireland won her independence in 1921. They were Irish subjects of the King - never British. However, the cultural exchanges between Eire (the official name for the Republic of Ireland) and the UK of GB & NI have always been strong, unregulated and free - and that remains true enough even today.

The Northern Irish - for the most part, those which ally with the Protestant/Unionist traditions - almost by definition, arer British. That is what the Troubles were all about, on the political & social level. The Brits (Scots, Welsh & English) would happily let most of 'em sink into the sea. The Ulstermen (as the Northern Irish are also known) are mostly transplanted Scots & English, many who trace their Irish roots back to the 17th Century Plantations. In fact the English colonisation of Ireland goes back further, but gathered great steam in that period.

British does have less and less to do with long roots on the island - though I don't exclude that - and more to do with acquiring British Nationality and acceptance of British values. Funnily, they are quite hard to define...
posted by dash_slot- at 4:58 PM on October 13, 2004

Ooh, one use of "British" I recall from when I was there last - it was a handy term when referring to non-whites who were born in the UK, when calling them "English" seemed incongruous. (Obviously you have to have a mental stereotype of pale spotty English for the incongruity to occur).

ascullion and dash_slot: ta, that's about what I thought.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:04 PM on October 13, 2004

If you call a Canadian "British", even if they're old as the hills, my impression is that you'll get naught but a blank look and maybe a "Typical American" muttered under the breath. Of course, we stopped being a colony about a generation earlier than Australia and NZ (1867 vs. 1901 & 1907, respectively, I think.)

Unless you're in Victoria. They're all a bunch of monarchists there.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:05 PM on October 13, 2004

Related question: Lately I've noticed Bush and others referring to British people as "Brits." I guess I always heard this to have a somewhat derogatory connotation to it, along the lines of "Yank." How do "Brits" hear this reference?
posted by rushmc at 10:48 PM on October 13, 2004

rushmc, "Brits" and "Yanks" are complementary (and presumably complimentary as well) WWII-isms. Its use by Bush is almost certainly calculated, although we can't put pronunciation difficulties off the table entirely.
posted by dhartung at 12:09 AM on October 14, 2004

I don't think anyone in Britain thinks that 'Brit' is offensive. The thought has never crossed my mind.

Some say the only people happy to call themselves British are politicians, Unionists in Northern Ireland, people from Gibraltar, and the English when it suits them (ie, when a Scot wins an Olympic medal).

I don't think that's true. I have always described myself as British, never English, although I am; when asked to state my nationality I always say 'British' without thinking about it. I actually find the connotations of 'English' quite offensive, in a way; when some of my friends have described themselves as English over British, I winced a little.

Maybe I'm happy to say 'British' because my family heritage is Scottish, but I don't think so.

The whole question of the English identity and how that relates to 'Britishness' has been the subject of much hand-wringing for many, many years. Jeremy Paxman's The English is excellent reading on this subject.
posted by influx at 1:23 AM on October 14, 2004

A couple of older, maybe over-pedantic, British people I know find 'Brit' somewhat offensive. Not inherently, but just because they consider it lazy and sloppy. Buggeration of The Queen's English, and all that.

I'm British, but like most British people and as others have indicated, if you ask me to explain or define what that means in any terms other than what my passport says, you're unlikely to get more than platitudes, at best, and the answer will vary enormously from individual to individual. Perhaps its a bit like asking a US citizen to explain "So, just what is this American Dream thing, exactly?"

"British", therefore, isn't really much use as a word or a concept on its own that conveys anything meaningful, other than something for polititians and journalists to get their underwear contorted about. In any form-filling or bureaucratic context, if I'm ever asked my nationality, I tend to put "UK".
posted by normy at 9:54 AM on October 14, 2004

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