Touring the Regions

(Dis) Uniting the Kingdom on Holiday

in Journeys

Abstract

This article is concerned with social constructions of identity as they are manifest in the charter tourism resorts of Magaluf and Palmanova on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Based on ethnographic fieldwork involving periods of participant observation, the article highlights the ways in which mediators of tourists’ experiences feed into and off ideas of national identity and how these are practiced, consumed, and performed as an effervescent Britishness. At the same time, the article explores the ways in which this Britishness is informed by regional identities and differences linked to senses of self. The article highlights issues relating to social cohesion at a broad level in society, which has implications for inclusivity at a time when, post-Brexit referendum, these issues appear ever more urgent.

This article considers expressions of identity by British1 tourists holidaying overseas as part of charter tourism packages. It focuses on the ways in which, at times, regional or localized senses of identity are articulated and used to create a sense of otherness between the tourists, all of whom originate from the United Kingdom (UK). This “internal” otherness serves to highlight difference and therefore dispel notions of togetherness, which are themselves used to highlight the sense of otherness associated with being in a foreign country.

On the morning of 24 June 2016, those in the UK who had not stayed up all night to see the result come in awoke to the news that the Vote Leave campaign in the British referendum on membership of the European Union (EU) had won the vote for what has become known as Brexit. The result revealed more than the electorates’ decision, serving to also illuminate division across the UK based on age, educational attainment, and geographical location of the population. The BBC carried a report that detailed that of the thirty million plus people eligible to vote, the older they were the more likely they were to vote to leave (BBC News 2016). Indeed, 60 percent of those aged sixty-five and over voted to leave, compared to only 27 percent in the eighteen to twenty-four age group. In terms of location, the differences were even more obvious. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain, as did Northern Ireland and London. By contrast Wales, Cornwall, the English Midlands, the East Coast, and the North voted to leave. The full ramifications of the vote are yet to be determined, but given the stark difference between the wishes expressed in Scotland and those found in England and Wales, the Scottish nationalists in the form of the Scottish National Party (SNP), led by Nicola Sturgeon, are not ruling out a call for another referendum on Scottish independence. Although the SNP lost a vote for independence from the UK in September 2014, the UK-wide general election that followed in May 2015 returned an overwhelming majority of SNP members to Parliament.

What was at stake in the September 2014 election was the continued existence of the UK. In political terms, with some powers already being devolved to Scotland and a similar scenario found in Wales and Northern Ireland, the efficacy of the idea of there being a union might be brought into question. For example, Scottish students do not pay university tuition fees, and Welsh students have their university fees subsidized by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG); but English students must pay, even if their chosen place of study is Scotland. In another example, those living in Wales do not need to pay National Health Service prescription charges, but those living in England do. The WAG was the first to introduce a five-pence charge on plastic carrier bags, and the Scottish Parliament the first to legislate against smoking in enclosed public places. Alongside this is the fact that calls for Scottish and Welsh independence are deep-rooted historically, and Northern Ireland has a troubled past based on its relationship in between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Furthermore, ideas around devolved powers do not stop at the countries that compose the UK; further devolution has occurred as the result of the Localism Act of 2014, allowing for forms of powers being devolved to the level of the city, as is already the case in London. Yet another factor that might be argued to point to disunity rather than unity is the issue highlighted by Rentfrow and colleagues (2015), which identified personality differences between people in the UK dependent on which geographical region the individual hails from.

The opening remarks in this article are not concerned with the legal intricacies of union, but rather are meant to highlight that not only are there differences between the four elements that make up the UK, but also within the different countries. Whatever the position on independence for any of the entities that form the UK, or the value of being in or out of the European Union, in light of the differences across boundaries and between London and many other parts of England (reflecting perhaps the long-established idea of the north-south divide) as highlighted in the EU referendum voting patterns, a question that might reasonably be asked is: how united is or was the UK anyway?

This is an important question to probe in terms of social cohesion and inclusivity, as the answers invite reflection on ideas of insider-outsider and senses of belonging. Post-EU Referendum there have been reports of a rise in racist-based abuse, and both during, and after, the campaign Vote Leave has been accused of exploiting fears about immigration to help win the vote. The Brexiteers, it could be argued, used a rhetoric of popularism (Kazin 1998, quoted in Condor 2010: 532) that was aimed at “ordinary” people and appealed to concerns about immigration, taxation, and viability of the National Health Service.2 As the Brexit voting patterns revealed, this was not a simple question of the UK against the outside world, but also of divisions within UK society itself. Writing in The Guardian newspaper postreferendum, Gordon Brown (2016), one-time Labour leader and UK prime minister, argued that “the north-south divide in Britain is now wider than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution,” and further that “it was a revolt of the regions … that pushed the Brexit vote over the edge.” A question to ask, therefore, is could the referendum result have been foreseen, or even changed, if there was a better understanding of the divisions within the UK, particularly England, in terms of individual and collective senses of identity and place in the world?

Focusing on the charter tourism resorts of Palmanova and Magaluf, on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, this article explores the ways in which questions of identity at a more localized level than the nation have been expressed, revealing differences between how people understand who they are and who they are not within the UK, and most notably within England. It will consider expressions of identity by British tourists holidaying overseas. As such, it highlights the ways in which appeals are made to common understandings of identity between the people of the UK.

I will begin with a brief overview of the literature within tourism that relates to understandings of tourists and specifically ideas of Britishness and Englishness. From there the article will provide an outline of the context in which the expressions of identity are articulated, and the proceeding discussion will explore the appeals made to a commonly held sense of belonging and identity related to the UK as one entity in contrast to pleas made to localized understandings of peoples’ self-categorization.

