The Culture Of Place

The recent EU referendum in Britain, and the current US election, have set me thinking seriously about national identity. Why is it that people in one place so persistently regard themselves as in some way different  from geographically adjacent peoples?

I focused today on one single question: Why is there an England, a Scotland, and a Wales. Why isn’t it all just Britain? And I simplified the question to just this: Why is there a Wales?

Perhaps the terrain map below, which shows the Welsh border with England as a thick red line, may offer a very simple explanation:

walesThe border follows almost exactly the line where the Welsh hills rise above the English lowlands to the east. Almost the entirety of Wales is hill country. In the north of Wales there are even mountains.

In what way does that mean that life in Wales was likely to have been different than life in England?  Well, for a start England’s gently rolling hills are covered in farms growing wheat and corn and barley and oats and potatoes and cabbages and turnips and any number of other plants. But there is very little such arable land on Welsh hills, and so the Welsh largely kept livestock: pigs, sheep, cattle. So probably the Welsh ate different foods than the English. And since Wales is bounded by a coastline on three sides, we might guess that they ate rather more marine fish than did the English.

And as most of England consists of gently rolling hills, it also meant that it was relatively easy to move around England. The Roman roads of England undoubtedly made it even easier. Not so in Wales. It takes much more effort to move around hill or mountain country. Agricultural and manufacturing products could be easily transported and traded throughout England. And so also could languages and customs and beliefs and ideas. So while English society was fluid and dynamic, relatively isolated Welsh communities were far more self-sufficient and resistant to change.

And so Wales retained (and still largely retains) its own Celtic language – the language that Britons probably spoke during the Roman occupation. The English language is really an amalgam of many languages, including Celtic and Latin and French and Danish. England is a melting pot in which languages and beliefs and ideas are always being blended, and probably very quickly blended, because England is not a large country. And English is, as a result, a highly portable language that is the product of rapid linguistic evolution over many centuries.

rainfall_europeOne might also imagine that people who live in hill country, and climb hills every day, are almost certainly stronger and hardier than lowlanders who walk on its plains, or ride horses and carriages across them. And since Wales has a higher level of rainfall than England, the Welsh might have been expected to spend more of their time indoors, and to have worn sturdier clothing.

Add together all these slight differences – and a great many other slight differences -, and you get two distinct cultures, and quite likely two different attitudes to life.

All of the aforementioned differences between England and Wales are also the differences between Scotland and England. For Scotland is even more mountainous than Wales. And while the Romans succeeded in conquering Wales, they never succeeded in conquering Scotland. Neither did the Normans. And so Scotland has also retained its own language, unmixed with either Latin or French. And they also retained distinct clans in pockets all over Scotland, something reflected in the cantons of the even more mountainous Switzerland.

If the differences between the English and the Scots and the Welsh have greatly diminished over the past century or two, it’s probably because roads and railways and canals and bridges have made the movement of agricultural and manufacturing products – and also language and customs and beliefs – much easier between them. Most Welsh and Scots now speak English. And so do the Irish. In fact, a great many Europeans now speak English in addition to their native languages. English has become a global language, more or less in my own lifetime.

Dogged resistance is perhaps one of the principal cultural traits of the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish. And easy accommodation is perhaps a principal cultural trait of the English. After all, the English readily accommodated first the Romans, and then the Danes, and then the Normans, in rapid succession. The others would not. And if I personally have mounted a bit of a spirited resistance to smoking bans, it may well be simply because I am descended from Welsh mariners, Scilly Isle lighthouse keepers, and the peat-burning Irish of the Bog of Allen – and such people always doggedly resist any yoke placed upon them.

The arguments I’ve raised in this essay have all been physical arguments. That some places are more hilly or mountainous than others. That some have more productive soils than others. That some are colder or wetter than others. My suggestion throughout has been that the land on which people live shapes the people who live on it. I’m even inclined to suggest that any foreigner who lives long enough in any country will become as much a native of that country as its true natives. And anyone who visits Paris or Venice or Barcelona just for one day becomes a citizen of those cities in some fractional degree.

The English are much more shaped by England than they have ever shaped it. They are surrounded today by the same hills and valleys as their ancestors. The same is not quite true of England’s towns and cities. London has been almost entirely built and rebuilt by Londoners, but Londoners are also formed and shaped by the London built by prior generations.

And since every land is different from every other, there will be different people living everywhere. And they will have different cultures, languages, clothes, foods, customs, and beliefs.


And these cultural differences are not trivial. They are the product, in most cases. of many centuries of gradual change. And there are often ineradicable differences: for example, Scotland will always be colder and more mountainous than England. And because there are so many different cultures around the world, no single one-size-fits-all European project or globalist New World Order will ever be able accommodate all of them, any more than one size shoe will fit all feet. People are not blank slates from which beliefs and values can be erased and over-written with new ones – because the culture inherent in the places they inhabit is already deeply etched into them. So there can be no such thing as a single set of “European values” or a single  species of “European citizen”: they are pipe-dreams, and any attempt to construct either will be bound to fail.

