November 8, 2013

Britain is the most cultured society in the EU, thanks to the eurozone crisis


The British Museum: where 65% of Britons hang out, most of the time

Why else does the European Union exist but to pit countries against one another and routinely shame nations by comparison? This time, Britain has unbelievably come out top as the most cultured nation, and apparently our citizens are more cultured than the “average EU citizen”.

As reported in the Telegraph, an EU study found that:

“Four fifths of Britons (80 per cent) had read a book in the last year, well above the EU literature league average of 68 per cent, just beating the Germans (79 per cent), the French (73 per cent) and comfortably out reading the Italians (56pc).”

In Greece and Portugal “only half the population have picked up a book over the last year”, pointing to the very regrettable, but expected, correlation between countries that have been most badly hit by the recession, and the cultural engagement of their citizens.

The survey of 27,000 people in EU countries covered “nine cultural measures” and found that Britons visited more galleries and historical monuments and were more likely to attend the opera or see a play. In fact, 39% of British citizens had attended a play in the last 12 months, making us “almost twice as likely” to go to the theatre than our French neighbours.

Perhaps the most worrying statistic is that, “overall “involvement” in a range of cultural activities is down 24 per cent across the EU”, indicating the direct effects of the Eurozone crisis on funding for cultural institutions and the proportion of household incomes going on cultural activities. It may also point to the understandable feeling in certain countries that one has bigger and more pressing concerns than visiting the Parthenon.

The survey, it seems, does less to hold up Britain as a pinnacle of culture, and more to highlight a serious side effect of the financial crisis in Europe. It would be interesting to see the results of the same survey in two, five and ten year’s time. How will the countries of the EU recover, and what will be the shape of their cultural output and cultural involvement in the years to come?



Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.