Tourism and Expressions of Identity

The use of tourism as a mechanism to express some sense of who we are is well-rehearsed in the study of tourism, from ideas, in the subject’s early days of study, relating to fundamental questions of why tourists travel (cf. Cohen 1979; MacCannell 1976), through notions of ego enhancement (Wheeller 1993), and the ways in which long-haul tourism experiences can be seen as a form of cultural capital consumed for the purpose of “articulating about identity and life-style” (Desforges 2000: 942), to the ways in which touristic practices express ideas around sexuality and gender (Thurnell-Read and Casey 2014). In terms of national identity, Tom Selwyn’s (1996) examination of the relationship between landscape and the creation of an embodied and embedded Jewish identity through Israeli tiyoulim (walking tours) in the Israeli countryside is instructive. As too is work by Magelssen (2002), who examined the ways ideas of America and Americanness were articulated by the 1950s American tourism industry.

In terms of work that considers ethnic descriptors that might be considered most pertinent to the UK, Catherine Palmer (1998, 2003) has discussed ideas of Englishness with a focus on three key heritage sites in the southeast of England, exploring the way in which Englishness is experienced through tourism; and with specific reference to Chartwell, home of Winston Churchill, explains “Chartwell is an English flag gently waving in the breeze, a flag of kinship and belonging, linking individuals to the nation’s core values and beliefs” (2003: 442). Thus, the practice of tourism alerts the participants to a particular engagement with and reinforcement of ideas of national identity.

Concentrating on the official promotional material of England in literature produced by the English Tourism Council, José-Igor Prieto Arranz (2006b) notes that there is a rural idyll based on a natural landscape found predominately in the country’s southeast representing a “hegemony … over other regions” (2006b: 45). He claims that this is based both on a “rural presumption” and “English presumption” in which both features are privileged, and this has implications for the way in which identities are reinforced. Thus, for example, Englishness is linked to a “traditional class, race and gender-restrictiveness” (46), while Britishness (found in the promotional material of Visit Britain) is more representative of urban life, ethnic, and gender diversities.

Both Palmer and Prieto Arranz have interrogated the nature of English identity as it is manifest within the country itself. Hazel Andrews (2011), however, has investigated the ways in which identities travel and examines the idea of an “effervescent Britishness” in Mallorca. This effervescence has strong recourse to a sense of a national past based on military greatness against a more contemporary view in which there are, for some, feelings of increasing senses of loss of, and threats to, national identity and sovereignty from a variety of outside forces, including the EU. As Ben Wellings contends in relation to notions put forward by the Campaign for an English Parliament, there is much recourse to the past underpinning ideas of English nationalism. Indeed, he argues that “the dominant understanding of the past in England is a vision of history where the notion of ‘greatness’ has been torpedoed by perceptions of ‘decline’ in the post-War-era—and ‘Europe’ can be all too easily seen as the institutional expression of this fall from great power status” (2010: 490).

An issue that is of importance is the question of what is Britishness and who within the UK identifies themselves as British as opposed to, say, Scottish or Welsh. Krishan Kumar attests, for example, that “one of the enduring perplexities of English national identity [is] [h]ow to separate ‘English’ from ‘British,’” and he points to “the lordly English habit of subsuming British under English” (2003: 1). In later writings Kumar continues this thesis regarding the so-called English question that has emerged due to increased devolved powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In this context, he asks, “Should Englishness be regarded, along with Scottishness, Welshness and Irishness, as just one of the four main components of a British or UK identity?” (2010: 472). Susan Condor noted in her research regarding English reactions to Scottish devolution that those who expressed an understanding of differences between “English” and “British” had a “stance of speaking ‘up’ for The English against existing agents and structures of state power, and against a dominant liberal value system” (2010: 532).

This article explores the ways in which all the ethnic descriptors in the UK are incorporated under “British” in Magaluf and Palmanova to create a shared identity, which is used by the various mediators of the tourists’ experiences as a foil against ideas of otherness found in the UK’s continental European neighbors—most notably the Germans, French, and Spanish. However, it will also become apparent that while at times a sense of shared identity in the form of Britishness has its appeal, and serves a purpose, at other times Britishness is disaggregated to highlight differences within the whole by country, region, or city. The next section describes the context and methodological background to the discussion.

Setting the Scene

The data presented in this article is based on several months of ethnographic fieldwork in the form of participant observation in the resorts of Palmanova and Magaluf. The first trip was in 1997, the most recent 2015. The work examines the constructions of identity through three key areas of social life: space, the body, and food and drink. They are explored as signals of Britishness, in which the associated ideas are consumed, embodied, and practiced in the actions and dispositions of the tourists.

The tourists in the two resorts in question hail from all four countries of the UK, but just by observation it was not immediately apparent from which individual country the tourists derived. Therefore, to be able to discuss the tourists as a group I follow Karen O’Reilly’s example and “use ‘British’ to apply to those English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish people who are identified, either through their actions or words, as British nationals” (2000: 167).

Magaluf and Palmanova are situated in the local municipality of Calvià on the southwest of the Bay of Palma, Mallorca. The resorts might be described as “British” in that most tourists meet the definition of “British” described above. In addition, the predominate number of tourists visit as part of a package organized by a British tour operator.3 It is the case that some hotels receive all their clientele from one tour operator and are thus dominated by one nationality: the British. While there are other tourists from other parts of Europe and the world, these people are far fewer in numbers. Most tourists are white, working class, and heterosexual, arriving as part of kinship or friendship groups. Although Magaluf and Palmanova merge into one another, they differ in tone. Magaluf has a noisy, rowdy, party reputation and has earned the nickname “Shagaluf”: a testament to the promotion of and engagement in casual sexual encounters as part of the holiday experience. Palmanova, by contrast, has fewer nightclubs and is less noisy. There are numerous activities in both resorts on offer for tourists to participate in, besides the sun, sea, sand (and sex) on offer, during their stay. These include, for example, island excursions, various water activities, organized games, bar crawls, and an array of nighttime entertainment from the nightclubs to bars and cabaret/pantomime-type performances.

