- -  Day # 166  + +

EU > United Kingdom > Cardiff

Simply happy in Wales

Cardiff, UK (View on map)

Day 166 and still going strong? I arrived in Cardiff earlier today, the capital of Wales. I will not have much time to discover the entire region, so bluntly stepped up to people today with the following question: What makes Wales different from England?

Abigail (23):

..does not have a typical Welsh name
The easiest starting point to describe Wales would be to compare it to Scotland. Both countries have a history of battles against England, and both have subsequently been integrated into what is officially referred to as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Both Wales and Scotland are home to separatist sentiments, although Scotland has traditionally been much more fanatic about independence. Wales and Scotland also share their affinity with Celtic culture, although Wales feels closer to French Brittany while Schotland is more closely related to Ireland.

Sheep country
In my search for people to interview, I meet Ben (25) from England. He is visiting Wales with his girlfriend Victoria (24) who spent some time studying in the Welsh town Swansea. He tells me about how English people tend to relate Wales with sheep and emptiness: `We often say the best thing that comes from Wales is the M4 Motorway, meaning that everything else from Wales is pretty insignificant.` When talking about Wales in a more serious way, he tells me that Wales is known for its beautiful mountainous sceneries. Victoria adds that Welsh people tend to be much more friendly and sociable than the mentality she is used to in London.

Abigail (23, photo), whose first name is Hebrew not Welsh, tells me that only abroad she risks being mistaken for English. `Which I quite fanatically insist we are not. English people have little difficulty identifying us as Welsh. They can often tell by physical appearance if our accent has not yet given us away. On average, we are quite short, have dark hair and dark eyes. Welsh first names include Gwen, Garreth, Anghard, Sian.. My own second name is Bethan, which is a Welsh name too.`

`Unfortunately, many people outside the UK have not heard about Wales before or are unable to point it out on a map. We do have some sources of pride, but we prefer to Upon request, Abigail and her friends Denver (31) and Danielle (23) produce a whole list of celebrities from Wales, ranging from Tom Jones (singer), Antony Hopkins (actor) and Shirley Bassey (singer) to Richard Burton (actor), Brian Giggs (football player), Garreth Edwards (rugby player) and Ioan Gruffudd (actor), the latter being `pretty hot` according to Danielle.

Ben (21) explains me that Wales is a lot less fanatic about independence than both Scotland and Northern Ireland. `We do have a national Welsh Assembly and a lot of freedom from Westminster: health care, education, transportation, and many more domains are decided on locally. An independent Wales would not make sense from the economic point of view. We do have our sense of national identity, but very few people see that as enough a reason to strive for independence.

Andrew (24) thinks the Welsh Assembly would mess up the country if they gained full independence. `There certainly is such a thing as Welsh pride. Just seeing the Welsh flag makes me proud to be Welsh. Even though we have a lot in common with the English, we like to see ourselves as different. We have a different sense of humour: more friendly and less complicated. The country may be poorer, but people have much more of a feeling of belonging.`

Speaking Welsh is not a requirement for a happy life in Wales. Only people who work for the local government are required to have notions of Welsh, and the local language may come in handy for people who travel to the West Coast. It is of hardly any use in Cardiff, which is both geographically and linguistically the area closest to England. Sparsely populated areas in the West and North of Wales still use Welsh as a community language, but virtually everybody speaks English as well. Bilingual road signs or even commercial signs are very common, which means any visitor to the country will get at least some exposure to the local language. They are likely to remark the high frequency of double consonants LL, pronounced GL, DD, pronounced TH, or FF, pronounced F (while a single F is pronounced as V). W`s are vowels, pronounced as `U`. Long city names like the intentionally made up but nevertheless truly existent Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch are commonplace.

Although Welsh has distant Celtic origins, it is by no means mutually exchangeable with Gaelic from Ireland or Scotland. All state schools either teach Welsh as a subject or present all of their study material in Welsh. Welsh language is also the subject of the annual Eisteddfod, a national competition in singing, dancing, reciting and reciting poetry. The competition ends with the election of the winner in the poetry discipline, as well as the celebration of the national patron Saint David`s Day on 1 March. On that day, people wear traditional costumes, with badges featuring the national symbols of Wales: the daffodil or the leek. The Welsh Dragon is flown on flags, but does not form an integral part of the dress code.

Tony (24) and Hannah (24) try to convince me that, apart from Saint David`s Day, `nothing ever happens in Wales` but that the Welsh are mostly OK with that. According to Hannah, Welsh people like things quiet. As an example of this immobility, many Welsh hardly feel any need to leave their country: `Not even the weather gets them out of the country. People simply don`t notice the rain and wind anymore. Discount travel from Cardiff airport has enticed some Welshmen to leave somewhere on a package deal. They travel to their destination and back again, and that`s mostly it. No need for round trips or people leaving to discover previously unknown territory.`

Happy nation
Hannah continues by telling that Wales has the lowest number of people suffering from depression, in spite of the relative poverty of the country compared to England. `Welsh people do not look for excitement, they are happy with what they have and happy with who they are. That`s all that really matters to the Welsh.`

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