Until about 10,000 years ago, Britain was actually joined with the rest of Europe by land — the sea levels were lower as a result of the Ice Age.
Point o' Guinness — the Irish
The only country to fully share a border with it, Britain has a very good relationship with Ireland (usually). One of the UK's most popular airlines is the no-frills Ryanair, and Guinness is a popular alcoholic drink. The large number of ex-pats helps.
British television can be picked up in Ireland. RTÉ radio can be received loud and clear in many parts of Britain and RTE television reaches the whole of Northern Ireland and parts of West Wales.
Perfide France — the French
The English have fought at least 20 wars against the French since the Norman Conquest, one of which lasted for 116 years, 79 of which were an actual state of war. Before the Germans started seriously arming in the lead-up to World War I, the go-to enemy in "invasion fiction" was the French. The earlier attempts to build a Channel Tunnel failed because of fears of the French.
Today the British have a rather complex relationship with the French. They've had many differences over foreign policy, especially over The European Union (de Gaulle stopped British entry a couple of times). However, they fought together in both World Wars, signed the Entente Cordiale over a century ago and are in NATO together. In June 1940, an Anglo-French Union was seriously considered but overtaken by events. The two have recently signed a historic defensive and cooperation act, to save government military spending.
Quite possibly, the pinnacle of Anglo-French collaboration was their joint design, production, and operation of what to this day remains the only financially successful commercial supersonic passenger airliner. (contrary to rumour, Concorde did turn a profit, albeit not during its whole career, the fact that it ever turned a profit at all is still news to many people), even if its Russian rival, the Tupolev Tu-144 "Charger" first flew before Concorde. It also lost an aircraft to a crash earlier, five years after it launched, in 1973 with 14 fatalities. The Concorde wouldn't have its first crash until much later in 2000, with 113 fatalities.
Then there's the cultural business. The English may well mock French cuisine in their movies (mockery which is cheerfully and loudly reciprocated, with rather greater justification, by the French), but the English love to eat French food - any baker's will sell baguettes. The British upper and middle classes are also positively obsessed with French wine, with the kinds of Bordeaux aimed at the insatiable British market receiving the label "claret" (pronounced English-style with a "t" at the end) just to make things clear.
Then there's the whole "booze cruise" phenomenon. Wine and other alcoholic beverages are rather cheaper in France than in the UK. Crossing the Channel between Dover and Calais via ferry or Le Shuttle is pretty cheap. So, what a lot of British people do is go across the Channel to France for a day, buy up a lot of cheap booze and cigarettes and then come back, sometimes selling or giving the produce on to their friends.
- It's legal to bring an unlimited amount of stuff back from France for personal use or as a gift to give to a friend. It's not to bring it to sell, or buy it for someone else with the intention of being paid back. HM Revenue and Customs set informal limits on what they'll accept as "personal use".
- There are limits on how much stuff you can bring back from more recent EU members such as Poland and Hungary, because the price difference is so great that it's asking for someone to take advantage. These limits aren't very heavily enforced though. To the extent that you can sometimes walk through the blue channel with nothing but cigarettes in your hand luggage and not be challenged.
Many Brits have holiday homes in the South of France, or emigrate there, while hundreds of thousands of French work in Britain (not quite so many going the other way for the work). The French have also taken to British and American music, film and television the way the British have taken to their wine and food, with songs in English being so common on French radio that a quota of French songs has had to be established. This has led to colloquial French now bearing a significantly English stamp, which is considered to be something of an irony in light of the amount of influence French has had on the English language over the centuries.
The Scottish are somewhat different. Before the Union, they were often allies with France (the "Auld Alliance"). When England sports teams play a foreign opponent, including France, the Scots will invariably be cheering on the other side. The same applies, with varying degrees of vehemence, to the Welsh and the Irish, who will also root for the other team. The reverse is generally true for English support when the other Home Nations teams face foreign opposition - most English fans will happily cheer for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and (sometimes) even the Republic of Ireland against other countries. Different levels and types of nationalism present perhaps?