For a long time, tourism and its associated activities have been discussed as a search for difference (Urry 1990), or a recovery of a sense of wholeness lost to the alienated modern person (MacCannell 1976). Tourism imagery is replete with images that attract tourists to destinations based on alluring landscapes and exotic otherness. However, Jean-Didier Urbain (1989) argues that the “pull” of tourism is not so neatly based on the idea of the exotic other, but rather is a narration of the consciousness of the traveler. As such, tourism does not tell us about the culture of the other, but about the culture of ourselves. For example, as Hazel Tucker discovered among a group of elderly tourists to New Zealand, they often found parallels between the landscape of New Zealand and that of home: “Remarks were frequently made such as ‘It’s just like the rolling countryside of Sussex’” and ‘“this is very wet, very wet. It’s just like South Wales, very wet and very green.”’ Tucker also observed “New Zealand was constituted as a place which is also home, a place they could feel at one with and thus a place where they could feel at home with the self” (2005: 277). We also know that expectations about what a place is going to be like are, in part, fueled by the imagination, but what is experienced often falls short (Skinner and Theodossopoulos 2011).

The idea of home to which Tucker alludes brings into focus the notion that tourism is less of a journey of discovery of the other and more a voyage about the self. As Selwyn notes in relation to both tourism marketing images and touristic practices, they “are underpinned by a dialogue between image-makers and tourists on the nature of the self” (2010: 195). He bases his argument on the idea that all individuals are concerned “with the nature of his/her self” (196). The concept of self is not straightforward, and Selwyn argues that there is a myriad of selves represented in tourism imagery, which act as a hall of mirrors in which the individual finds reflections “that seem to offer multiple choices about the role of his or her self in the scheme of things” (209). He notes that the relationship between self and the past mirrored in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Big Pit, Blaenavon, Wales, speaks of a nation and empire built, in part, on the coal and labor of those who worked the mine. The advertising material for the site is an image of a miner in a heroic pose, which evokes several questions:

Exactly where are these now? Amongst the unemployed and dispossessed? Forgotten relics of an industrial history that fuelled prosperity until the arrival of the “service economy”? Do they, the beaten but here heroic miners, belong to the same lineage as us? If they do, though, how did we keep faith with them when the combined forces of technological and economic change and a vindictive government were arraigned against them? Some might say that we abandoned them until it was safe to build them a World Heritage Site.

(208)

These observations made about the tourism imagery for Big Pit in many respects foreshadow the postreferendum analysis offered by Gordon Brown in this article’s opening paragraphs.

The discussion about tourism and its relation to ideas of home and self suggest that tourism is a self-reflexive and reflective activity that allows self-identity to be brought into focus often by its relationship to that which it is not or a recognition of what it is. Both Magaluf and Palmanova provide environments for expressions of identity in relation to ideas of the other, as well as an existing understanding of who one is. Thus, these touristic spaces allow the opportunity to “feel at home with the self” (Tucker 2005: 280); as one tourist in Palmanova advised: “I said to him [her husband] can’t we go and live in Spain. I feel more at home here than I do in England.” In this instance it is the familiar that is the attraction. Therefore, it is not the Spanishness or Mallorcanness of Mallorca that pulls the tourists to the two resorts but its perceived familiarity. The proceeding discussion will outline the ways in which the resorts can be understand as British and explores how the appeal to a sense of shared identity is articulated and practiced.

A British Landscape in Mallorca

I have outlined elsewhere (Andrews 2011) the way in which both Palmanova and Magaluf are characterized by signals of Britishness: from the food eaten, the use of the English language, the broadcasting of UK-based television programs, to the naming of bars and cafés in such a way that they could easily be found on a high street in the UK. All of these form part of what Michael Billig (1995) referred to as banal nationalism, those everyday, seemingly ordinary things that are engaged with in a nonreflexive way, but that help to confirm our sense of selfhood and identity.

The appeal to a sense of “home” is also fostered by the machinations of the tourism industry, particularly the tour operator representatives (reps), who use the welcome meetings4 to promote a sense of Spanish “otherness” mainly in the pursuit of profit. For example, tourists are warned against the use of public transport because of the danger of pickpocketing, against the drinking of local water; they are reminded to alter their watches to local time; and in one case reassurance is provided of the safety of the “foreign” other. Indeed, in one hotel welcome meeting the rep advised “although the [hotel] receptionists are not English they can all speak it” and “although England is a multicultural society this is an English hotel so it is safe to speak to people,” and again in promoting an organized evening’s entertainment, she comforted “there’s no need to worry, we all sit together … the entertainment is based on British and American acts and some of the performers are from Britain and America”; but went on to warn “you need to look out for the French act because he’ll try to get you on stage.”

