What people really want to know about Britain, part twenty-something

What search engine questions has Lord Google sent my way lately? Why, how convenient that you should ask. We have, right here before us, the best of them, along with my answers, since I can explain everything.

That’s not to say I can explain it all correctly, but an explanation’s an explanation, as any politician who’s faced an interviewer can tell you. And everything is everything. And circular answers are useful, as Theresa May discovered when she so helpfully explained, as prime minister, that Brexit means Brexit.

It meant nothing and explained nothing, but we can all admit it was an answer.

No egos were bruised–I hope–in the making of this post. Let’s not kid ourselves that the people who drifted here in the wake of these questions fell in love with Notes and stuck around. They came, they saw, they drifted on, and they washed up on some other internet shore.


Irrelevant photo: A flower. One I don’t know the name of.

British History

who is berwick at war with

It’s at war with rumor and commonly held belief, which formed an  alliance years ago, leaving  poor old Berwick fighting on two poorly defined fronts. 

Or maybe I have that back to front and rumor and commonly held belief are Berwick’s allies. That would mean reality’s the enemy. It’s hard to tell in this post-truth era.

Either way, Berwick isn’t (at least in the reality I inhabit) at war with anyone, but judging from the flow of search engine questions about who it is at war with, we’ll never convince the world of that. 

why couldnt the normans hunt in the forest

They could. 

But of course it’s not that simple.

After the Normans invaded England, they seized about a third of the country, announced that it was theirs, and restricted hunting on it. Poaching (which is hunting where you’re not supposed to–in other words, on someone else’s land) became, for a long time, the kind of crime that could get you mutilated or killed. Since it was overwhelmingly the Normans and their descendants who owned the land or could pay for the privilege of hunting on it, let’s keep things simple and say that the Normans could hunt in the forest.

list the efects of the enclosure movement 

I got two copies of this question. I didn’t notice whether they both had the same typo, but my best guess is that someone was doing their homework on the enclosure movement. Sorry, kid, go write your own paper. It’s a complicated process, but basically you find a source of information, you make a few notes, you–

No, I shouldn’t take anything for granted. You find that source of information–preferably a reliable one, because there’s a lot of nut stuff out there. Then you read it. All by yourself. And you write down a few things that belong on the list you were asked to create. 

See? That wasn’t too hard, was it?

I despair.

why is england called britain

For the same reason that a salad is called lettuce, even if it has tomatoes, red cabbage, and one lonely black olive. In other words, because people focus on one of the ingredients and snub the others. 

Olives have feelings too, you know.

In fairness, England has always been the dominant bit of the salad–and that might [sorry, we’re stepping outside of the metaphor for a second here] come back to bite it soon. Scotland shows all the signs of feeling like an olive lately. Which would make Wales and Northern Ireland the tomato and red cabbage, and I understand that I haven’t given them their due in my answer. That’s an ongoing historical problem with the British salad. I also understand that the metaphor’s breaking down and that it’s time for me to get out while I can.

why was suffragists not a turning point in the ‘votes for women’ campaign.

Who says it weren’t?


So what’s Britain really like?

has england incorporated the metric system

You had to ask, didn’t you? If the whole let’s-not-go-metric campaign starts up again, I’ll know who to  blame. But yes, it has, mostly. With some exceptions, the most noticeable of which involve highway miles and the pint glasses used in pubs.

pre metric measurements

Pre-metric measurements are the bests argument for no country ever abandoning the metric system. 

informal judge wig

When my partner and I went to court to convince the British government not to toss us out of the country, we were told that the hearing was informal. The definition of informal–or at least the part of it that I understood–was that the judge didn’t wear a wig.

Hope that helps.

why did they used to make a guy at guyfawkes and sit in the street

To get money for fireworks.

I know, that only makes sense if you already understand the answer, so I’ll explain. Guy Fawkes and some friends tried to blow up Parliament. It was over religious issues, which were also political issues, and it must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time. They got caught before anything went ka-blooey, and every year on November 5 the country marks the occasion with bonfires and by burning a pretend version of Guy, now demoted to simply “the guy”–an effigy, sometimes of a very generic human being and sometimes an elaborate one of whatever political figure seems to need burning in effigy at the moment.  

Back in the day, kids hung out on the streets and asked passers-by to give them a penny for the guy. Then–or so my friend tells me–they’d buy fireworks with however much they had.

Parliament also marks the occasion by a thorough and ceremonious search of the cellars where Guy and his fireworks were hiding. Even though the cellars don’t exist anymore. Because it’s not right to let reality get in the way of a good tradition. 


Food and drink

what they call a can of beer in england

An American import? I don’t think they sell much canned beer here. It’s bottled or it’s on tap. I trust someone will correct me if I’m wrong here.

