Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Friday November 10, 2000
Britons are seen by young people in other countries as arrogant, xenophobic and frequently drunk, according to a poll conducted by the British Council in 17 countries and published yesterday.
A British Council report accompanying the poll said that in general "young people overseas have a positive image of the UK as a country but are less admiring of Britons as a people".
The pollsters, Mori, carried out face to face interviews with 3,505 people aged 24-40 between January and June this year. Those interviewed tended to be well-educated and were targeted as the next generation of leaders.
The British Council said a big factor in Britain's reputation for drunkenness was the scenes of violence by football supporters abroad.
Other factors contributing to a negative view of Britain were the royal family, violence in Northern Ireland and racial intolerance. Pictures of English fans rioting at Marseilles during the 1998 World Cup went round the world.
In a focus group discussion, an Italian among those being interviewed portrayed the British as "having tea at five o'clock, having a Queen and always drunk".
Overall, the view of British society is ambivalent. "On the whole, they see it as fair, caring and democratic, but also as divided by class and, in the eyes of some, racially intolerant," the report said.
David Green, the British Council director, said he was concerned "by the high proportion of young people who associate us British with an arrogant and condescending view of other countries. Anyone who watched, for instance, the scenes at Charleroi during Euro 2000 can understand how these perceptions arise. Countering them will not be easy."
A task force has begun trying to knit together a presentational policy for the various departments and organisations involved with Britain's image overseas, such as the Foreign Office, the British Council, the British Tourist Authority and the Design Council.
The poll showed Britain had a good reputation for higher education. The view of British business was also good, though businessmen were regarded as cautious or complacent.
British scientists are seen as among the best in the world but there is puzzlement abroad at the failure of the country to exploit their innovations.
According to the poll, Britain was least liked by young people in China, which may partly have been a reaction to the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Britain was most popular in Nigeria.
Among European countries, Britain was least popular in Greece, again possibly a reaction to the Nato bombing. After Greece, Britain was least popular with German youths. It was most popular with France.
The report, Through Other Eyes 2; How the world sees the United Kingdom, follows on from a similar exercise last year in which interviews took place in 13 other countries.
One of the biggest changes is in the way young people obtain their information about Britain, with 21% finding out through the internet.