Episode 05

How would you describe the British character? Tess and Ravi consider whether the British are reserved, while Jo and Adam look at negative prefixes.


Jo and Adam

Hello and welcome to Episode 5 of Series 4 of LearnEnglish Elementary Podcasts. My name is Adam and, as usual, my colleague Jo will be joining me later to talk about some of the language in the podcast. We're so happy that you're listening to us and don't forget that there's an Elementary Podcasts app with lots of helpful features – you can read the transcript at the same time as you listen and you can even slow down the audio speed if you find it difficult to understand. There's a link to the app on the LearnEnglish website or you can download it from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Happy listening!

Today we're going to hear from Tess and Ravi. In the last episode, Carolina and Jamie were in the pub discussing some good news about Jamie's band, when they saw Emily's boyfriend Cameron kissing another woman! Cameron didn't see them though, and they didn't say anything to him. Carolina wanted to tell Emily, but Jamie thought that was a bad idea. Hmmm, difficult.

So we asked for your opinion. What should Carolina and Jamie do? Talk to Emily? Talk to Cameron? Talk to the other woman? And what would you do if you were in a similar situation? Some of you had a lot to say about this topic, but you didn't all agree with each other about what to do.

Chercher from Taiwan wouldn't hesitate to tell Emily what she saw because she wouldn't want her best friend to be hurt. She also thinks that Carolina should have spoken to Cameron in the pub, just so that he knows that she saw him. Good point, but it’s quite a scary thing to do.

Truongpham9 from Vietnam, Tangel from Colombia and Ngoc Mai from Vietnam all agree that Carolina should tell Emily exactly what she saw because it's important to know the truth in a relationship – and friends should tell each other the truth, too.

Englishlover2015 from Yemen isn't so sure. Yes, the truth is a good thing, but if they tell Emily, then the relationship might end, which may be a bad thing. But is keeping the truth a secret the same as telling a lie? I'm not sure. And what if Emily found out later? She might be very angry.

MarinaStudent from Brazil thinks Carolina could tell Emily some of the truth, but not everything, depending on Emily's reactions and Foufasweet from Algeria agrees. I think you might be right. Carolina shouldn’t hurt Emily by telling her all the details if Emily doesn’t want to know them.

Nader Rashid from Syria says they can't tell Emily because Jamie has to work with Cameron in the band and he understands Jamie's problem. But is that a good enough reason for Carolina to stay quiet?

And so far, Sarfrazalimemon is the only person who thinks that Carolina and Jamie shouldn't do anything because it's a personal matter for Cameron to decide and they shouldn't interfere. Does anyone else agree with him?

Thanks to everyone who gave us their opinions and, please, keep sending them in.

Now it's time to hear from Tess and Ravi again. And, as usual, they're going to talk about something that people think is typically British, like drinking tea, or those big red buses. But it isn't a 'thing' this time – it's something about the British personality. What do you think it might be?


Tess and Ravi

Ravi: Hello again. I'm Ravi …

Tess: And I'm Tess. And we're here again to talk about Britain, and things that you think are typically British.

Ravi: And the topic today is a big one. It's something that foreigners nearly always say when they visit Britain. It's 'Why are the British so cold?'

Tess: And they're not talking about the weather.

Ravi: No. It's a different sort of cold. They're talking about the British personality – the famous British 'reserve'.

Tess: Aah. Perhaps we need to explain what 'reserve' means?

Ravi: It means that we aren't very friendly, we aren't very open.

Tess: So do you think it's true, Ravi?

Ravi: It's a difficult one. I think I'm a really friendly person. But so many people who visit Britain say that it's difficult to make friends with British people. They say we're cold, reserved, unfriendly. I don't know …

Tess: I think it's true. Look at Americans or Australians. They speak the same language, but they're much more open. And you see it when you travel, people – strangers – speak to you on the street or on the train. British people never speak on the train. Or the bus. Never. Not in London, anyway.

Ravi: Aah. 'Not in London'. That's it. Capital cities are full of tourists and are never very friendly. People are different in other parts of the country. The north of England, Scotland, Wales, for example.

