Feeding habits also differ …Even when cultures use a utensil such as a fork, one can distinguish a European from an American by which hand holds the implement”.
However , as it has been mentioned before , societies change over time and food and eating habits are not an exception .If we compare traditional English food to what the majority of the population (residents of big cities in particular) eat now the changes will be dramatic .
If we ask middle-aged English learners (we refer teachers of English to this group as learning a foreign language is a life-long process) what textbook was extremely popular in the 60ies, 70ies and even the 80ies of the previous century, many of them are likely to name Essential English by C.E. Eckersley .At that time it was the most relevant (reliable) source of information. According to the book “the usual meals are breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner or in simpler homes, breakfast, dinner, tea and supper. The usual English breakfast is porridge or Corn Flakes with milk or cream and sugar, bacon and eggs, marmalade (made from oranges) with buttered toast, and tea and coffee. For a change you can have a boiled egg, cold ham, or perhaps fish”.
In fact, only about 10% of the people in Britain actually have this sort of breakfast. Even those who do eat cereal instead of Corn Flakes and a fry-up instead of bacon and eggs, a fry-up being a mixture of such ingredients as eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms and even bread fried together. Two-thirds of the British have cut out the fry-up and just have the cereal, tea and toast. The rest have even less. What the majority of British people eat in the mornings is much closer to what they call a “continental” or European breakfast than to the British one.
The image of a British gentleman eating an underdone beef steak is also out of date. Since most people have afternoon meals at work they have to do with what the nearest eating place offers. James ODriscoll mentions two types of eating places used during the day, both of which are comparatively cheap. One is a workmans caf (pronounced caff) frequented by manual workers who want a filling or substantial meal. It offers mostly fried food. The other popular place is a fast food outlet. Surprisingly as it may seem fast food outlets are now more common in Britain than they are in most other countries. Although it may contradict the stereotyped idea of British conservatism and hatred of all foreign or American, the popularity of fast food restaurants can be explained sociologically. They have no class associations and as a result are visited by people of various backgrounds.
The only eating place which can still be called typically English and can hardly be found anywhere else is the fish-andchips shop, used in the evening for “take-away” meals. The fish is deep fried which contradicts another stereotype that the British eat everything boiled. In fact typical British cooking involves a lot of roasting.
Healthy lifestyle obsession which seized thousands of British people in recent years has made many of them vegetarians or even vegans. Their diet does not include such typically British foods as beef, mutton, bacon or eggs. James ODriscoll write, “There are quite a large number of vegetarians in Britain and an even larger number who are aware of the implications for their health of what they eat.” Health food shops are as abundant in the countrys high streets as delicatessens. In spite of their reputation British people are more tolerant and more open to new experiences including the cuisines of other countries. In the 1960ies the first British tourists in Spain not only insisted on eating (traditionally British) fish and chips but also on having them, as was traditional, wrapped up in specially imported British newspaper. By now, however, the countrys supermarket shelves are full of the spices and souces needed for cooking dishes from all over the world. There is no town in the country which does not have at least one Indian restaurant and probably a Chinese one too. Larger towns and cities have restaurants representing cuisine from all over the world. It can easily be explained by the increasingly multicultural nature of the population and the cosmopolitan character of such cities as London.
All the above mentioned stereotypes can be referred to as minor and unimportant in comparison to the stereotyped image of the British as the greatest tea drinkers in the world. May be about 50 years ago this statement (assumption) was true. It is not accidental that the English language is so rich in idioms related to tea. One can hardly imagine an English man or woman without a cup of strong tea they enjoy sitting by the fire place. However, this may seem a bit out of date. It is true that tea is still prepared in a distinctive way (strong and with milk), but more coffee than tea is now bought in the countrys shops. As for the tradition of afternoon tea with biscuits, scones, sandwiches or cake, this is a minority activity, largely confined to retired people and the leisured upper-middle class.
More people have “elevences” rather than five oclock tea. Elevences is a cup of tea or coffee at around eleven oclock. In fact, people drink tea or coffee whenever they feel like it. This is usually quite often.
For the urban working class (and a wider section of the population in Scotland and Ireland) tea is the evening meal, eaten as soon as people get home from work. More often than not this is called supper.
Although modern Brits are not the worlds biggest tea drinkers, they take the first place in the world in consuming sugar- more than five kilograms per person per year. It is common in most households for family meal to finish with a prepared sweet dish which is called either “pudding” or “sweet” or “desert”. Sugar is also present in almost every tinned food item and sweets which means both all kinds of chocolate and also what Americans call “candy”.
Our research would be incomplete if we didnt mention a pub, one of the strongholds of British traditions, but even this has yielded (surrendered) to the time. Traditionally pubs used to serve almost nothing but beer and spirits. These days you can get wine, coffee and some hot food at most of them as well. While in1980 food accounted for only 10 per cent of profits now it accounts for more than 30 per cent.
At one time, it was unusual for women to go to the pubs. These days, only a few pubs exist where it is surprising for a woman to walk in.
Even beer served in modern pubs is not what it used to be. Since most pubs are not privately owned and belong to huge breweries they offer their customers what is known as keg beer, a pasteurized brew containing Carbon dioxide, which is easier to store . Another threat to pub quality is the noise of loud music making conversation harder with a counterfeit atmosphere of conviviality.
It has become a commonplace to say that studying a foreign language is impossible without studying a foreign culture. Although food and clothing peculiarities we have examined in our research may seem unimportant at first sight their significance cant be underestimated. A lot of people still fail to understand that cultural differences arise out of the specific development of each country and tend to assume that the manners, customs and habits of their own country represent more or less absolute norms. When they hear, or discover for themselves, that people in other countries act and think differently, they assume that this is odd, unnatural or even abnormal. Then its only a small step to regarding their own nation superior to all others. When these people leave their home country for another one “culture shock” is the merest problem they are destined to face.
Civil society is based on four crucial notions: diversity, tolerance, respect, and consensus. Without an awareness of diversity and tolerance it is difficult to develop respect. Without respect it is impossible to achieve consensus. It is our hope that the present research gives an opportunity to go beyond stereotyped images, to examine the more complex realities of modern Britain and its people. It also attempts to assess the changes taking place in modern Britain, at least, in some areas of activity. Consequently it may be viewed as our contribution to the development of modern multicultural multi polar society.
List of Literature
1.Adrian Room, An A to Z of British Life, Oxford University Press,1990
2.Ford Martyn, Legon Peter, The How to be British collection, Lee Gone Publications, 2007
3.McDowall David, Britain in close-up , Longman, Person Education Limited 1999
4.ODriscoll James, Britain, Oxford University Press , 1995
5.Polhemus Ted, Street style: From walk to Catwalk, Thames and Hudson
6. Silk Paul, How Parliament works, Longman 1987
7. Sampson, Anthony , The Essential Anotony of Britain : Democracy in Crisis , Hodolerand Stoughton 1992.