Dispatches from England: What You Can Learn About British Culture From “Love Actually”

love actually

For as long as I can remember, the movie Love Actually has been my favorite holiday film. I’m guessing that if you’re a reader of Anglotopia, you’ve probably seen it too. If you haven’t, please stop reading this post and go and watch it immediately.

I hadn’t seen it in a few years though, but on a recent trip into London, I convinced my husband to watch it with me again. I couldn’t be in London, in December, and not watch it… that would be criminal! But this time when I watched it, I couldn’t help but notice all the accurate reflections of British culture, especially around Christmas, found in the movie. I’m not saying you’ll actually see the Prime Minister kissing a staff member in a nativity play, but here’s a few things that are true to life here:

  • Christmas Number One. One of the funniest plot lines in the movie is old rocker Billy Mack’s efforts to have his song be named the Christmas Number One. That’s an actual title bestowed upon a popular holiday song each year here. Unfortunately for Billy, his song isn’t climbing the charts in 2013. The song for this year hadn’t been named at the time I wrote this post, but my betting money is on Lily Allen’s “Somewhere Only We Know.” It’s been quite popular this season, and is featured in the popular department store John Lewis’ Christmas ad.
  • Critiquing songs on air. You may remember that when Mack’s song debuted on the radio, the BBC broadcaster was quite critical of the tune after it played. I laugh when listening to the radio here because after playing a song, the broadcasters or hosts often share what they think of it, even if they don’t really care for it. I’ve never heard a radio announcer be that honest in the U.S. Although I’ve yet to hear someone be so critical while the singer is in the room, like what happened to poor Mack in the film.
  • Importance of the Nativity. The performance of the school nativity was the culmination of the movie, when many of the characters come together. From what I can tell, just about every primary school here puts on a Nativity play around the holidays. And it’s very important. Moms and dads get out of work to attend, grandparents fill the school auditorium. A local radio station even had people calling in to share what part their sons or daughters have been cast as. There were not any lobsters or octopus in my son’s school’s nativity like are shown in the movie, but I was the proud parent of a little star this year.
  • Tea and biscuits. Remember the scene when Hugh Grant, who plays the Prime Minister, wonders “who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?” This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who is fond of British culture, but they really do love tea and biscuits here! I recently had a cultural faux pas when a repairman was working at my house on our broken heating system. I realized after he had been at my house for almost an hour that I hadn’t offered him a cup of tea. I felt terrible but we had a nice laugh about how Americans don’t think to do that.
  • Homecomings at Heathrow. The film ends with loads of families and friends meeting each other at Heathrow. The arrivals gate at this major international airport really is a magical place. I always love the diversity of the people you see there. People from all over the world, finally reunited with loved ones. I like to think about how long it’s been since they last saw each other and how special this time must be for them. And now that I’m so far from my own friends and family, my appreciation for similar moments with the people I miss so greatly has only grown.

So those are just a few observations about the British way of life taken from scenes from my favorite Christmas movie.


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  1. avatarLorena says

    The whole hoopla about the “Christmas Number One Single” always cracked me up. I remember the years it was Mr. Blobby and Bob the Builder at No. 1. It was surreal, to tell the truth but I became really endeared with people in the UK after that. lol I’ll never forget being in Oxford Street in 1996 when the Spice Girls were there to light the street for Christmas. I turned to my friend and said, “I bet no one will remember them this time next year.” Boy, was I wrong. If my memory serves me correctly, the Spice Girls had three Christmas hits. Thanks Nicole for such a great article :)

  2. avatarTeri says

    Makes me miss my home even more! I’m a transplanted Brit living in NJ. If anyone comes round to fix the furnace, plumbing, etc. I always offer tea or coffee. When I first arrived, I just assumed everyone did it here too. It’s amusing to see the looks on their faces as it is clearly not done here but after the initial shock, they really do seem to appreciate the offer.And the Christmas telly, I really miss that!

  3. avatar says

    Love Actually is one of my favorites and the imagery of traveling and loved ones really hit home, what the holidays are really all about? The humor and romance and quest for love was quite lovely and all the stories let to a happy ending in the end.

  4. avatar says

    I love this film so much! Every year I can’t wait for the Christmas season to start because I forbid myself to watch it any other time of the year. :-)

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