Tess: Not completely. I met a woman once, an Italian. She was working in Manchester – your part of the country, Ravi, up north – and she'd been working there for two years, and no one – not one of her colleagues – had ever invited her to their home. Not once in two years. They were friendly to her at work, but nothing else. She couldn't believe it. She said that would never happen in Italy.

Ravi: Did you invite her for dinner?

Tess: No.

Ravi: OK, yeah, I'm not surprised. It's true. When I was a kid, the only visitors to our house were family – uncles and cousins and stuff. My parents never invited friends or colleagues.

Tess: The same in our house.

Ravi: You know what they say – 'an Englishman's home is his castle'. And it's true. It's really difficult to get inside.

Tess: Yeah. It's about being private. You go home to your house and your garden and you close the door. It's your place.

Ravi: Yeah. That's why the British don't like flats. They prefer to live in houses, houses with gardens. Houses are more private. You don't even have to talk to the neighbours if you don't want to.

Tess: True.

Ravi: We like to be private but I still don't think that we're 'unfriendly' or 'cold'. I think we take a long time to get to be real friends with someone. But when we are friends, then we're good friends, and we stay friends for life.

Tess: That's true too.

Ravi: Anyway, Tess, we've been working together for a very long time now. So I would like to formally invite myself to your house for lunch on Sunday. Don't go to too much trouble. Roast chicken will be just fine. What about if I come round at about …


Jo and Adam

Adam: And hello again to Jo ...

Jo: Hi Adam. That was interesting. What do you think about it? Are the British reserved? Are you a reserved Englishman, Adam?

Adam: Well, I do shake hands with my mother every time I see her. No, only joking! Like Ravi, I think I’m friendly. But I’m also a bit shy, so I might seem reserved to some people. But that’s me, I don’t think it’s because of my nationality. Do you think there are differences between countries?

Jo: Well, maybe. I used to live in Brazil, and I have to say the people I met there were really warm and inviting. It was really easy to make friends. I think people who spend time in the UK sometimes find it a bit more difficult. But I don’t think the British are as cold and as reserved as people imagine.

Adam: And what do you think, listeners? Are the British more reserved than other nationalities? How would you describe people in your country? Write and tell us about your experiences. The address is www.britishcouncil.org/learnenglish.

Jo: You know that we really enjoy reading your comments.

Adam: And I'll read some of them out next time. Now it's time to look at some of the language from the podcast.

Jo: Let's look at words that describe people's personalities. Listen to Tess and Ravi.

Tess: Aah. Perhaps we need to explain what 'reserve' means?

Ravi: It means that we aren't very friendly, we aren't very open.

Tess: So do you think it's true, Ravi?

Ravi: It's a difficult one. I think I'm a really friendly person. But so many people who visit Britain say that it's difficult to make friends with British people. They say we're cold, reserved, unfriendly …

Jo: 'Friendly', 'cold', 'reserved' ...

Adam: And 'unfriendly'.

Jo: 'Unfriendly' is the opposite of 'friendly'. We make 'friendly' negative by adding 'un' to the beginning. 'Un' is a negative prefix.

Adam: Like 'happy' and 'unhappy'.

Jo: There are other negative prefixes too – 'organised' is the opposite of 'disorganised'.

Adam: And 'patient' is the opposite of 'impatient'. But what's the opposite of 'reserved', Jo?

Jo: Hmm. It's 'open'. Tess says the Americans are more open than the British.

Adam: And the opposite of 'cold' is 'warm'.

Jo: There are exercises on the website about adjectives to describe personality – positive and negative words. And other exercises too.

Adam: And if you want more practice with negative prefixes, you can look at Episode 13 from the last series – Series 3. There are some exercises about prefixes and opposites there too.

Jo: So is that everything for today, Adam?

Adam: I think so. Don't forget to send your comments about the famous British reserve. See you next time.

Adam/Jo: Bye!

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Submitted by Ahmed Hesham A… on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 21:59

Arab people are very open people and they are friendly and they have very interesting customs especially when we talk about generosity. For instance, you will be considered a member of their community if you stayed for 40 days.

