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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.

Horticulture is big in Guernsey.

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:

  • Guernsey is NOT in the United Kingdom, which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Guernsey is NOT in Great Britain, which is a geographic location: the large island north of here, 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.
  • Guernsey IS a “crown dependency,” which seems to mean it can act more or less as if it’s independent, but isn’t entirely.
  • The people of Guernsey ARE British because they’re part of the British Isles, not because they’re part of Great Britain.  They’re NOT English, and, as I said before, they’re not part of the EU.
the UK and Guernsey 10 pound 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?

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 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.

Cock and Bull pub

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.

 This post is part of the Travel Photo Mondays linkup for September 21, 2015. Click on the link to see more travel writing and especially some great travel photography!

4 Comments

  • R. Martel

    September 19, 2018 at 10:52 am

    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.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      September 19, 2018 at 1:36 pm

      Finally, someone from Geurnsey responded! Thank you! It’s one of the liabilities of being a travel blogger: I write my impressions of places but always as an outsider. It’s nice to get the insider view. To me, it seemed very English, but your comment shows that it is much less so than my impression.

      Reply
    • Mauro

      February 5, 2020 at 8:30 pm

      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.

      Reply

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