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Is Britain Still Cool? We Asked Some Foreign VICE Offices to Find Out

How did the British go from Oasis, New Labour, and Austin Powers to Ed Sheeran, Downton Abbey, and pedophiles?

Photo by Live4Soccer(L4S).

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Tonight, Chris Evans's anarchically boorish TFI Friday returns to British TV screens 19 years after it first aired on Channel 4. If you're too young to remember, back then Britain was a very different place. In fact, it wasn't really "Britain" at all, it was a newer, braver, gakkier place called "Cool Britannia," where the future was something people still smiled about and no one knew what austerity was. For example: today we have Sleaford Mods; back then we had "Things Can Only Get Better." Today, we have Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie; back then we had Austin Powers. Today, we have Nigel Farage; back then we had the man who threw an egg at John Prescott. I'm not saying that the late 90s were culturally superior—clearly, "Jolly Fucker" shits over anything D:Ream will ever do—just that it was a different type of culture. It wasn't like today when no one is happy.


With TFI Friday crash-landing into David Cameron's Britain this evening, we decided it would be a good time to ask some of our international offices: Is Britain still cool? And if it is, is it as cool as it was back in those early, heady days when Oasis were still friends and Tony Blair was not yet a war criminal? Here are their replies, including images that they say sum up Britain in 2015. None of them seemed bothered about the territorial differences between Britain, Great Britain, and the UK, and for some reason they all wanted to talk about the Libertines.

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Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Italy by Anis Ali.

Yes guys, you still rock. Even though I was too young to care about Oasis vs. Blur, I remember there was a time when I thought Pete Doherty was the coolest man on planet Earth. It didn't matter that he was pale and flabby and the only time he came to Milan he had a nervous breakdown and fled the stage screaming after the first song—he's the kind of guy who can break Mediterranean girls' hearts. I was convinced there was a clear line running from Dylan Thomas through Joe Strummer to Pete Doherty—something to do with tight jeans, talking like your throat is a pub ashtray and not giving a shit about girls. I still believe it. You had the punk movement, too—and I am sure every Italian kid will continue to go through a punk period in their life till the end of Western civilization itself.


We still like you guys today because of the pub-fights and the five-o-clock beers, but on the other hand, you know, southern Europe seems to have become the destination of choice for soon-to-be-married British girls who want nothing more than to get drunk and faint naked on the beach. Then there's the carpet thing: Why the hell do you feel the need to put fitted carpet on all of your rooms and staircases? It's so unhygienic. Not to mention undeniably uncool.

Sometimes you look like you're never going to change; that the monarchy and politeness and hooligans will stay forever. We like your balance. And your accent. American English sucks. ––– Elena Viale, Staff Writer, VICE Italy.


Guys, basically you and New York invented, theorized, and classified the concept of cool itself. Like, when I was 18 and had this big bowl-ey Byrds haircut, my grandmother used to scream, "You look like a young English man, you're almost a Beatle!" For most people here, "British" is still a synonym for politeness, humor, and class. And pop-rock. Britain is the pale-skinned gentleman sleeping in a castle near the river in his Barbour jacket; the Stone Roses fan who likes soccer, pints, and getting smashed on Es. Both are stereotypes adored by French kids.

On the other hand, the last 15 years saw the coming of age of your 21st century—drunken youths marauding through the streets of Soho and the worst tourists in the Western world. Frankly, we think it's gross. Most people I know associate premature obesity and vomit with the English. Also, what can we say about a guy like Cameron? He's almost the only guy on Earth who could make people think Sarkozy is a left-winger. I don't know if Britain is "uncool" or whatever, but there are definitely a couple of things that make you look like assholes to the rest of us. ––– Julien Morel, Editor in Chief, VICE France.



Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Greece by Brian Ledgard.

Britain has always been cool in my eyes. If Britain were a person, it would be one of those sharp-dressed Mods who wanders around town on their scooter looking for either a fight or amphetamines. That's what I like about Britain: the conflicts. You always have to "stand your ground" and be proud of who you are and where you come from. There's no shame in being poor but it is also not your fault if you happen to be an arty rich kid. People in Britain seem to understand this.

