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How English is Guernsey?

The other day I tweeted “Guernsey is so very English.” Well, I stand corrected. It isn’t English.

colorful flowers
Horticulture is big in Guernsey.

I learned this when I asked a completely unrelated question in a shop. There were candies in jars behind the counter marked “£1 a quarter.”

I asked the shopkeeper “One pound a quarter what?”

“A quarter pound,” she replied. “We’re allowed to use pounds because we’re not in the European Union.”

Well, that led to a long explanation of Guernsey’s place in the world. This is what I learned:

Is Guernsey in the UK?

No, Guernsey is NOT in the United Kingdom, which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Where is Guernsey?

Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands, along with Jersey and a few smaller islands. “Channel Islands” is not a political category, but rather a geographical name. The archipelago is in the English Channel, closer to France than to the British Isles.

Guernsey is NOT in Great Britain, which is a geographic location: the large island on the northern side of the Channel, comprising England, Scotland and Wales (but NOT Northern Ireland).

Guernsey IS part of the British Isles, which is all of the United Kingdom, plus all of the various islands.

Is Guernsey part of England?

Guernsey is NOT part of England, and the people of Guernsey are not English. They are, however, British because they’re part of the British Isles, not because they’re part of Great Britain.

Is Guernsey ruled by the UK?

Guernsey is a “crown dependency,” which seems to mean it can act more or less as if it’s independent, but isn’t entirely.

Is Guernsey part of the EU?

No. They’re neither English nor, as the shopkeeper mentioned, part of the EU.

currency notes
the UK and Guernsey 10 pound notes

So they get to use pounds rather than kilos. They produce their own money. It’s called pounds and pence just like the UK’s money, looks very similar to UK money, and is exchangeable one for one, so one Guernsey pound equals one UK pound. But it’s still a different currency, see?

So how English is Guernsey?

Do we have this straight now? If not, watch this video, which explains it all again, much too fast and in an American accent.

Nevertheless, Guernsey looks English, as you can see from the pictures accompanying this post, and it sounds English: people speak English with what sounds to me like an English accent. There is a Guernsey dialect and an effort in the schools to revive it, but standard English is all we’ve heard spoken here.

the cock and bull storefront
Cock and Bull pub

And people behave in an English way, in that they queue up for things and are tremendously polite. Yes, I realize that some of the English are not polite, but the Guernsians fit the “proper Englishman” stereotype.

You could say they out-English the English in this respect; they’re even polite in traffic. They drive on the left, like in the UK, but they “filter” at intersections, which seems to mean that they take orderly turns and wave other drivers to go ahead of them. I haven’t heard a single car horn either.

This house is not English.
This is not English.

So if it looks English, sounds English and behaves English, is it English? Apparently not.


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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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Guernsey doesn’t feel English to somebody who is English, or Guernsey. Having been brought-up in Guernsey, England feels like a foreign country. The buildings are different, the weather is different, the environment is different. The place names are in French, and the last names are in French. French was the official language until the mid 20th century. Guernsey in that sense feels a lot more like Northern France, as it would – and the granite farmhouse building above is a great example of Norman & Breton architecture, not English.

Despite the massive colonisation by the English in the past century, you will still find glaring differences. The Guernsey accent is strong and distinctly non-British (more like south-African if it were to be compared to anything), and the language is a dialect of Norman, i.e. a sister language of French, and not related to English. It’s precious and wonderful.

I think Guernsey is as english as the isle of Corsica is french… In reality people from corsica are italians that ended up being incorporated in the french republic just like people from Guernsey all probably have french origins. If we look at the geographic position and at the popular culture Corsica should belong to Italy and Guernsey should be french.

Well, only as much as the English have French (Norman) origins too. The Channel Islands and Britain first became part of the same kingdom when William the Conqueror invaded in 1066.

I found out today….officially….Guernsey is part of the UK! Filling in the travel document I need to fly to Guernsey from UK.

As far as I know- lived in Guernsey ten years, we still aren’t part of the UK.

Guernsey is not part of the UK.

It’s a British Crown Dependency. So they rely on the UK for international banking services (supported by the bank of England) and defence, but have autonomy in other areas. And Guernsey issues its citizens British passports. But it is not wholly part of the UK.

(The UK has a complex history and associated legal structure – e.g. Scotland has a separate legal system from England and Wales, as does Northern Ireland. And Northern Ireland is NOT part of Great Britain, but IS part of the UK…. just to keep you confused 🙂 )

As a Guernsey native, I am well aware that Guernsey is a Crown Dependency and that the island relies on the UK for its defence. However, to say that it is not wholly part of the UK is incorrect – it is simply not part of the UK.

My niece, a retired nursing sister, married a Guernsey man in the 1960s and has lived there ever since. She and her family speak a version of Southern England English more English than my Yorkshire accent and mannerisms, and having visited, that seems to me entirely normal to those I meet on Guernsey. Although when they recently stayed over in Hampshire they all wanted to be shown a typically old-fashioned English pub and eat a Roast Beef Sunday Dinner. Neither of those are especially common in England in these times. I still cannot understand either their education or healthcare systems though.

The education system in Guernsey is very similar to that in the UK. In respect of our healthcare system, primary healthcare is private (GP, A&E), whilst specialist healthcare is free to residents, although you can elect to go private.