The English tend to enjoy pretending to hate the French. However, the real attitude is something closer to Vitriolic Best Buds: the November 2015 Bataclan attacks inspired both unbridled fury and gestures of solidarity in the British populace. Responses of the latter kind included, several at a previously scheduled friendly match between England and France at Wembley three days later. 'Friendly' matches between the two are usually anything but, but this time, the stadium was lit up in the colours of the French tricolore, the motto of the Republic was emblazoned on the side, the usual giant St George's Cross at the home end was replaced with a tricolore, floral wreaths were laid by Prince William and Prime Minister Cameron, and the words of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, were projected on the big screens so every fan in the stadium could sing it - and they did. All 70,000 of them. And when a French player who had lost a cousin in the attacks was substituted onto the pitch in the second half, he was greeted with a standing ovation. And when England won 2-0, beating France for the first time since the 90's, there wasn't even a hint of gloating. Responses of the former kind, meanwhile, were a touch more substantive: two weeks after the attacks, Parliament debated beginning bombing raids in Syria. Two years before, the government suffered a decisive defeat on the same issue. This time, it won a landslide victory and RAF Tornado bombers were taking off from Cyprus barely an hour later.
French television stations can be clearly received in Kent and Sussex on the British side of the Channel, and British television stations carry clearly into Northern France. (Belgian stations are a little more problematican but can sometimes be received in the nearest points of Britain.)
They're taking our loungers — the Germans
English is a Germanic Language as is German ("pardon my Anglo-Saxon" is a British way to apologise for swearing, as is "pardon my French").
- "Pardon my French" will always carry a slight jab to the French (one reason why they are used and not, say, the Germans) as though what one has just uttered should not normally issue from the mouth of a 'civilised' Brit.
- Almost all of the English language's most coarse and obscene expletives come from Anglo-Saxon roots, while many of the more polite euphemisms come from either Norman French or snide allusions to the original words (like Cockney rhyming slang), which considering the Norman Conquest, centuries of rule by French speakers and further centuries of French being the diplomatic language (it's now English, due to a mixture of the legacy of the British Empire and the political and economic influence of the US), is not exactly surprising.
The UK was of course highly affected by both World Wars, with German aerial bombings during both, doing a great deal of damage to a number of cities, including Coventry, a beautiful cathedral town that was completely flattened during the Blitz. While it was rebuilt, 1950's architecture (cheap, square and concrete themed) has meant that it's never been quite the same again. Some have seen the British led firebombing of Dresden (a similarly beautiful and historic town) as direct retaliation, something not helped by the famous remark of 'Bomber' Harris, head of Bomber Command, "They have sown the wind, now they shall reap the whirlwind." This, naturally colours Anglo-German relations. The Germans are trying to live down their actions in World War II, and consequently object when the war is referred to in British advertising (as in the case of a beer being described as "downed all over Kent, just like the Luftwaffe"note ).
The popular UK perception of Germans is that they have no sense of humour (which really isn't true — British Humour and German Humour are actually quite similar, though that may be part of the joke) and that they really will get up really early to claim sun loungers by placing their towels on them (this is true, a recent study has found, but while Germans are the #1 perpetrators, Britons are #2, a few percentage points behind).
Since the war, the two countries have got on pretty well — the UK still has some forces in Germany, although less than during the Cold War — the exception being when they play football. Germany is Britain's largest trading partner, just ahead of the US and France.
Top Gear often takes jokes about World War II to Refuge in Audacity levels. Then again, they like German people (and, of course, cars), including Sabine Schmidt from the German version of the show. She won the race, because she took the lounger.
Costa de los Ex-Pats — The Spanish
Hostility between nations can probably be traced back to the Spanish Armada and the colonising of the Americas and such things eventually led to the popularity of somewhat "Spanish" villains in Renaissance fiction (notably in Shakespeare's "Othello"; Iago being named for the country's patron saint). For a long time Spain represented a Catholic Europe that Britain (specifically Protestant England; the Highland Scots didn't mind them so much) had been firmly sceptical of.
Modern relations with Spain are fairly pleasant. Like with France, many Brits will have holiday homes in the country and enjoy the culture. In fact, it is common to see characters in British television talk of clubbing in Ibiza or big bad crime lords going to Spain to disappear for a while (although there is now an extradition treaty with Spain, it is not retroactive).
There is of course, that little bit of the UK just south of Spain as well however, which has caused much dispute.
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll — The Dutch
Over a million Brits visit Amsterdam every year. Note that they rarely want to visit the Netherlands; it's just that Amsterdam happens to be in the country. Given the cheap and easy access in the city to virtually any sexual fetish (prostitution is a legal and, for the most part, well regulated business complete with its own union), the plentiful bars and clubs where one can buy an astonishing variety of legal soft-drugs such as cannabis and mushrooms, and the fact that Amsterdam has had a thriving underground music scene for decades, it is perhaps unsurprising that it's a common weekend trip for many of them.
Some Brits also visit the rest of the country, but they are in such a minority as to be not worth mentioning.
Then again, the Dutch are probably our second best friends in Europe after the Portuguese.
