A recent survey carried out by IPSOS Mori on behalf of the British Council may go some way to explain the UK’s failure to complete the metric changeover.
“The UK is full of heavy drinkers with bad eating habits who are ignorant, intolerant and too nationalistic – so it’s just as well that they are also very polite.”
It might sound like a stereotypical list of national traits, but these are the views of more than 5,000 young adults from five different countries who were asked to give their opinion on modern Britain by the British Council.
The report, As Others See Us, published on Tuesday, 29 July, shows that the UK is struggling to overcome certain long-held negative perceptions. Commonly cited negative traits included “too nationalistic”, “ignorant of other cultures” and “intolerant towards people from other countries”.
But it was not all bad. Asked to name British people’s best qualities, 46 per cent mentioned politeness and good manners, and the British sense of humour. In general, perceptions of the UK improved among those who visited the country. John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council commented, “The evidence is that the more we can attract people to actually visit the UK, study here or do business here, the better and more fully they appreciate us. That matters to our future prosperity and standing in the world.”
Overall, the UK fared well for overall attractiveness, finishing second in a list of 15 countries behind only the United States and on an equal footing with Australia, which the report’s authors described as an “excellent ranking”.
The report argues that an “important shift in influence” is taking place globally, making the way in which British citizens are perceived by other countries more important than it used to be. Young Britons should be taught the importance of having an “international outlook”, the report adds.
So there we have it. If these perceptions have a basis in reality, then this may partly explain popular reluctance in Britain to adopt of the metric system, which is fundamentally international and is seen, mistakenly, by many to belong to cultures other than our own.
Needless to say, campaigners for the metric changeover have become accustomed to the polite and good-mannered responses from government which this survey would lead us to expect, even if they normally mean “No”.
The detailed figures from the survey
A total of 5,029 young people, aged 18 to 34, from Brazil, China, Germany, India and the US took part in the survey, which was carried out by pollsters Ipsos MORI via an on-line questionnaire on behalf of the British Council.
The worst of Britain:
Drink too much alcohol (27% thought so)
Bad eating habits (23%)
Too nationalistic (22%)
Ignorant of other cultures (22%)
Intolerant towards people from other countries (20%)
Complain too much (13%)
Too pessimistic (11%)