The landscape of Britishness found in the resorts enables the tourists to understand who and where they are. These understandings are also embodied. As Andrews (2005) notes, embodied practice is central to tourists’ experiences. Thus, the tourists’ senses are used to construct sound and smellscapes of where they are or are not. For one tourist the noise of the resorts marked it as different from the quiet of her home environment: “At night you wouldn’t hear a pin drop”; jokingly, “We’ve come here for the noise.”5 For another tourist it was a particular smell that was significant: “This is a nice area until you go walking up the road to that bit of waste land; there’s that smell, the drains. Makes you appreciate England then.” In other cases it is the actions and dispositions of the tourists and the choices that they exercise over these that give rise to the sense of otherness within the resorts. For example, during a Football World Cup6 tournament match in which England played the café-bars broadcasting the match became crowded. Many tourists had bought towels featuring the Union Jack, in which they had cut holes in the middle in order to wear them like ponchos; others decorated their arms and faces with the flag of St. George. In commenting on other incidents of face painting by football fans abroad, Peter Childs notes it is “reminiscent of the Ancient Britons who would paint their faces blue … [with] woad to frighten their enemies” (2007: 47). In one gathering a tourist explained her family’s presence in the café-bar watching football: “We wouldn’t normally bother watching the football, but we’ve come for the atmosphere, because it’s British.” Such performances, along with the consumption of British food stuffs and other actions, sit alongside the visual signals of Britishness found in the resorts—the flags, the TV programs, and the names of the facilities, for example—and feed off and into one another. Thus, as Andrews contends, “the textual surface of Union Jacks, English-language menus, TV programmes and ‘British’ foods is visually consumed and incorporated into the body to give rise to feelings, understanding and thus knowledge of what it means for these tourists to be British” (2005: 263).

The preceding discussion has already demonstrated in the words of the tourists the conflation of British and English; the desire to watch the England team play a football match because it is British; the appeal to all the people staying in one hotel to feel safe because everyone is from England (even though the reality is that they hail from not only England but also Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and will engage with British entertainment. I pursue this idea further in the next section by examining in more detail how appeals to a collective understanding of notions of nationhood are made.

A United Kingdom

As the foregoing discussion suggests, there is a sense of presenting a united front in the face of the foreign other (specifically the Spanish and French in the examples above). The idea of the British versus the other is best illustrated in one of the nighttime entertainment activities that the tourists can opt to attend, Pirates Adventure. The show is a combination of acrobatic performance and a pantomime-esque play revolving around conflict between French and “British” pirates regarding the ownership of a chest of Moroccan gold. The audience of predominately British tourists, from all parts of Mallorca, are presented with a pastiche of a mythologized history that retells past military conflicts between Britain and some of her European neighbors. The entertainment includes not just the show itself but audience participation games, a meal, and seemingly unlimited supplies of alcohol. The performance enacts the battles over the “gold,” which the British ultimately win. The competitive nature of the games, the increasingly inebriated state of many of the audience members, the allusion to actual past military conflicts with European neighbors, and the attention drawn to ideas of foreign otherness by the performers in the form of joke telling, including comments such as “We don’t want the French here, do we?” and, upon an audience member winning a prize of a beach towel with the Pirates Adventure logo on it, advice is given to “put that on your sun-bed and no Germans will bother you; but you’ll have to get up early.”

The drawing of attention to ideas of the foreign other is echoed throughout the resorts, not just in the language of the tour operator representatives, but also in other forms of entertainment. For example, one comedian includes a joke about the Japanese: “When they were building Disneyland they made a mistake and made all the rides too big.”7 In another performance the act begins with the sound of the chimes of Big Ben and the opening words spoken in German. When the entertainer eventually begins to speak English he refers to other languages as “bullshit,” although by his accent he himself does not appear to be British. Other times the same act began with “Hello United Kingdom.” In yet another show the entertainers open with the words “We’re one big family here” followed by the Sister Sledge song “We Are Family.” This appeal to a kinship relationship, however fictive, draws everyone together in the same way that one of the reps sought to provide reassurances with regards to the safety of a hotel in the terms of the absence of a foreign other in the form of fellow guests, or its benign presence in the occupation of service roles in the form of receptionists and bar and waiting staff. These appeals and reassurances present a form of unity. I wish to turn now to the ways in which differences within the UK are used and referred to not only by meditators of the tourists’ experiences, but also the tourists themselves.

A Dis-United Kingdom

The watching of the England World Cup football match described above not only revealed a conflated sense of English and Britishness, but also provided an indication of a sense of rivalry and division within the UK. For example, during the match’s halftime two male British tourists who were England supporters decided to visit the nearby quiet (by comparison) Scottish café-bar in order to “gloat”—Scotland had failed to win its first game in the competition, whereas by halftime in England’s first game they had scored a goal.

Although much of the entertainment for the tourists began with, and capitalized on, a sense of unity in the face of a foreign other, it also related to people in terms of more localized senses of self and identity based on the four countries of the UK, regions within England, and specific towns and cities. For example, it was usual for some of the entertainers mentioned, including those in Pirates Adventure, to follow the initial introductions to shows with a call to the countries making up the UK in words such as, for example, “Anyone from Scotland? Anyone from Wales?” and so on. The different groups were encouraged to cheer in recognition of where they came from, and the loudest cheers were often congratulated. The localization went further with regard specifically to England, and tourists were asked to cheer for “the North” and “the South” of the country, and even more exactly for particular urban areas—Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, and London, as in the case of the entertainer who also drew attention to the foreign other in his reference to the Japanese. The use of humor to demarcate alterity was evident in more of the different entertainers’ pantheon of humor. Indeed, one act inquired of the audience, “What do you call a Welshman with a stick up his bum?” The answer: “A taffy apple.” From another entertainer was a joke about a “Scotsman raping a cat,” of which the punch line was: “It’s unlike a Scotsman to put anything in the kitty.”

