Weird History
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The Dumbest Things Pop Culture Has Us Believe About The British

February 22, 2021 1.1k votes 116 voters 5.0k views14 items

List RulesVote up the tropes about the British you've seen the most.

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.

  • If They Have A Pulse, They Are Drinking 'A Spot Of Tea'
    Photo: Ted Lasso / Apple TV+

    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.

    But tea isn't the only hot, caffeinated drink that Britons sip. The country has long had a robust coffee culture that has only grown more popular in the last 20 years.

    Notable Offenders: Ted LassoCall the MidwifeDunkirkDoctor WhoAll Creatures Great and Small

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  • Brits Undoubtedly Have Terrible Dental Hygiene
    Photo: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery / New Line Cinema

    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 PowersThe Simpsons

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  • No Matter Where A Wealthy Family May Live, Their Butler Will Always Be British
    Photo: The Dark Knight / Warner Bros. Pictures

    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 6The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 

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  • The Country Is Filled With Overly Stuffy And Emotionally Conservative People
    Photo: Notting Hill / Universal Pictures

    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 HillDunkirkThe King's Speech; every James Bond installment

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