But where auxiliary verb go?

why do we eat red cabbage at xmas

Oooh, do we? I thought we (a category that excludes me, but never mind that) ate brussels sprouts at Christmas. 

when did brussel sprouts first come to the uk

Before the Home Office was created. The Home Office’s task is to defend Britain’s borders and deport people who (oops) often have every right to remain, destroying both their lives and Britain’s reputation. The Home Office would’ve taken one look at sprouts and sent back to their point of origin as undesirables. And what tradition would we be baffled by if we didn’t have them?

what do britiah call brownies


What do Britiah call themselves?


What do Britiah call definite article?


pandemic takeaway food success stories

for the most part, and we should grab our success stories where we can. I expect there are some of these, but I can’t say I know any. 

Stick with me, kids. I know how to do depressing. 


Inexplicable questions

however, _______________, i am going to spend most of the time today talking about why britain _____

I spent a fair bit of time filling in the blanks, convinced I could do something wondrous with this. I didn’t manage to make myself smile, never mind laugh. Gold stars to whoever can.

I have no idea why anyone would type this into a search engine, but if you’ve got nothing better to do I guess it would be interesting.

66 thoughts on “What people really want to know about Britain, part twenty-something

  1. Love this. This is so joyous. What a world we live in. How nice to have little glimpses of other lives, snatches of a brain thought, sent over wire cables, to your esteemed internet door. I had no idea Parliament does a ceremonious search of the non-existent cellars, that’s so hilarious. I knew about the asking for a penny for the Guy thing from Enid Blyton books when I was younger. Mind you, I had no idea who ‘Guy’ was but still appreciated the idea of getting pennies for fireworks just because a ‘Guy’ wanted them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And isn’t it wonderful how things translate in a kid’s head? As a kid with zero religious background, I loved the carol with the line “round yon virgin mother and child.” I also had zero idea what a virgin was, although mother at least I understood. I decided the mother and child were around a fire. I half remember adding a few more people so they’d have enough people be be fully around the fire.

      Searching nonexistent cellars is, somehow, so very British. If it’s tradition, it’s tradition.

      Liked by 2 people

    • 1. Thanks. Someone gave us a bunch of these when Ida was sick. They lasted for almost two weeks.

      2. You could be right. That’s frightening.

      I’m not getting as many search engine questions as I used to. I have no idea what that means. Have the algorithms changed? Am I not doing something I used to do? Does Lord G. not love me anymore? I have no idea what the answers are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that sentence beginning ‘however’ was someone starting to type an email not having notoiced his or her cursor was in the search bar. Happens to me all the time. Usually accompanied by curses when I discover what I’ve done.
    Thanks for a New Year chuckle, Ellen. Hope you and Ida have a great year. Canned beer is okay so long as it has a widget. I know you will have fun looking that up.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. However, Boris, I am going to spend most of the time today explaining why Britain shouldn’t have left the EU.

    Too soon?

    If I partook of alcohol I’d be consoling myself with a widely available can of beer right now…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As far as I’m concerned, England can have all the beer America puts in cans.

    “But where auxiliary verb go?” I love that.

    I can’t help you with both spaces, but how about “since I am sick of hearing about Covid and the US elections,” for the first blank.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As I understand it, Berwick is at war with Brunswick for the honor of being able to claim the right to be the home of Wickans. I don’t think they’re fighting physically as much as “who has the best henge” thing. Either that or it has something to do with bowling. Bit confusing unless you’re a Wickan.

    Liked by 1 person

            • Sorry, friend, but at the point where people start talking about pc as if it was a real thing, I lose my sense of humor. It’s one of the great inventions of the culture wars (speaking of wars that don’t entirely exist). The left used it for about ten minutes, and at least within my hearing never entirely seriously. After that, it became an all-purpose way to caricature and dismiss opinions that pissed someone off.

              Like I said, I do lose my sense of humor over it. Apologies.


              • I’m not talking about the UK but the US–it had a brief moment in the US, and at least where I heard it never seriously, then it became a term of attack–a way to dismiss a person or a point they were making. In the UK, it’s still used as an all-purpose dismissal, but not as much as in the US, I think.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Here it’s used to describe any attempt to change the way people talk, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. For example, where I’m at there is a big push to rename anything with the word “squaw” in it because it’s deemed offensive to the Native Americans. The reason I say “makes sense or not” is that in the local NA language it simple means “woman”, the local tribes don’t consider it an offense at all, and aren’t the ones pushing for the changes. However, in western tribes it takes on a whole different meaning, because it is offensive there the “PC” police (if you will) deem that it has to be eradicated everywhere.