Thus, there is a reminder that while there is unity in face of the foreign other, within that unity there are more localized ideas of identity. These, perhaps more parochial, notions of who one is and is not are connected to more specific locales than the nation. Pierre Bourdieu has argued that in looking for regional or ethnic descriptors, the identification “of objectified representations, in things (emblems, flags, badges, etc.) or acts” (1991: 221; emphasis in original) give legitimacy to the very idea that such divisions exist. For Bourdieu, the categorizations of identity exercised in the social world are

struggles over the monopoly of the power to make people see and believe, to get them to know and recognize, to impose the legitimate definition of the divisions of the social world and, thereby, to make and unmake groups. What is at stake here is the power of imposing a division of the social world through principles of di-vision which, when they are imposed on a whole group, establish meaning and a consensus about meaning, and in particular about the identity and unity of the group, which creates the reality of the unity and the identity of the group.

(221; emphasis in original)

However, as Marry K. Anglin notes in relation to her examination of national and regional identity in Appalachia, in the United States: “Processes of culture building might be weighted heavily towards the interests of elite groups and the needs of nation-states for authoritative self-definition, the ‘folk’ themselves acted upon constructions of Appalachia as an(other) America” (1992: 107). The politics of identity exhibited in the specific place of Anglin’s study were operationalized by the “folk”—the workers in a mica factory—as a means of resistance and expression against the factory owners. Drawing on David Harvey (1993), Anssi Paasi notes “that localized identities, especially when conflated with race, gender, religious and class differentiation, are among the most dynamic bases for both progressive political mobilization and reactionary, exclusionary politics” (2003: 476; emphasis in original).

In the case of the UK, and particularly in light of the Brexit vote, self-identification as belonging to nation and/or region serves both to “unmake” a sense of social cohesiveness and act as a way of resistance against the perceived interests of the “ruling” elite. As the ethnographic data and the historical context of regional identities shows, these divisions are not a new emergence. I continue this section by exploring the more circumscribed senses of selfhood, compared to the nation, as found in the words of the tourists and the symbolic landscape of the resorts.

As already suggested, the spaces of the resorts are encoded with ideas of home, many arguably with a national appeal—the Britannia, Lord Nelson, and Duke of Wellington, the latter two making inferences to past military glories. However, others are much more place specific, for example, bars and cafés with names alluding to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland)—Cork and Cardiff; Sospan Fach8; O’Malley’s Irish Tavern; and Scots Corner. Referring to England, there was Molly’s the Yorkshire Lass; the Dudley Tavern; the Geordie Pride; and a shop that sold olive wood under the banner “Wood you? In Magalluf [sic] Olive Would!!” which proclaimed not only its Geordie ownership, but also the ability to speak English.9

The wearing, predominately by men, of football shirts to express allegiance to a national or local team is a familiar sight both on the streets of the UK and in Magaluf and Palmanova. The Geordie Pride makes its fidelity clearly known, not just in its name but the internal décor of the small bar, which appears as a shrine to Newcastle Football Club. Newcastle shirts and scarves are pinned on the walls and ceiling of the insides of the bar, alongside pictures of past and present team members.

The declaration of the proprietors of the olive wood shop that they “also speak English” suggests an awareness of a sense of difference or understanding of the self in relation to other parts of England. This idea of difference between places in England and between the countries in the UK is also borne out in the words of tourists, as the next section will demonstrate.

The North-South Divide

The division between “the North” and “the South” is part of an imagined geography that has no one fixed place but varies depending on one’s perspective. As Rob Shields (1991: 207) states:

The “North” of England is not a precisely defined and mapped out jurisdiction with clear borders. It is said by many to extend as far south as the Cheshire border, including Manchester, and by a few to include even the Midlands—everything “North of Watford” … This “North,” which is seen as an undifferentiated unity no more diverse than the motorway signs to “The North,” provides a second example of a representation of a region as a pastoral foil to other, collectively romanticised images of London and the South of England.10

Contrary to Shield’s ideas are those that firmly identify an idea of the North. For example, in a BBC Radio 4 series entitled The Matter of the North, the writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg explores a number of issues that “make” the North, from, for example, its historical origins, rebellions, landscape, and the role of the Industrial Revolution in shaping its nature. He identifies a geographical area that extends from Hadrian’s Wall south to the River Dee (or Afon Dyfrdwy in Welsh) in the West and to Hull and the Humber in the East. During the series Bragg claims that the region offers an alternative way of living, which is a rejection of the metropolitan south. Much of this, it seems, is connected to a difference in landscape, with a history characterized by ruggedness, difficulty of access, and inhospitableness. The hardness of the landscape is linked to character, with Bragg arguing that during the twelfth century the people north of the Humber identified with the hard granite of the land in which they lived.

Whether the division between North and South is one of the imagination or rooted in history (an idea that will be explored in more detail below in the discussion), it nevertheless becomes objectified in the thoughts and feelings of the inhabitants of the various areas. As one couple advised about the person in the neighboring room in their hotel, “He’s ever so polite. I know he’s a Midlander, but he’s ever so polite.” This couple were on holiday from Devon, but originally hailed from Southall in London. Another couple commented on their move from Surrey to Norfolk: “We’ve lived in Norfolk for a long time now but we’re not really accepted there because we don’t come from there. It took our neighbors fifteen years to say hello to us. They’re good neighbors, but not friends.” These comments indicate that there is a sense of difference between people depending on where they originated from and now live within England. The most pronounced differences commented upon were those expressed about London.

