On Sunday, I will be heading down to Wembley Stadium to watch football. Well, ‘football’. It isn’t that game we Brits all know and love which actually uses your feet, but that other one they like in the States with all the ad breaks.
That’s right, my beloved Chicago Bears, whom I have held dear to my heart for the whole two-and-a-half years that I have followed the NFL, will be coming over to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that promises to be mediocre on action but big on hot dogs.
I was today watching NFL Total Access on Sky Sports (I’m an Arts graduate, okay? I have nothing to do with my day) and was expecting to feel a rare sense of jingoistic pride that the US felt the need to have validation from us for its little sport. It’s like a big brother who, while acting all protective and superior, actually really lives for the praise of his baby bro. “Hey UK! UK! I– Look! Are you looking? I made a sport! I mean, you probably wouldn’t be able to play it, it’s very physical and requires you to put emphasis on the first syllable of the word ‘defence’, so you can’t play… But do you like it? Do you?”
Instead, however, I just felt patronised. The presenter initially asked whether the coaches and players should be referred to as “the Right Honourable Gentleman”, before saying that the Bucs were looking forward to their trip to “Her Majesty’s Great Britain”.
After my fuming sense of indignity at these callous stereotypes had been calmed by a crumpet and cup of Earl Grey, what then got me was that it was another example of the way in which Americans use the words ‘England’, ‘(Great) Britain’ and ‘the UK’ interchangeably. It took me back to a conversation I had when I was in Chicago a couple of years ago. It began with me first trying to explain how one could be Scottish (not ‘Scotch’) and British at the same time. Simple, right?
But the questions kept mounting. After I thought I had quite well explained it, one of my friends asked: “But wait – Scotland isn’t part of Britain, right?” I tried my explanation again. Feeling quite satisfied, out of left-field came: “How exactly does Wales… work?” This one was trickier even for me, and I think I lost them at ‘principality’.
Finally I tried to get down to the bare bones of it:
“So, the United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland and Wales, which make up Great Britain, as well as Northern Ireland, and a few of the other small islands, like–”
“Wait, wait, wait… Northern Ireland? There’s a Northern Ireland?”
“Yes… Ireland, the island, is split into two parts: Northern Ireland, which is a part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent nation.”
“Oh… Why can’t we just have one Ireland?”
“… Yeah… Maybe you should suggest that to them.”
The examples mount up. Stateside an Irish accent is Irish, a Scottish one is Scottish but any other is simply British. Another American friend of a friend amazingly asked me to distinguish between England and London.
But the more I think about it, the more it seems like it’s not only their problem. How many tennis commentators have called Andy Murray English? How many of us accurately know how to use all of the different geographical terms for our islands? How many of us, in complete honesty, could have satisfactorily answered the question “How does Wales work?”?
Clearly what we need is to simplify. From now on, I propose that we have just one word for all geographical indicators on these islands. Clearly ‘Britain’ won’t work – our friends across the Irish Sea would have some very justified objections. So let’s go with ‘Brierland’. We will all become ‘Brirish’, and if anyone across the pond asks us where we are from that is what we shall tell them.
The face of the country could even be friendly Richard Briers of Good Life fame, and who can object to that?