I currently live in what is arguably the Sport Capital of England. When there are cup finals, derbies or internationals staged in the city, Manchester does become gridlocked and shuts down for a few hours… But that happens just a few times a year. In Wales, every single time Wales plays an international rugby game the whole country stops. It’s generally accepted that everyone will be watching it; men, women, children, even the gays! Players are as famous as the highest-paid Premier League footballers, it is simply not acceptable to claim ignorance of the minute-by-minute scores and the climax The Six Nations is the biggest social event of the year. For everyone. No exceptions. While one half of the country is glued to their TVs, the other half is in the pub watching it there. And it’s not an accident that when the Millennium Stadium was built in Cardiff, they plonked it right in the middle of the city, because while Cardiff is the hub of Wales, the Stadium is the hub of Cardiff. It’s basically a cathedral for patriotism and national identity. Does England treat Wembley like that? Nooo.
On nights out in England (straight nights out, that is), if you hear Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer or Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the drunk straight boys shout along with the track and they hug and tussle about being all manly, chanting along to these international anthems. In Wales, play Bartender And The Thief or Dakota and exactly the same thing happens. The Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia; the Welsh Britpop bands are revered in Wales as much as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones are in England. A Welsh band is automatically popular in Wales, not necessarily because they’re any good, but because they’re Welsh. Remember Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? Well no, of course you don’t, but in Wales people still pretend they’re popular.
It sounds ridiculous to say, but there are genuinely less daffodils in England. Each February to April, daffodils still grow by the roadside and in hedgerows in England, but what they don’t do here is plant them in every plant-box, on every roundabout, in every available plot of bare earth imaginable because, believe it or not, there ARE other flowers that bloom in spring. Not that I dislike it – I love the fact that for two months there are little flashes of yellow everywhere you go reminding you of your national emblem, but *gasp* I actually like tulips too. And crocuses. And snowdrops.
There’s national pride here, certainly, but it’s for being British rather than English per se. Travelling to Wales and Scotland is just like travelling to any other part of the country and the Welsh are treated the same as English people, but with an unusual accent. However, it’s quite the opposite if you look at it from the Welsh perspective. Whether it’s a “small-nation mentality” or an ongoing centuries-old resentment for being a conquered country, the Welsh actively dislike their association with England. They understand their natural association with it by proximity, their reliance on it due to hundreds’ of years of London-centric government, but do they feel loyalty to the United Kingdom over their loyalty to Wales? Not one iota. And because they reluctantly accept the status quo, Welsh patriotism is incredibly widespread, with Welsh flags flying from every lamppost and a reliance on the aforementioned rugby games to give the Welsh the possibility of a battle-like tribal chance at beating the English for once.
There is a general understanding now that a “cwtch” is a cuddle… But there isn’t really a proper English translation of the word. It’s a cuddle, but more of a snuggle, not quite a spoon, not as big as a hug… It’s a cwtch. And if you say you’re “tamping”, it’s more than just being cross, not quite furious, kind of like you’re fuming, but being more vocal about it… Like all other parts of the UK, there are vast colloquial differences in words and dialect, but I wasn’t aware these words weren’t actually English until I moved here. And try and explain to someone what “cift” means and they look at you like you’re really peculiar.
“So it’s a poetry contest?” “Well kinda, but it’s more than that. It’s more of a multi-discipline cultural event.” “But it’s a competition?” “Umm… Only part of it is, the rest is like a showcase. And then they dress up in robes at the end. And then they “chair” the best poet by sitting him on a throne. And it’s lead by druids.”
I may be from Wales, but I’ve not got a Welsh accent. There’s a slight lilt that pops through now and again when excited/angry/drunk, but otherwise I sound very Southern English. Growing up, this made life very awkward for me, frequently branded as “posh” or “English” and receiving a hostile reception as a result. The majority of people in Wales have Welsh accents, and while there is a difference in sound between north and south, they’re pretty similar. In England, you travel fifteen miles up the road and there are vastly noticeable differences in accent and dialect, so now that we live in a country in which no-one thinks twice about commuting, moving and living hundreds of miles from home, accents are just indicative of where people came from, not where they belong. Once again it’s down to patriotism, but Wales can be quite xenophobic still; not racist though, they accept all colours and creeds, just not the English.
Just as the Welsh adore Welsh bands solely for being Welsh, so too are they proud of any Welsh celebrities, regardless of what they’re famous for. Catherine Zeta Jones may well be an internationally known and relatively highly regarded Hollywood actress, but she isn’t (and never has been) a Julia Roberts or an Angelina Jolie. Talk to a Welsh person and she’s Marilyn Monroe. Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson were like the Welsh Posh and Becks, Tom Jones is basically Jesus. This inflated worth of the Welsh “national treasures” is again enormously inflated by patriotism, because who really cares that two of Hear’say plus Lisa Scott Lee are Welsh? And Duffy? As big as Adele. And heaven forbid that you forget that Aneurin Bevan (HE WAS A WELSHMAN) invented the NHS!
More people celebrate St Patrick’s Day in England than they do their own national saint, but if you make any attempt to celebrate St David’s Day here, you get looked at like you’re a loon. I make an effort every year to whip up some Welsh food, bara brith or cawl or welshcakes, but back in Wales, St David’s Day is a BIG deal. It’s a day for everyone to go out and celebrate the aforementioned patriotism, and schools, clubs and organisations up and down the country stage eisteddfods, rugby matches and parties to celebrate our Welshness. It may not be a national holiday, but if you arrived at work without a daffodil or leek or some Welsh symbol pinned to your chest on 1st March, you’re a social pariah. And well done Marie Curie Cancer Care for ensuring that your donation pin-badges are little daffodils, because if you make them readily available in the week beforehand, everyone will donate.
In Sex And The City, New York is revered, idolised and treated like the fifth character in the show. Torchwood could really have been filmed anywhere. Yes Doctor Who is one of the UK’s favourite TV shows, but because it’s a tongue-in-cheek vastly OTT sci-fi romp, it whizzes backwards and forwards through time, let alone locations, making you easily forget that the bulk of its exteriors are filmed in and around Cardiff. Yet the Welsh feel like this enormous claim to fame is somehow tantamount to the Austrian setting of The Sound Of Music, or the deserts of Lawrence Of Arabia. Once the TV series eventually ends, not a single English person is going to visit Cardiff and think “Oh yes, I remember that from Doctor Who!” Sorry!
All of this being said, patriotism and xenophobia aside, I am tremendously proud of my Welsh roots. Even though I don’t imagine I would ever go back to live in the motherland, I am patriotic myself and try keep traditions and my heritage alive when I can. The differences between England and Wales are minute really – we’re the same people but living under different national identities and as time goes by I do believe those cultural boundaries are decreasing. Devolution and self-governance has gone some way to assist this, but Wales really is a modern and progressive country. Cardiff is a well-run and well-operated capital and national pride does all the more to improve what they already have. While the whole of the UK has suffered through the recession and smaller satellite towns have become mere shades of their former selves as the big cities now dominate trade, employment and retail, Wales’ pride in itself as a whole has gone a long way in slowing this down. Even in its furthest flung corners, Wales has remained open for business, while the same cannot be said for many places in England.