London and the Rest

“You’ll get more respect from people by telling them you’re from Hertfordshire rather than London”: I, as a “Londoner,” received this piece of advice from a PR11 who originated from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; another PR, but from Scotland, told me, “London is the arsehole of England.” The hostility expressed toward London in the resorts was also found among tourists. For example, Fred and George are from Manchester. Fred advises (and George agrees):

I don’t like London; the people aren’t friendly. London doesn’t represent the whole country. People in London have an impression of the North which isn’t true. People in the South have an idea that everything stops north of Watford Gap. They have the idea that northerners wear clogs.

The notion of difference between London and other parts of the country was also expressed by Julie, who is from Barnsley and claims that “in London everyone is rushing around. Yorkshire is more laid back.” This sentiment was echoed by a tourist from Hull: “I don’t like London, it’s too busy, everyone’s in a rush. Our way of life is more relaxed.” Her husband, however, who did not share the same attitude, said he liked Angel and Holloway Road in North London, but nevertheless stated, “I knew you [i.e., the author] were a southerner from the way that you look.” In the conversation that proceeded the couple discussed their disillusionment with the Hull City Council and expressed concern that, in the words of the male informant,

there’s a lot of empty council housing and it’s being made available to other councils to house people. We’re going to get people from that [London] council with a bad reputation … Tower Hamlets is the one that sticks in my mind. Why should we take those who might cause problems from elsewhere?

There were no voices representing “a southern” view of the “north” in such a direct manner. One female tourist gave her view of Magaluf as being “like a northern working men’s club,” and a group of lads from London and Hertfordshire discussed Magaluf, commenting, in the words of one, “the clubs are dingy and naff, and the music isn’t very good. Earlier in the year we went to Aiya Napa [Cyprus], which was much more geared up for Londoners. Here seems much more aimed towards northerners.”

As the examples from some of the entertainers indicate, the demarcations between people do not just refer to the perceived differences found within England, but also draw attention to ideas, however stereotypical, regarding Welshness and Scottishness. However, the feelings of difference and rivalry were most marked between Scotland and England and found in sentiments expressed by tourists who derived from Scotland. For example, one couple complained that one of the tour operators “doesn’t run winter holidays for pensioners from Scotland,” and that “it’s not possible to get the same good deals on holidays as in the south, flights are always more expensive.” As they were staying with a relative who lived in Magaluf they had only paid for their flight, but “the cost of the flight was what some people pay for their whole holiday … they exploit Scotland like that.”

The ethnographic detail presented thus far demonstrates that there are different facets to understandings of self-identity displayed in Magaluf and Palmanova, all of which rely, to varying degrees, on a set of binary oppositions, for example, British-other; northerner-southerner; Scottish-English. As David McCrone attests, “setting the world up as a set of binary divides is a familiar strategy for making sense of it … We know who we are in terms of who we are not” (2002: 315). The following discussion will examine in more detail the identities expressed in Magaluf and Palmanova.

Discussion

The discussion begins with a consideration of understanding why there should be such heightened senses and displays of identity in the holiday setting. In his study of young adults’ views of national identity in the UK, and particularly the difference between English and British, Steve Fenton argues that “if we are looking for intensity, commitment or emotional energy attaching to national identity, we do not find much among the young adults in this research”—his overall conclusion is that indifference is shown to national identity. However, he does concede that there are times when “an identity might rise and fall” in line with “external events or prompts” (2007: 326) and asks if “national identity [is] … prompted by social contexts of the individual’s life” (327).

Picking up on the idea of context in the cases of Magaluf and Palmanova, where the informants of this article represent mixed age groups from different parts of the UK, I use ideas drawn from existential anthropology and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to elucidate the expression of effervescent Britishness found in Magaluf and Palmanova.

Habitus refers to the dispositions and preferences expressed in lifestyle choices and tastes that inform a sense of personhood and identity—in short, our way of being. In the existential anthropology of Michael Jackson (1989, 2005), he refers to a disrupted habitus that occurs at moments of life when there is a heightened sense of self-awareness. This may be in the form of a ceremony, initiation rite, or extreme stress, and at these times feelings or expressions normally held in check—latent possibilities—are allowed fruition. Illuminating understanding of Kuranko (an ethnic group living in Sierra Leone) behavior during the separation period of the neophytes in female adulthood initiation rites, Jackson comments:

It is the disruption of the environment that mainly concerns me here, and the way such disruption triggers changes in bodily and mental disposition. Kuranko initiation is first and foremost a disruption in the habitus … that sets in train the social and personal alterations whose visible bodily aspect is role reversal. My argument is that this disruption in the habitus … lays people open to possibilities of behaviour which they embody but ordinarily are not inclined to express. Furthermore, I believe that it is on the strength of these extraordinary possibilities that people control and recreate their world, their habitus.

(1989: 129)

My argument is that the holiday provides an occasion that allows a disturbance to the habitus (Andrews 2009). Fenton argues that “national identity is evoked by response to highly visible events” (2007: 327). I suggest the holiday is one such event, and thus a sense of national identity becomes more important than perhaps it would be expressed in the home world in which Fenton’s research took place. The disruption to the habitus caused by the holiday is made more pronounced by the tourism industry and the positioning of the foreign other against the tourists’ conceptualizations of who they are.

The view of Britishness presented to the tourists draws on understandings of social relations that are based on normative conventions. Thus, as Pirates Adventure illustrates, the outside world of warfare and protection is seen as the rightful domain of males, while the domestic sphere is the locus of female activity. In addition, the focus on a sexualized female body as object of the male gaze alongside a sexualization of the body for both sexes, such as the sexual positions games played as part of hotel entertainment and on bar crawls (Andrews 2005), further compounds the normative characteristics of the basis for relationships.

