The English Way – Photos by Martin Parr, Text by Kate Fox
A Nation of Closet Patriots
Looking at these patriotic images, what strikes me immediately is how unusual they are. To capture them, Martin must have waited patiently—like a wildlife photographer hoping for some shy nocturnal creature to emerge—as patriotic displays like this are a rare sight among the English. Only a tiny minority of us ever indulge in such public displays of national pride, and even this minority only do so on very special occasions.
In fact, it is often said that the English suffer from a lack of patriotic feeling. And there is some evidence to support this claim: English people, on average, rate their degree of patriotism at just 5.8 out of 10, according to a European survey, far below the self-rated patriotism of the Scots, Welsh, and Irish, and the lowest of all the European nations. Our national day, Saint George’s Day, is on April 23, but surveys regularly show that at least two-thirds of us are completely unaware of this occasion. Can you imagine a similar number of Americans being oblivious to the Fourth of July, or Irish people ignoring St. Patrick’s Day?
Based on my ethnographic research, however, I had a hunch that our reluctance to engage in public patriotic displays may be related to what I would call “hidden rules of Englishness,” rather than an absence of national pride. So I conducted my own national survey, just before Saint George’s Day, asking what I felt were more subtle questions about patriotic feelings. The results confirmed my impression that we are actually a nation of “closet patriots.”
My findings showed that the vast majority (83 percent) of English people feel at least some sense of patriotic pride: 22 percent “always,” 23 percent “often,” and 38 percent at least “sometimes” feel proud to be English.