                Liked by 1 person

              • If what you’re saying is correct, it says the situation’s complicated, not that the effort to change the way language is used is absurd.
                Etymology Online backs up your definition in the Algonquin language, but also says that over the years the word took on a derogatory meaning. https://www.etymonline.com/word/squaw

                I don’t expect everyone who tries to change the language to be pure of either heart or brain. People do silly things and make silly arguments. I haven’t heard ’em all but I sure as hell feel like I have. When I was still working as an editor, someone tried to convince me that we needed to capitalize woman as a way to fight sexism. I told her it was a nice try and we weren’t going to. But that doesn’t mean that I throw out all efforts to change the language. Our languages are both shaped by how we think and in turn shape our thinking, so listening to it and changing it matters. Words–especially around race–that were once accepted are now deeply marginalized, and should be. Neither of us needs examples. But let’s take one that’s less obvious–talking about women as girls. Underneath that is the belief that women’s value lies in youth and beauty. We can’t afford to age. And under that? Woman as decoration. Woman as sexual object. Woman as dependent, because she can’t earn her own way. Woman needing to attract and man and marry if she’s to have any sort of life.

                To which I can only say, in the most decorously feminine way, fuck that. It’s language that needs to change, as do the social, cultural, sexual, and economic relationships underneath the language.

                Many people, I think, haven’t seem below the surface of the language, though.

                Liked by 1 person

              • I would, sort of, agree with you, but I don’t see changing the language as solving the problem. What we need to work on is changing people’s thoughts and actions, eradicating the use of one word will simply find it replaced with another.

                During my 6+ decades on this planet I’ve seen the language used to reference dark-skinned people in America (can I get anymore vague?) change from the offensive “n-word” (can’t even print it anymore as part of discussion) – even period books (Huck Finn, etc.) with the word in it have been banned in places) to black, then colored, now African-American. With the exception of the “n” term, none were initially considered offensive, until somebody started to consider them offensive. Now we enter into a new offensive with the A-A term, where dark-skinned people from the Bahama region (Puerto Rico, Jamaca, Hatian, etc.) take offense at being called A-A’s.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Changing the language by itself doesn’t change society, but it is a part of the effort, and one that annoys people who aren’t being pinched by the words they’re pushing to change. I feel the annoyance myself sometimes when a word that I’m in the habit of using suddenly (from where I sit it seems sudden, anyway) becomes a bad fit. To which I and the world at large can only say, “Tough shit, kid. Live with it.”

                Again, it doesn’t change the world, but it does draw our attention–or the attention of those of us who are willing to pay attention–to the need for change. Silly people on all sides will, inevitably, look no further than the struggle over words. People who look deeper will see it in a context.

                Liked by 1 person

  6. In the spirit of upsetting people… When you understand the difference between Britain, Great Britain, The United Kingdom, The British Isles and why Northern Ireland is technically different to Wales, Scotland, England, then you have mastered the fundamentals of these isles. Which is more than the vast majority of its inhabitants in my humble opinion. For all their inward looking, the English rarely question what their and their neighbours’ countries are called. Love reading your view of this place.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The canned versus bottled beer debate is a very British pastime and popular in pubs where we used to be able to go and drink proper draught beer (real ale) – so it didn’t really matter on the outcome. Unfortunately now I have to choose and my vote is for sexy British and European bottles with silly names.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since I don’t drink anymore, I don’t have an opinion on the beer itself, but I do like the names. Locally, we’ve got Doom Bar, named after a local sandbar that’s claimed a lot of ships. There’s something distinctly odd about cheerfully drinking a beer named after a killer sandbar.


      • Funnily enough, Doom Bar is one of my favourites. The marketing people are coming up with some great names. I’m working my way through some English Christmas craft beers, including Ridgeway Brewery’s ‘Reindeer’s Revolt’. Brew York introduced a Christmas American pale ale called ‘Holding Back the Tiers’. It’s meant to remind us of more normal times before lockdowns.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have a picture of people succumbing, after a few bottles, to floods of tiers at the thought of normal times. It touches a little too close to home.

          Reindeer’s Revolt, on the other hand, sound tear free and wonderful.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. There is a town (and a township) named Brunswick north of us. But the Wickans (they call ’em “Wickians” here) are not Wiccans,, who would be more polite, just in my experience.

    Your questions reminded me of grading sixth graders essay answers…even when I knew the question I wasn’t always sure…One of my all time favorites was the student who descried the steps of The Water Cycle as Evaporation, Constipation, and Precipitation. Hard not to give at least partial credit for that one !
    Hope your New Year is an improvement !

    Liked by 1 person

  9. However, Minister, I am going to spend most of the time today talking about why Britain should be ruled by the Otters from now on.

    They do sell beer in cans, it is called beer, in cans. someone once invented a widget to go in the bottom of these cans to make it go frothish and come out with a head. This might have been mostly Boddingtons, I can’t remember. I think it might be a northern thing. Heads on beer are definitely northern. Lager comes in cans more often too and gets referred to as beer by people who don’t care about the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

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