Best Friends Forever — The Portuguese
Well, as told time and again in This Very Wiki, the Portuguese and the Brits have the oldest politico-military alliance still binding on Planet Earth, formalized in 1386.
This is not to say, however, that there haven't been spats. The first major one came in 1580, caused by the afformentioned Spaniards and their damn Iberianist ideals of domination plus them also wanting England for themselves, which split Portugal and England until 1640, when Portugal regained her independence. (There was an English attempt at liberating Portugal in 1589, plus there were Portuguese ships and sailors in the Invincible Armada.) The other was during the Napoleonic Wars. Although Brits did contribute to the liberation of Portugal - three times! -, they did a lot of pillaging on the countryside and established a repressive Regency under a British marshall until the King came back from Brazil. The third one was the 1890 ultimatum, which was considered the old allies' biggest betrayal, when Britain stole Portugal's colonies between modern-day Angola and Mozambique.
Still, there is something in an alliance that survived all that plus The Reformation, when England went Protestant while Portugal remained Catholic.
Nowadays, Brits view Portugal mainly as a tourist destination (especially the Algarve) while Portuguese view the British as a modern developed nation.
The European Union
Despite the fact that the UK has not been successfully invaded since 1066 (some count 1688, but William of Orange was invited by English nobility), it was one of the most Eurosceptic nations in the EU. Had the French and Dutch not done it first, the European Constitution would have been rejected by the UK electorate.
While the UK did vote to stay in the EC in 1975, many feel they were misled as to what the EC actually was. In 2013 the Conservatives promised a referendum in 2017 if they got re-elected in the 2015 general election, which they did (with a slim majority, much to everyone's surprise); the referendum was set for 23 June 2016. Though shortly before the actual vote the pendulum had swung towards remaining in the EU, with 66% outright stating that they want to remain in it, the ultimate result was a 52% vote to leave the EU. Though the process ultimately took three-and-a-half years, the UK departed the EU on 31 January 2020, the first (and so far the only) member state to do so. Given that Scotland and Northern Ireland technically voted to remain, being outweighed by the English vote, this may spark more British referendums as to which countries make up their own union.
Special Relationship: The Colonials — Americans
The UK-US relationship was somewhat dicey up until the late Victorian era, due to a number of historical disagreements. The Jay Treaty, ending the revolutionary war, sums up US-UK relations pre-WWI nicely. Basically it comes down to not being worth the money for either side to start up another war for very long. Since the war, Britain and the USA have since been fairly close allies, sharing military technology and intelligence, often banding together politically against the rest of Europe, especially France (which is amusing when one considers that the exact opposite was true in earlier times, with the USA and France acting as mutual allies against English interests).
The relationship can occasionally be strained, particularly when an American utters the Stock Phrase "We saved your asses in World War Two" (the civil response is usually something along the lines of "When you finally got round to it..."). It's not as hostile as Hollywood would like you to believe, though; it's not like the UK's still fighting the Revolution against the traitors (except if you're in the world of South Park). Hollywood seems to have have softened on this relatively recently though, with British characters tending to end up as Plucky Comic Relief at worst rather than all out villains. Britain being the first nation to declare solidarity with the US after the events of 9/11 probably helped.
The United Kingdom was, and still is, a valuable power projection place for the United States, considering it "an unsinkable aircraft carrier" (The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier was the name of a 1984 investigative work into US bases in the UK). This is probably the reason why Britain is called Airstrip One in 1984. Europeans sometimes accuse Britain of being America's lapdog, a feeling that many Brits share - especially with regard to the Iraq war, which many accuse Britain of entering just to keep on America's good side. Popular perception has improved considerably following the election and re-election of the notably less interventionist Barack Obama.
They also share another (considerably more controversial) unsinkable aircraft carrier, Diego Garcia, in the British Indian Ocean Territory.note
The Bear and the Lion — Russia
The UK and Russia fought on the same side in the two World Wars, mostly because the Germans were on the other side. They also teamed up against the French in the Napoleonic Wars, too (though only after Russia had teamed up with the French and been backstabbed). Between times, it's not been a particularly good relationship, partly due to British support for the Ottoman Empire and the two nations' rivalry in the so-called 'Great Game' of power politics in Central Asia. The Crimean War is a prominent example.
During the Cold War and more recently, following the rise of Vladimir Putin, Tu-95 (also now Tu-160 as well) bombers would regularly enter the UK Air Defence Zone to probe British defences, getting chased out by the RAF. The range of the Tornado F3 (the interceptor form of the Panavia Tornado) was designed to travel the long distances involved. The Eurofighter Typhoon is now taking on this role.
