British stereotypes can be found all over pop culture. But just because British tropes saturate movies and TV shows, that doesn't mean that there is much truth to them. So, where did these tropes come from, and how has pop culture shaped what people believe about Great Britain?
Most tropes - like stereotypes about villains with British accents or other British accent tropes - are just plain wrong. Some, however, may have grown from a kernel of historical truth but no longer reflect reality, like that common trope about British teeth.
But true or false, exaggerated or made up, these ridiculous tropes continue to shape and reflect what people imagine about British society and culture.
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No Matter Where A Wealthy Family May Live, Their Butler Will Always Be British
The Trope: If a family employs a butler, he almost always comes with a British accent.
Why Is It Inaccurate? Butlers have always hailed from a variety of backgrounds - not all butlers are British.
The trope of the British butler harkens back to the age of country-house culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, when elite families employed domestic staffs on their sprawling estates. The status of the British butler was further cemented in the character Jeeves, the iconic valet at the heart of P.G. Wodehouse's stories.
This trope has become so pervasive that it's become fashionable for Chinese and Russian elites to hire British butlers.
Notable Offenders: Mr. Belvedere; Batman comics and films; Big Hero 6; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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If They Have A Pulse, They Are Drinking 'A Spot Of Tea'
The Trope: If characters have to solve a problem, someone always has to put the kettle on to make tea.
Why Is It Inaccurate? Tea has been popular in Great Britain ever since it started to gain traction as a fashionable beverage in the late 17th century, and it's a love story entangled with class and empire. As the BBC reported, Britons indulged in no less than "60 billion cups of tea" in 2016, though the popularity of black tea seems to be waning.
Notable Offenders: Ted Lasso; Call the Midwife; Dunkirk; Doctor Who; All Creatures Great and Small
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Brits Undoubtedly Have Terrible Dental Hygiene
The Trope: If the character is British, then chances are good that their teeth will be in a terrible state.
Why Is It Inaccurate? British teeth have been the butt of jokes for decades. But these jokes are not reflective of what British mouths are like today.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, dental problems were relatively common simply because sugar had become so prevalent in the British diet.
When the National Health Service (NHS) began in 1948, it made healthcare more accessible - including dental care. Millions of Britons took advantage of the new program and flooded into dentist offices around the country. That hasn't really stopped. More Britons regularly see a dentist than their American counterparts.
But dental priorities are a little different in the UK. There's less emphasis on cosmetic dentistry in the UK than in the United States. Britons are content with clean, healthy teeth, rather than perfect ones.
Notable Offenders: Austin Powers; The Simpsons
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The Country Is Filled With Overly Stuffy And Emotionally Conservative People
The Trope: British people have a stiff upper lip, and there is nothing worse than showing any hint of human emotion.
Why Is It Inaccurate? The British are people, too. If you prick them, they bleed. Some of them even have a good cry once every decade or so.
The trope of British reserve is a historical phenomenon, even as the country has self-mythologized its restraint and politeness in contrast to continental emotionality for centuries. This image reached its zenith during WWII, when it fed into the trope of the Blitz spirit, a can-do attitude where everyone kept calm and carried on even though many people who lived through the experience remembered it in considerably darker terms.
In contrast to the image of the stiff upper lip, emotion can be found everywhere in British culture: in the shrieks of teenagers afflicted with Beatlemania in the 1960s, in the bawdy jokes that have been a mainstay of British comedy for centuries, or in the public grief that consumed the nation in the wake of Princess Diana's passing in 1997.
Notable Offenders: Notting Hill; Dunkirk; The King's Speech; every James Bond installment
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British Cuisine Is A Foul Abomination
The Trope: If someone is eating food associated with Great Britain, chances are there will be some joke about how disgusting it looks and tastes.
Why Is It Inaccurate? First of all, what most people think of as "British" food isn't innately British at all. For example, tea came to Britain through networks of empire, and dishes like fish and chips rely on potatoes that originated in the Americas. Immigration in the 20th century has also contributed to varied and more global cuisine. Chicken tikka masala is still unofficially regarded as the "national dish" of the UK.
So where did all the hate come from? Shortages associated with the world wars in the 20th century made British cuisine more serviceable than luxurious. That became a theme picked up again and again by pop culture and global leaders alike. French President Jacques Chirac dismissively quipped, "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad."
Scottish food in particular has gotten a bad rap. Hollywood constantly jokes about how awful haggis is, for instance, or fixates on Scotland's junk food like deep-fried Mars bars. But, far from a culinary hellscape, Scotland has given the world fine whisky, excellent salmon, and delicious shortbread.
In recent decades, Britain has improved its reputation for cuisine on the world stage.
Notable Offenders: Casino Royale; So I Married an Axe Murderer; Highlander; Winning London; Frasier
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British People Can Have One Of Only Two Accents: The Aristocratic Gentleperson Or The Cockney Chimney Sweep
The Trope: British people either sound like they live in Downton Abbey or are a Victorian-era chimney sweep - there is no other option.
Why Is It Inaccurate? Does Ringo Starr's Scouse accent sound anything like Eliza Doolittle's cockney in My Fair Lady? Is Billy Connolly's Glaswegian brogue similar to Prince Charles's posh drawl, Matthew Rhys's Welsh lilt, or the accents on Northern Ireland-set Derry Girls? Nope.
There are dozens of different accents throughout the United Kingdom. After all, it is a nation comprised of many different regions, each with its own history and culture. As linguist Rob Drummond explained to Vice, the history of the nation and its variety of cultural groups has shaped how people speak:
Originally, the UK started off as a Celtic country, and then the Anglo-Saxons came in, over the years Vikings and Normans came in [...] All of these different people brought with them different languages, and gradually these languages started to develop into one that was shared and recognisable. This resulted in different dialects that could be understood by different people, despite the fact they were still influenced by the same language.
Even within these regions, class has also shaped language.
Notable Offenders: Mary Poppins; Mary Poppins Returns; Kingsman: The Secret Service
The stage musical and film My Fair Lady, which looks at speech patterns on a granular scale, is a notable exception to the oversimplification of British accents.