Submitted by jmajo on Thu, 04/02/2021 - 18:06

I only met a few British people, despite those who I knew were a bit reserved, they seem to me not as much reserved as other people of other nationalities, maybe it could be a cultural thing, because they grow up there in England and learned to be that way from their parents. It's a bit curious that British people prefer to live in houses rather than flats, I didn't know that. Here most of the people use to live in flats because it's more cheap, most of the young people live in flats because they cannot afford to live in a house with garden. People use to say that we're very friendly, here you can talk to everyone that you don't know very well in the street or in a bus stop and comment a casual situation on the bus or with the taxi driver, although there are some people whom prefer to be more reserved with strangers I think in general most of the people is friendly here, in the street you can ask for directions to anyone and most of the people will help you to get there with the right indications, for instance, no matter where the person's from, we use to organize parties and reunions to welcome new colleagues at work when someone start working with us. Thanks for the episode. Great site!!
Hi Jmajo, I like to read your comments, these are very interesting ;) Obviously I agree with you about a lot of British issues. But let me explain difference between flats and houses in the UK. Many things are different in the UK than in the rest of European countries or in anyone country of the world. Like there are two tips of a wash basin in the bathrooms or windows are opened to the outside not to the inside of buildings. It is the same with the flats in the UK. Of course these are friquance cheaper than houses but you are not owner of the flat because the owner is the Landlord who has ground there. Finally the flats carry additions costs like big residents' payments for a necessary renovation of the building which nobody consults with you. These are problems with buying of flats in the UK. So, British people live often in the houses as the true owners of them. And also because it is their tradition and lifestyle. It is the cause that many towns here look like the same, there are similar houses with gardens ;) Otherwise flats in new, high building with high standards are more expensive than houses with gardens. I hope that my explanation was useful even if it was only of piece of evidences to see difference between flats and houses in the UK. ;) Best wishes Czar

Submitted by Czar Aaron on Wed, 03/02/2021 - 17:32

Hi my friends ;) I think that British people are kind, polite and reserved. I have lived in London for a couple of years but I do not have British friends. However when I am lost in the city a British people always help me to find the way. Even if I do not ask for help. It is very kind. I agree, British people do not talk too much in trains and Tube. Except for situations when someone is not wearing a mask in Tube. It provokes huge arguments about respect to the law and covid2019 restrictions. However British people in Tube are more cheerful than Polish people traveling in Warsaw public transport. I wish you and me good friends! ;) Bye

Submitted by IamHereForMyHomeWork on Fri, 06/11/2020 - 02:45

I am just doing my home work. Have a good day everyone.

Submitted by danisep on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 20:48

I didn't meet any british, when I was studying an english course I had an english teacher from Manchester. He was good and made some friends with students, especially women. In Colombia people are very friendly, strangers could talk to you at any place, they can tell you all their life while you wait in a queue, and if you get along with them you could take a beer later. I’m different. I don’t like to tell my life to unknown people, and it is weird when everybody makes friends so fast and you don't.

Submitted by nikoslado on Sun, 21/06/2020 - 10:03

Dear Team, in Task 2, it's acceptable only this word order:''We take a long time to get to be real friends.....'', but why couldn't we say:''We take to get a long time to be friends....'', in order to avoid using in a row the same two forms(''to get- to be''). Thanks a lot Nikoslado

Hello Nikoslado

I'm afraid 'take to get a long time' doesn't make any sense to me. In 'take a long time to get to be real friends', 'take' is used to express a length of time and 'to get' shows that there is process, i.e. in the beginning we are not real friends, but over a long time we become real friends.

Hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

I've understood it now, Kirk,thanks to you.It's a matter of correct expression in this case, if changing the row of the words.Thanks for your kindness.

Submitted by SamerTJ on Sun, 07/06/2020 - 08:04

I think Arab people are very open people and they have very interesting customs and traditions. For instance, you will be considered as a member of their community if you stayed for 40 days with them. In addition, If you are a stranger, which is anyone who belongs to another city or country even if he is Arabian, and you want to ask someone about something then you visit him in his house, you will be a guest, and guest means that no one should ask you anything before three days. they will provide you accommodation and food for three days and after which you can ask for anything. I think those traditions were changed a little bit nowadays because of the population explosion, wars and no one has time and money to do all of those welcoming procedures as well. But still it is very easy to make Arab friends and they will invite you to their houses immediately.