The connection between nation and sexuality has also been observed in tourism promotional material for England and Britain by Prieto Arranz, who argues that in the former the images “deprive racial and sexual minorities of any rightful claim to … Englishness” (2006b: 46), which is not so prevalent in images of Britain (Prieto Arranz 2006a). While Prieto Arranz’s analysis of the marketing information may be correct, in the resorts the sense of both Englishness and Britishness portrayed was that of concepts in which difference was not, or would not be, easily accommodated. However, both the images presented in the promotional material and the practice by the tourists in the resorts compound the notion of a discourse of nation that is strongly interwoven, as Parker and colleagues (1992) attest, with a discourse of sexuality.

The representation of Britishness in the resorts draws upon, and reinforces, existing conceptions of what Britishness means, which for some finds greater outlet in the context of the holiday than it does at home. Attendant with this is an idea that something has been lost, or deeply changed, in the home world, hence the comment by one tourist that “England isn’t England anymore,” a sentiment echoed by other tourists. This sense of loss of, or transformation of, Britishness is well rehearsed in the academic literature. For example, Anthony Smith points to “one powerfully persuasive image … of a tranquil and well-ordered England threatened by Continental despotism and anarchy” (2006: 435). Ten years earlier, David Cesarani (1996) commented on the “radical” repositioning of Britain’s importance in global affairs after World War II, an idea echoed by Marco Cinnirella (2000) and Anna Triandefyllidon (2002), both of whom also discuss a crisis in identity and lack of self-confidence. The threat to identity is further compounded by perceptions of increased numbers of immigrants, as the two tourists, Fred and George (who expressed a dislike of London), also commented with regard to Asians: “Our area [of England] is infested with them.” The demarcation of “us” and “them” speaks of an idea of exclusivity of belonging. Such observations clearly have resonance with some of the rhetoric of the political Right, which goes back a long way. McCrone, commenting on Norman Tebbit’s (former secretary of state for employment during Margaret Thatcher’s era as Conservative prime minister) interview with Darcus Howe (a British broadcaster, writer, and civil rights campaigner), notes that the answers the interviewee gave implied that “only he (Tebbit) was English, implying that being white was a necessary, almost ‘ethnic,’ condition for being English” (2002: 305).

However, within this idea of unity underlain by the valuing of whiteness and a shared military past there is another set of differences. Prieto Arranz draws on the work of Davide Deriu (2003) to suggest that “images may distort reality … and in this case … they conceal a situation of fragmentation and division in British national identity” (2006a: 197). The schisms to which Prieto Arranz refers not only include a separation of British identity from Scottish, Welsh, and English, but also to understandings of regional differences.

As the ethnographic material from Magaluf and Palmanova suggests, tourists are called upon (literally) to identify themselves with a particular part of the UK, or area or city of England. In addition, not only are the two resorts full of signals of Britishness, but also signals of identities apart from the whole. These signals not only refer to the countries of the UK but also to specific regions or cities. As Childs argues, “when situating British identity in terms of place in relation to culture, we should … turn to smaller geographical units” (2007: 41). The words of the tourists strongly indicate an understanding of difference with regard to a north-south divide in England and even more specifically an idea of separateness from London. There is an apparent self-consciousness about being different, as the words “We also speak English” on the outside of the aforementioned Geordie-owned olive wood shop suggest—a feeling of being different from other parts of England.

The idea of differences, especially those based upon a north-south divide within England, is not new. Prieto Arranz (2006b), for example, points to the nineteenth-century work of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and politician Benjamin Disraeli. Gaskell’s novel North and South is set in a fictional industrial town—representing Manchester—in the north of England. The story highlights the plight of mill workers living in poverty, as well as the differences between those who have acquired their wealth from northern-located industrialization (the nouveau riche) and the existing southern-located affluent class of the landed gentry. These variances in the accumulation of wealth and location suggest distinctions based on both geography and culture.

As the discussion drawing on Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 series suggested, the north-south divide has developed in a tangible way over a long time, and as the very making of the series attests, the contrasts remain an issue. Indeed, it forms part of a lineage of commentary on this division. For example, in the middle of the last century, George Orwell (1953: 31–32) remarked that “there exists in England a curious cult of Northernness, a sort of Northern snobbishness. A Yorkshireman in the South will always take care to let you know that he regards you as an inferior … he will explain that it is only in the North that life is ‘real’ life.” According to Prieto Arranz, “the North/South divide or the existence of the Two Nations is still firmly rooted in the popular mind” (2006b: 28). The link to nation echoes Orwell’s words that “English regional snobberies are nationalism in miniature” (1953: 36). Certainly, the voices of the tourists appear to resonate with a strong attachment to a particular place and understandings of disparities between different areas of the country. The tensions that exist in the words of the tourists regarding regional identities pick up other themes explored in discussions of identity. Peter Taylor, for example, claims that the idea of Englishness excludes large parts of the country, being focused on the home counties, which is “a corner of the country masquerading as a representative of the whole” (2001: 134). He goes on to argue that the idea of the North has no meaning except in its relation to the rest of England, and that the north-south divide is increasingly mythologized. As in all sets of binary oppositions, the South has no meaning except in its relation to the rest of England. Although the north-south divide is one of the imagination, the voices of the tourists externalize and give life to these imaginings. Their positioning of themselves on either side of the Watford Gap demonstrates that there is a strong sense of coming from somewhere that is different from somewhere else, and, by corollary, having a different awareness of self and personhood.