The threat of Mnogo Nukes led to the setting up of a US radar station in Yorkshire to give warning of incoming Soviet missiles. While this gave the US about thirty minute's warning of nuclear attack, the UK only got about four, hence the term "four-minute warning".
Diplomatic relations have been colder than a Siberian winter for a while, particularly following the spy movie style assassination of of Alexander Litvinenko, a defector from the FSB to MI6, in 2006 note — the UK wants a Russian suspect for questioning, but the Russians refuse on grounds that their constitution prohibits extradition of their own citizens. They are, supposedly, willing to try said suspect locally, but claim the British haven't provided enough evidence. The British take this with a pinch of salt, especially since the man in question has gone on to be elected to the Russian Duma, and relations have been very cold ever since, arguably even worse than US-Russia relations.
Following the conclusion into the inquiry into Litvinenko's death in January 2016 which not only affirmed that it was an assassination but pointed the finger with some considerable certainty at Vladimir Putin being behind it, relations have apparently not deteriorated only because, according to the Russian Ambassador, they couldn't get any worse. The Russians, in a staggering display of hypocrisy, are complaining that the trial wasn't open enough. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and ongoing sanctions against Russia over this are not helping matters - though the Salisbury poisoning of two Russian dissidents with a neurotoxin by Russian agents claiming they had just gone there to visit the famous Salisbury Cathedral (all in all, a farce that was less Bond, more Blackadder).
Ashes to Lords — Australia
The UK has a very good relationship with the Land Down Under, in a Vitriolic Best Buds manner. There is much gentle mocking of each other's customs and a fierce cricketing rivalry that is the most watched international cricketing contest in the UK. If there's any nationality that can expect a universally positive welcome in Britain (outside of an Ashes year) it's the Aussies.
Australia is also renowned amongst many Brits to be the most British 'foreign' nation in the world, as the Aussies share the style of humour enough to laugh at British jokes and the British laugh at theirs. Generally it is regarded as a 'sunny England'Note and a prime holiday location (minus the local wildlife, of course). The beer is okay, too.
The relationship hasn't always been so bright, however, even when Australia was under British Dominionship: anti-Empire sentiments existed since at least 1854, and even before then there were certain resentments against newer British settlers from those who were born in the colonies. Other events along the way (the execution of Breaker Morant, the failure of the Gallipoli landings, and Churchill's perceived abandonment of Australia to the Japanese while Australian soldiers were still required to fight in North Africa) certainly didn't help this. Despite this, the two nations share a very close bond. Although Australia has long had a relatively enthusiastic Republican movement, that is more a result of strongly-held democratic ideals rather than anti-British sentiment.
Beefeaters vs Beefeaters — Argentina
This one is probably the most fractious the UK has. The central problem is, of course, The Falkland Islands. Sovereignty has been in dispute for centuries but the problem became much more acute in the 20th century culminating in The Falklands War, a short but bloody conflict in which left nearly 1000 servicemen dead on both sides (as well as three civilians). After the collapse of the military junta that had orchestrated the invasion relations improved for a while but the discovery of oil in the waters around the islands has re-ignited tensions. Current relations are somewhat tense with periodic flare ups caused by actions such as Argentina denying port access to UK registered vessels. Another war is unlikely but relations are unlikely to improve as long as the question over sovereignty exists.
Like the Germans, a considerable footballing rivalry exists, and unlike the Germans, both sides are roughly equally passionate about it. The last clash came in 2005, with England winning 3-2. Previous encounters have included the 1986 World Cup quarter final and the infamous 'Hand of God' goal by Diego Maradona, which is well remembered and widely reviled by English fans. His second goal that match, wherein Maradona ran rings around half the English team, however, is considered by the English to be one of the best footballing moments of all time, because it was just that good.
Examples of this phenomenon in popular culture:
- Root into Europe: This British comedy mini-series poked fun at many European countries, namely France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, by having a British couple visit them. The man, Henry Root, is very skeptical of the European Union and thinks all Europeans should act more like the British. Yet at the same time the British are ridiculed too, through the character of Mr. Root, because his ideas about these peoples are extremely stereotypical. He assumes the Germans lack a sense of comedy, that the French are arrogant intellectuals, that Spaniards are lazy, Belgians are boring,...
- Eurotrash, a magazine show presented to the British by two Up to Eleven French presenters, reinforced these stereotypes by looking for archetypical examples of the rest of Europe's weird, wacky or just plain tacky/sleazy culutural phenomena. no stone was left unturned or its underside unscraped to discover the craziest things Europe had to offer.
- Rob Ager: Rob Ager is a very Eurosceptic person, also vocally supporting a political party with those ideas.