Submitted by Bruno2020 on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 14:51

Hello everyone!I am brazilian and the people say We are very friendly. Well,I think it is true,We are very friendly people and We make friends easily.In my opnion,We are a welcoming country!

Submitted by parisaach on Sun, 26/05/2019 - 06:28

Actually I've never met an english person, I have some ideas from the books and movies about them for example I think they are traditional, superstitious, and reserved. I prefer american's culture I guess the are more modern and open-minded.This is what I think maybe it be different in real world, at least I guess they are much better than russian people. When I was in Russia people usually didn't help us. They couldn't speak english and they were so cold. the young people were better but older ones were aweful .I just met a group of young people they helped us to take a taxi. In my country people are friendly and sometimes angry and always in rush. they talk to each other everywhere in a line , on a bus, on train, on a plane. They usually help tourists or people when they have problem. I heard in some countries people even don't care when you die in a street, but in my country when you faint in a street or bus all the people want to help you. when your car break down, men come and help you. but sometimes they can be unfriendly and fight each other especially when they are driving.

Submitted by User_User on Sat, 23/03/2019 - 17:34

Hello I live in Germany. You may think that this is a small country and the differences aren't very big but this isn't the case. I know a village where the people are open and a village where people are reserved. In a town where the people are reserved you have to go to a club to meet people. If you are older people aren't interested to get you know. As I was younger the female hairdressers always talked a lot. Now, I'm older and they seldom say anything to me. The same is true when you are slim or fat. In your podcast Jamie talked to Carolina the first time when they traveled to Newcastle. If both had been twenty years older then they probably wouldn't have talked to each other. Bye

Submitted by ali aiad ali shanan on Fri, 01/02/2019 - 17:23

British people are little bit reserved .because the rain weather conditions.In egypt the people is quiet and funny

Submitted by cuneyt on Thu, 29/11/2018 - 22:15

Hi Everbody, I have not much idea about british people but I can estimate. British people are little bit reserved from what I hear because of the weather. The weather is cloudy adn rainy in there everytime so british people are cold and serious. The climate can affect peoples personalities. The peoples living in there are warm and open if the weather is sunny and windy somwhere. French people reserved than British people. The French are very arrogant.My country peoples personalities' are versatile because my country's climate have four seasons for the reason there are different personlities people. İn west of Turkey's people are veryd friendly and fun- loving.As for that in northeast people are very serious and irritable becaue of the climate all of them. I am living in istanbul. The weather is complicated here. You can see a lot of personalities.I love my countrys people everyone.Perhaps, we are different each one of us never mind. Variety is the spice of life. take care of yourself. Good night.

Submitted by Emily on Sat, 16/06/2018 - 15:04

In Italy, and generally in the south of Europe, people are very friendly and they open home everyone. This is a good attitude. But sometimes it get very invasive, especially in deep south. Form this point of view, british's "cold" is better than italian's "warm".

Submitted by Shiiya on Mon, 28/05/2018 - 14:48

Hello, I do believe to be reserved people don´t mean you are unfriendly , sometimes it is a kind of protect yourself , In my country people are known like warm , friendly but be careful sometimes baggy to , so it is a way to avoid this kind of person .

Submitted by poya nr on Mon, 25/12/2017 - 09:29

I think people are diffrent, They have diffrent ethical methods. It's not fair to say all of brithish people are reserved. This is my first comment i hope i wrote it right. I really like to come and see you two,tess & ravi. You both have good voices, I love it. Thanks to you all.

Submitted by hanhtoro97 on Tue, 28/11/2017 - 17:10

Hi guys, My name's Hanh. After listening this podcast, I've recently known that British people are reserved. But I think, it depends, not everyone in Britain is like that, despite the fact the number is not much. To my country, almost foreigners said that people here are very friendly and willing to help strangers if they can. And I do think so. If you are a sociable person, my country will surely suit for you! Thank you for reading.

Submitted by TitorGonzalez on Fri, 20/10/2017 - 01:03

Hello, Adam and Jo... It´s a pleasure to comment in this potcast. I´m from Mexico, here the people is very frendly, Here it doesn´t need much time to have friends, especially if your are foreinger, we like to meet persons and to know how were their lifes in their contriens. Mexicans are open people, we speak about many topics and we go with our friends everywhere, also we visit them in their home. Bye...