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24 Responses to The Culture Of Place

  1. beobrigitte says:

    It is actually less about geography than about terminology.
    We all are European. However, that does not mean we all are EU. Europe and EU are 2 entirely different things. Europe is a good thing. The EU raises questions. The BBC never understood that and therefore their use of terminology was misleading.

  2. waltc says:

    You asked yesterday if Hitchens ever wrote about smoking. I belatedly “replied”: a lot, adding that I might somewhere have the specific article in question on file. Without boring myself in a search thru the (it must be admitted) rather dusty file cabinet, I thought to try a google. Enter his name + smoking or cigarettes and you’ll find he wrote (and spoke) a lot about both. While I couldn’t find the full thing on line, I think (I’m pretty, but not exactly, sure) this online excerpt was from the article for which he asked me what I knew about shs and I sent him a bundle. In print he goes into no detail except–after all that–, to describe it as pseudo-research:

    “If this means what it appears to mean, then the astonishing conclusion is that grown-up New Yorkers make decisions…based on their own preferences. Well, what do you know? Two further conclusions seem permissible: humanity is not divided into “smokers” and “nonsmokers” except in the personal ads for the love-lorn. And the United States is not some hellish kibbutz where there’s just one communal dining area, which serves only comfort food.

    “If this is the real state of the case, then Mr. Vallone (1) can take all of the pseudo-research on “secondhand” smoking and cram it into his pipe. The person who smells cigarette smoke and wrinkles his nose before batting the air like a loon is now in the same position as the Peeping Tom neighbor who climbs precariously atop the fridge, binoculars clutched in leprous palm, in order to report the vile bedroom antics of the couple next door. You have to go out of your way to be offended. Never doubt that there are such people; never give them an inch either if you value privacy or diversity.”

    -“We Know Best,” Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, May 2001;
    (1) Then-speaker of the New York City Council

    Makes sense this is it. Our fleeting meeting on the library steps, then, came at about the time the NYC council was proposing its first or second major ban, which might account for our discussing shs.
    In later articles, he seems to hedge on the subject. Here are just two of the many google spat:

    • Lepercolonist says:

      Thanks for those links, Walt. Christopher Hitchens is sorely missed. Absolutely brilliant writer and speaker.

    • Rose says:

      Talking of secondhand smoke, Walt, did you notice that Dr Siegel is still unwilling or unable to discuss the “more than 100 tobacco smoke components known to inhibit the tumorigenic action of many of the listed “tumorigens.” despite my repeatedly asking about them?

      Environmental tobacco smoke.
      Rodgman A.

      In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a “draft” assessment of ETS and lung cancer in adults and respiratory disorders in children. Relying on weak and inconclusive epidemiological data, the supposed similarity between ETS and MS, the presence of “known or suspected carcinogens” in MS and by extrapolation in ETS, and the “biological plausibility” of an adverse relationship between ETS and health, the EPA recommended that ETS be classified as a “Group A (known human) carcinogen.” Fundamental physical and quantitative chemical differences among ETS, MS, and SS and human exposure to each smoke were disregarded: The three are not equivalent nor is ETS exposure a quantitative variant of cigarette smoking. A substantial difference in retention percentage overlays the huge dosimetric difference between exposures. As a result, the “dosage” of ETS retained is miniscule relative to MS. Also, conclusions reached by the EPA and the use of tenuous relationships as bases for Group A classification are unwarranted because of failure to consider the data upon which the “tumorigenicity” of the ETS components was based, questions on the presence and/or levels of these components in MS, and data indicating that a 25- to 30-fold decrease of a high-level dose of MS or MS condensate diminished the effects observed in bioassays from pronounced to zero, i.e., a threshold was demonstrated.

      Finally, EPA overlooked the more than 100 tobacco smoke components known to inhibit the tumorigenic action of many of the listed “tumorigens.


      “Despite an 18-month study in the late 1950s, the search for a “supercarcinogen” in MSS and CSC to explain the observed biological effects was unsuccessful. In addition, the exceptional study on MSS PAHs by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) personnel in the 1970s indicated no “supercarcinogen” was present. Only recently has the concept of complex mixtures in relation to the understanding of the complexity of carcinogenesis taken hold. Perhaps the reason why MSS is less tumorigenic than expected in humans is because of the presence of other MSS components that inhibit or prevent tumorigenesis. For example, it is well known that MSS contains numerous anticarcinogens present in quantifies significantly greater than those of the PAHs of concern. When one reviews the history of these four PAHs in MSS or CSC it is clear that many unanswered questions remain.”

