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Welsh Nationalism, Society, Chicks and Beer: My First Impressions of Wales

Hey hey, this is an email of observations that I wrote when I was tired from notes that I've been jotting down all this time. It was for a class, and is just about Wales and Welsh Culture and what I've been up to and what I've observed...

People's impressions of Welsh nationalism differ greatly. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist Party (we actually met the son of the leader at a Slate museum, and stood next to him in a cutting room), is in existence, and a new Welsh Assembly has been started; however, the Nationalist party is not actively seeking secession, but seems to be rather advocating the equality of the Welsh Language in all facets of life, as well as the preservation of Welsh history and culture. Welsh in Wales has an equal legal standing with English, and one has the right to operate in governmental areas entirely in Welsh. As in any country, there are differences between regions, in dialect, stereotypes, etc. Cardiff is the main city, and the stereotype is that kids from Cardiff are more "urban" and act in more urban ways, speaking in slang more, etc. Few other major cities exist as Americans would know them; what are called cities would be more accurately called Towns in America.

Random observations:
This country is absolutely beautiful.
They eat with their forks upside down in their left hands.
Tea is taken with cream and sugar.
The fact that my host family had "plenty of water" was stressed for some reason.
Dressers with lots of china are a big part of Welsh homes.
Computers are becoming more important to people.
First-year students basically drink, all day, every day, and seem to have trouble doing anything else.
Rarely are parties thrown in people's houses, apparently; clubs are the preferred drinking/dancing places.
No real fraternities.
Cultural fairs are important to Welsh; they are usually conducted in Welsh, and consist of all arts.
Winners are given a lot of respect.

Welsh home interactions are very different from the States. For one, the mother is usually the one to do all cooking, cleaning, and any other assorted housework that there is, and rarely imposes upon others to do it. When dinner is finished, the sons will usually get up and go watch television, leaving the mother to clear the table. However, with this, they seem to be more subservient to their mother in certain respects. It is hard to explain, but it is as if, when a Welsh mother asks their child to do something, there is not as much argument against doing it as you might find in America.

Another difference: when we went to a house up in Northern Wales, Lindsay, the girl on the trip, was shown around the kitchen so that, should Rhodri or I need anything, she would be able to get it or make it for us. She was told to clear our places and bring us things such as toast or tea, and Rhodri and I were told to stay where we were if we offered to help.

What you really wanted to know:

The club and pub scene here is very interesting. For the most part, when people go to pubs in the middle of the day for a drink, it is purely social. Even at night, in pubs and clubs, some people will get drunk, but it is not because they want to be drunk, but because it is the natural thing to do. The lower drinking age in this country is often accompanied by underage drinking as young as 16, which is usual among the children here. However, parents do not mind it as much as they do in the states. It is normal for kids to go out drinking with their mates, and the clubs are filled with a wide range of ages. Clubs usually have bars and dance floors and djs, and in this way are similar to clubs in the US. However, a different attitude and energy exist among the people. In the US, it seems as if the clubs exist to allow people to drink a lot, dance a little, and maybe meet someone for a one-night stand. In the clubs here, it is similar, but people don't put as much of an emphasis on hooking up as on bonding with the people that you already know and seeing old friends.

The impressions that Welsh people have of Americans is odd. On the one hand, they seem to have a great deal of respect for our industriousness, enthusiasm, ability to innovate and invent, and in general for the things which we often tout in commercials as being classic American traits. However, they also do not like Americans as a whole for our loudness, our pushiness/assertiveness, our nationalism, and our stereotypical succeed-at-all-costs attitude; this dislike is usually the most public and prevalent attitude. However much they may dislike us as a group, on an individual level, they are very warm and friendly.

Many of these attitudes were made clear at a TV shooting that I was asked to go to (I played an "American"). The show was a candid-camera type show that placed famous Welsh people in strange situations and recorded their reactions. The premise was that we were at a wedding, where a Welsh person and an American were to be married. Thus, the audience was supposed to be composed of both Welsh and American people. The main action was controlled by an Master of Ceremonies that was a Welsh man playing an American trying to pretend he was Welsh. He was stereotypical: his accent was a strange Texan/regular American accent, and he was speaking Welsh with an American accent. He drank too much, ate the meat from the hamburger (but not the bun), served cake with his hands, burped, and forced the Audience to sing the National Anthem before the celebrity came. The person who was supposed to be filmed secretly was a famous Welsh folk singer named Heather Jones. She sang almost all of her songs in Welsh, after which we were supposed to give a big "American Hand" to her. After one of the songs, the Audience sang, "I want to live in America," as in West Side Story. When the two countries were compared, Wales was said to have, "some pretty big bottles of Vinegar. But I'm sure that if we cared about looking, America has just as big bottles, if (burp) not bigger. Probably bigger." This type of conduct is what the Welsh seem to associate with Americans, and, even if not entirely true, is what we have to deal with.

Cheers, Hoyl, etc.