Submitted by Hanin on Fri, 22/09/2017 - 16:34

In my country people are open and i don't always like that specially in bus They make long conversation and i get bored but they are so friendly and would help strangers as much as they can. i like that in my country I liked the British saying that the house is the man's castle

Submitted by Tomoaki Hachiya on Tue, 12/09/2017 - 02:34

Oh, are you really reserved? I'm going to Scotland tomorrow, but I hope they are open and friendly. I myself is talkative and friendly though generally Japanese people are shy and not so open. So, I guess it depends on people I talk to. Anyway, please talk to me friendly when you see me on the street!

Submitted by Ephesus on Tue, 08/08/2017 - 17:05

We cannot say all they are reserved. Behaviours and attitutes can changeable. My opinion is UK has and covers many different nation people who this makes United Kingdom name. Of course this means everyone respect each other in UK terrra and lives altogether in peace for centuries. Possible this level mixture makes original English Fam's a bit scary and make themselves alone in the country. May be I'm wrong.

Submitted by Mariam33 on Wed, 14/06/2017 - 19:26

I think they seem constrained because the rainy weather conditions ... the Mediterranean peoples are more extrovert. The Greek people are friendly and extrovert, they ll be glad to help someone if needs something.

Submitted by Shunlai on Tue, 23/05/2017 - 18:47

Some people say " British people are more reserved than other nationality.It can be easily seen it's difficult to make friend with British people.They rarely talk each other and it makes other make u uncomfortable and cold." I really hope that might be stereotypes or judgement by their look . I'm from Myanmar .Myanmar people from urban area are very friendly ,helpful and always wear smile . They are very inocent . But not for people in city .They may be as reserved as British people . Bcoz city life is full of stress .

Submitted by cinek on Sat, 06/05/2017 - 09:28

Hello everyone, I'am Marcin and I'm from Poland. I am going to say taht indeed in my opinion American people are much more open than English. I have been both America in Chicago and Great Britain in London, and I can say that Americans speak to others on the street, on the bus or at the shop when you buying something, everywhere. Of course British are nice, polite and helpful but not as much as Americans, I think they are more reserved.

Submitted by khinpapa naing on Wed, 03/05/2017 - 10:33

I haven't visited London but I know many about of Englan and Englishman. Because our nation was colonised by English and Japan before II World War. So I know they are very rigid and strict in discipline and they are reserved. Most of the people are said that we are friendly, warmly and happy and we don't work hard due to indulging in amusement. I think it is little true because our land is good for every plants and tree and every time and every season, not to be hard.

Submitted by ejossue on Tue, 28/03/2017 - 02:19

Yes! I think British people are reserved. When I went to London I asked to a girl to take a photo of my wife and me. She just said yes, took the photo, I said thank you and she didn'

Submitted by anaropin on Sun, 12/02/2017 - 01:37

I am Colombian. In my country, people are very friendly and warm in general, but it depends on the region the person is from. For example, in the region of the Atlantic Coast , people are more warm and friendly than the center region of Colombia like Bogota. I am from Bogota, capital of Colombia . We are a little reserved and cold.

Submitted by KHALED34 on Mon, 06/02/2017 - 09:00

hi every one i'm from algeria and i want to improve my level in english my be one day i'll visite england i'm very interested about that can you help me, please

Hello again Khaled34,

I gave you some advice on how to use LearnEnglish to improve your English on a different page. It's great that you've started with Elementary Podcasts. I'd suggest the same method as I mentioned for Word on the Street – listen several times, record vocabulary, practise your pronunciation, complete the tasks, etc. This method has worked for many of our users. One of them even got a job in Scotland and moved there after working carefully through Elementary Podcasts!

If you have any other specific questions, please feel free to ask us.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by FRADJA on Wed, 18/01/2017 - 12:02

I have never visited the UK so I can’t judge, but I have some friends who live there many years ago and they say that difficult to make British friends, they don’t communicate a lot. They also say that if you see two men on train or on underground talk a lot they are not British. Algerian people are very friendly and very generous; in other country some people say that Algerian becomes angry very quickly.