      The Chemical Components of Tobacco and Tobacco Smoke, Second Edition

      “Authors Alan Rodgman and Thomas A. Perfetti were jointly awarded the 2010 CORESTA (Cooperative Centre for Scientific Research Relative to Tobacco) Prize for their extensive work on documenting the vast literature on the chemical composition of tobacco and tobacco smoke in their original edition.”

  3. sackersonwp says:

    Mountain people everywhere are a tough and cussed lot. The North Walians looks down their noses at the mere hill-and vale-dwelling South Walians.

  4. Apparently the expression ‘as different as chalk and cheese’ originated from the Wiltshire area to distinguish the ‘high’ dwellers on the plains (sheep rearers) from the lowland folk (cows). May be true, who knows?

  5. Rose says:

    This seems to be a very good gadget for the very elderly smoker who buys ready-made cigarettes.

    Blanket catches fire on 96-year-old Derbyshire woman after she fell asleep while smoking
    October 24, 2016

    “A blanket on a 96-year-old woman caught fire after she fell sleep while smoking.
    The fire activated a portable misting system, which sprays a fine mist of water out into the room, quickly extinguished the fire and has been credited with potentially saving her life.”

    “Area manager Alex Johnson, for Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This incident has once again served as a stark reminder of the life-saving potential of portable misting systems.
    “I understand that on arrival firefighters found the occupant in a smoke-logged living room, safe without any injuries, but a little dazed and unsure of what had happened.”

    RIP doesn’t seem to work very well

    Cigarette safety standards tightened across EU – 2011

    “New cigarette safety standards have come into force in an attempt to cut the number of people killed in house fires.
    They mean that every cigarette sold in the EU must meet a reduced ignition propensity (RIP) requirement.
    Cigarette paper must have special bands at intervals down its length so that, once lit, a cigarette will go out if it is not actively smoked.”

    As even Simon Chapman noted

    “It is questionable whether technology and legislation are needed to solve the problem. As smokers know, cigars, pipe tobacco and hand-rolled cigarettes tend to go out on their own.
    That’s because regular cigarettes contain burning agents to keep them lit.

    “The elimination of burning agents in cigarette paper would be a simple and effective means of dramatically reducing the ignition propensity of cigarettes,” wrote Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University Sydney, in a 2004 Australian medical journal.”,,3540489,00.html

    London Fire Brigade backs new cigarette rules – 2011

    ” The London Fire Brigade is backing new legislation to cut the number of deaths caused by fires started by cigarettes.
    People killed and injured in fires caused by cigarettes could be dramatically reduced thanks to new European Commission rules, according to the brigade.

    If anything the new cigarettes seem to be increasing them.

    Fire chiefs warn people to stop smoking or risk dying in a fire
    20 October 2016

    “For the first time ever we’re telling smokers to quit, or risk dying in a fire.
    The stark warning comes as we release new London figures showing that a comparison between 2014/15 and 2015/16 highlighted a 25 per cent increase in smoking related fires and a 55 per cent increase in the number of people who died in those fires.”

    • Rose says:

      Well that went badly wrong, please could you fix it for me Frank?

      A replacement for the broken link.

    • smokingscot says:

      RIP cigarettes work just fine. They do go out after about 90 seconds depending on how close you are to the next band on the paper.

      It’s highly unlikely the lady in question managed to set fire to her blanket unless it was acrylic, or had recently been dry cleaned – and she nodded off immediately after taking a drag on her cigarette.

      The problem lies in the huge number of cigarettes coming in from outside the EU. These are not Fire Safe and they ‘ll burn away merrily from tip to butt without ever being puffed.

      It’s a similar situation with tubes. They’re pretty close to essential for people who buy tobacco leaf to make their own. Leaf that’s quite young (less than 18 months old) does tend to go out real fast if used in a rollie. (Tobacco that’s aged 2 years or more doesn’t).

      To get to exactly why this happened we’d need to see exactly what she was smoking – and I suspect we never will.

      Fire Chief’s can go take a hike. They’ve been whingeing about budget cuts for yonks – and that’s most likely 1) They take ages to arrive and 2) They haven’t a clue about what type of fag caused the problem.

      We know the why’s – taxes.

  6. Clicky says:

  7. Roobeedoo2 says:

    It sure if it’s been posted before, but I’ve just seen the Bill Hicks segment, removed from the David Letterman show, in 1993. Very funny anti-smoker description starts at 4min 48sec:

    • RdM says:

      Thanks for that reminder! I saw the original interview with his mother, but extract is great!
      On the side, I found this old footage of Bill Hicks during a performance at Dangerfields.

      The anti smoker section starts about 2:50 mins in. Great po-face impressions!

      Apologies to US friends, but I found myself LOL during the anti-Oklahoma meme after …

  8. The English language is really an amalgam of many languages, including Celtic
    Not really Celtic…I think there are only a handful of words from the Celtic in English. It is telling that even the word ‘Welsh/Wales’ is a Saxon word -for ‘Scum’ or ‘Slave’ I believe.

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