The data shows that the most marked placing of self in relation to an “other” was connected to London. This may, in part, be due to my own identification as a Londoner. However, as Taylor observes, “London is probably more dominant in the UK today than even when it was imperial capital of the largest empire ever constructed.” He puts this down to London’s increasing importance at the center of global economic interests and asks, “Are we leading to the curious situation where the capital city is the enemy within?” (2001: 140). According to Kevin Robins, “London is the hub for all the global flows that are now profoundly complicating our established models of cultural coherence and order” (2001: 486). He goes on to argue:

What is significant for me is that London has generally been left out of discussions of the national culture and identity—as if London were not properly, or purely enough, or manageably enough, British (or English, at that). And on those occasions when London has been referred to, then it has commonly been with feelings of resentment and hostility towards a city that seems to have a disproportionate share of national resources, and that dramatically overshadows the economic and cultural life of the rest of the country. London has never fitted easily into the national mould. Its nature has been anomalous—and for that it has been resented.

(486–487)

Fifteen years on from when these observations were made and at a time when the result of the UK referendum on membership of the EU is known, the schism between London and many other parts of the UK could not be much more notable. In relation to the UK specifically, and in commenting on Brexit, Keith Hart (2016) reminds us that the UK itself is a relatively recent construct—just over three hundred years old. Further, as the union was developed through empire and industrial capitalism, Hart argues, “Britain’s industrial north was sidelined to an antiquated colonial system, the legacy of which can be seen today in London’s relationship with its regions” (2).

Conclusion

The opening of this article suggested that there appears to be an ever-increasing concern with questions of national identity within the UK, what McCrone describes as “the rediscovery of identity politics” (2002: 303), which has found expression, in part, in the outcome of the EU referendum. Separation within the UK has found outlets in the processes of devolution begun by the New Labour government in 1997. Greater autonomy over some issues has fueled the debates about the conflation of English with British and the separation of these descriptors from Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish. The results of the referendum on membership of the EU point to a continuation of separateness. This divergence, according to Hart, is not just about the EU, but based on “a whole series of institutional conflicts with roots in a country no longer held together by the glue of empire and global industrial leadership.” He further attests that “several regions could take advantage of political turmoil to push for greater devolution: the West Country, Wales, Yorkshire, Tyneside” (2016: 2).

It has been remarked that the terms “British” and “English” are often used interchangeably (Smith 2006), but as McCrone points out, now “it seems that people in England are more willing to adopt the national descriptor of ‘English.”’ As he goes on to argue, this poses a problem for ethnic minorities who are mainly excluded, or exclude themselves, from the category of English as a qualified form of Britishness. Thus, “the term ‘English’ is reserved largely for white ‘natives’” (2002: 305).

This article has entered the debate by examining the manner in which ideas of Britishness are manifest by members of British society overseas, in the setting of two charter tourist holiday resorts. It has demonstrated that in that context the use of the terms “Britishness” and “Englishness” are interchanged, perhaps more so by those who might also fall into the category of English. There is, for example, a conflation of histories—pirate characters in Pirates Adventure all existed before the Act of Union—and yet the characters become part of a common, imagined history. Although there are distinct ideas of Scottish and Welsh identities to be found both overseas and within the UK, these were not raised when there was an appeal made to an aura of togetherness in the face of the foreign European other. I have argued that the appeals to the articulation of a form of effervescent Britishness arise because the holiday, in this arena, causes a disruption to the habitus that encourages a heightened sense of self-identity. It is expedient for the tourism industry to tap into this. It is this disruption to the habitus that helps us to comprehend why someone should feel more “at home” abroad than at home. The heightened sense of a national identity relying on values derived from past military might offers a break from a setting in which identity is perceived to be under threat from various outside forces and not what it used to be.

Britishness is shown to be fragmented in the more localized understandings of differences between countries (e.g., Scotland and England) and further still in a disaggregation of England between North and South and particularly between ideas of “the North” and London. As the UK now faces an uncertain future and disaggregation from the EU, along with the associated self-examination in terms of a divided people, the expressions of identity found in Magaluf and Palmanova suggest the UK was never truly united anyway.

Notes
1

I recognize the contested and complex nature of this label and shall discuss it in more detail in the article.

2

See, for example, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) (BBC News 2015).

3

The vertical integration and transnational nature of the tourism industry means that companies that appear “British” have an ownership based elsewhere. For example, Thomsons is owned by the German organization TUI.

4

That is, those meetings in which the rep assigned to a particular accommodation meets “his/her” tourists to tell them about tour operator–organized activities (Andrews 2000).

5

Perceptions of noise are also used to construct a difference between Magaluf and Palmanova, the former understood as the place to make noise and the latter as the place to be quiet.

6

Soccer is known as football in the UK and other parts of the EU and world and the world cup is run by The Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

7

The “joke” here relies on stereotypical notions that Japanese people are short in stature compared to “Western” people.

8

Welsh for “Little Saucepan.”

9

Geordie is a nickname assigned to people from the Tyneside area of northeast England. It is also an English dialect that sounds distinctly different from English spoken in other parts of the UK.

10

Both Shields (1991) and Childs (2007) refer to “North of Watford,” although Shields does footnote a recognition that the correct version is “North of Watford Gap.” Watford Gap is a service station on the M1 motorway between Rugby and Northampton some fifty-six miles north of Watford, a town situated on the outskirts of London, within the ring of the M25 motorway. Therefore, to refer to the imagined division as north of Watford is misleading, as this misses areas of the southeast of England. As Shields goes on to note, citing a 1980s article in the Economist, “Britain is split by a North-South Divide running [diagonally] from Bristol to the Wash” (1991: 232).

11

A PR is someone who stands outside a café-bar encouraging business into the premises.

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Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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