The past year has been an exceptional one for British heritage. We’ve had a Royal Wedding, that was shown to the rest of the world what England is all about when it comes to celebrating a day off work. After all, the average Brit works 1,647 hours annually [BBC News, May 2012] and a Bank Holiday is always fully taken advantage of (even with our stereotypical Bank Holiday rain). We have also celebrated The Queen’s Jubilee earlier this year, once again showing the rest of the world a true British celebration. We were also rooting for England during the Euro 2012 football tournament. Boats on the Thames and Union Jack designs on almost everything in sight, anyone would think we’re sick of it all! Until, the Opening Ceremony last week for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. However, is it just when we’re celebrating to the rest of the world that we suddenly become a country of red, white and blue?
As the world watched the Opening Ceremony, we were told a story about Great Britain’s history, from English Renaissance, a quote from Shakespeare’s: ‘The Tempest‘, onto the Industrial Revolution, where we were transformed to a scene that looked like something from a Dickens novel. We were shown tributes to James Bond, The Queen, The Suffragettes, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the NHS, Harry Potter, Mr Bean, and references were made to the British film and music industries. You could argue that there was something there for everyone, and foreigners to Britain wouldn’t feel alienated. Danny Boyle, the director of the Ceremony, said himself: ‘I’m proud to be British.’
Dhruv Rupapara, a 21 year-old international student from Gujarat, India, was involved in the ceremony itself as one of the dancers celebrating the music of Britain. He says: ‘The Olympics is a huge thing. During rehearsals I have never seen the British so excited about anything. The British are known for being shy and quiet, but it was the exact opposite at rehearsals. Even people who were there just to guide people to the toilets were excited! I have spent eighteen years of my life in India, and only three in England. I have achieved more in these last three years than the eighteen in India. This is where I have found myself. My friends in America said that the Beijing Opening Ceremony was good, but this one was soulful and touched people’s hearts.’
However, according to news website www.usatoday.com, Spanish visitors Marcyle Garavito and Yiceth Monterrosa didn’t understand the meaning behind the ceremony: ‘We don’t understand anything, because it’s all about England. And it should be international.’ The only thing they understood was the Mr Bean reference. Having said that, I’m sure they were in the minority. Twitter and Facebook exploded with people discussing the ceremony all throughout the evening. Dhruv says: ‘British culture is world famous; I doubt many people didn’t understand it. It is not complicated like many Asian cultures. It is simple and fun. The whole idea was to show off Britain to the rest of the world.’ The New York Times described the “hilariously quirky” celebration as a “noisy, busy, witty, dizzying production”. [www.london24.com]
When asked if British people were patriotic normally (i.e. when not celebrating something), Dhruv says: ‘British people so come across as patriotic. They’re not as patriotic as some other nationals, but that’s because they’ve never had to fight for their freedom. But they are quite sensible and know themselves well. They know what they want and how to achieve it. That’s where the sense of being British lies.’
The opening ceremony certainly did bring British people together through understanding and ‘in-jokes’ that could be shared with the rest of the world. We only had £27 million to spend on it, when Beijing nearly had three times as much to spend on theirs, but ours did have meaning and wit to it that didn’t need too much razzle-dazzle. A reader of the Metro online website commented: ‘ It showed humour and free spirit, not some overworked perfectly choreographed robot like performance.’
This year has certainly so far been an incredibly British year. Celebrations are designed to bring people together in a joyful and happy way, and there is definitely a feeling within Britain that we have been doing just that. We are truly supportive of you, Team GB!