Mods vs. Rockers, Oasis vs. Blur, Millwall vs. West Ham, it's all there—rabid tribal conflict that all builds to this cathartic moment when you scream your lungs out about how proud you are to be you. That's the coolest thing about Britain. It's not just the obvious things—music, art, literature, comedy, The Beatles—that make Britain cool, it's about taking the fall with a smile. And then necking a dozen pints of lager.

On the other hand, I have come to the conclusion that some aspects of Britain which I always admired are fading like the color in Pete Doherty's hair. It is the quality of life. That's what is important, in my opinion, right now. Making sure that people live a happy life. And that is not what happens in Britain these days. ––– Antonis Konstantaras, Writer, VICE Greece.


Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Spain by Javier Izquierdo.

How could we not love you, the British? In our mind, the UK is a lot of the music that we love, social movements that have changed the world, like punk, and really cool people like Morrissey, John Lennon, David Bowie, and Cliff Richard.


From a distance, we peer at you and see an intelligent people who have much more money than us and that, obviously, means everything is better.

The problem only really arrives when we come face to face with you here in Spain. When you come to visit us and all we see is a bunch of men with shaved heads, too many tattoos, not enough sun cream and an abject, almost criminal level of drunkenness. Britain to me today is a pissed man who is continually trying to find out if he can jump from the window of his Magaluf hotel room to the pool. And he dies every time. These days we don't know what to think. ––– Juanjo Villalba, Editor-in-Chief, VICE Spain.


Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Denmark.

You've changed, guys. What happened? You used to be punk and conquer the world and subsequently ruin it like it was nobody's goddamn business. You used to give fewer fucks than Sid Vicious himself, and now it's all Ed Sheeran this, political pedophile ring that. We don't know where it all went wrong, but we suspect it might have something to do with the strange impulse your rather loud citizens have to buy up all the bars in the world and name them ridiculous things, like "The Feathery Cock" and "The Hunter's Willy." And just for the record, adding "…and chips" to something doesn't mean you've created a brand new dish.

That said, you guys leaving the European Union will be the most punk thing you've done in years. It will be sort of like flipping off all your friends and wandering off into the wilderness to die alone, but pretty punk nonetheless. Also: Sleaford Mods. They're cool. ––– Mads Schmidt, Online Editor, VICE Denmark.



Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Sweden by Alex Sturrock.

To a Swede, Britain's dry cider is fucking cool. All we ever come up with is super sweet candy cider that attracts bugs. Also, the dry cider—like Strongbow—is available everywhere! AND it comes in huge bottles! So cool. But drinking huge bottles of alcohol comes at a price: namely British tourists, who are the worst: drunk, loud monsters who mistake holidays for war, and try to conquer travel destinations with their pale, alcohol-flushed bodies.

When it comes to music, the Brits have a ton of genres that are cool and some that aren't cool. Grime is cool, 'cos it's like the older, smarter, cleaner brother of trap. It's sexy in that weird, awkward, British way. And once upon a time, the Brits knew how to make cool dance music.

Unfortunately, that time is over. The British rave scene WAS cool until the mid 90s. But then, like with most of your weird electronic styles (drum and bass, donk—WTF?—jungle, etc) you get lazy and don't know how to keep up with the world around you. Jamie xx alone isn't enough for you guys to be considered cool. And I mean, Calvin Harris—really? I don't usually say this, but: LOL.

But then again, no one can take indie-rock away from you. Babyshambles, The Kooks—yeah, baby! You'll always be cool for that. It's a shame that many of your uncool citizens think it's cool to dress like a Babyshamble in 2015. It's not. ––– Caisa Ederyd, Editor, VICE Sweden.



Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Romania by Todd Dwyer.

It's pretty easy for a middle-class Romanian to say what we like about Britain. If a war with Russia ever breaks out, most of us will probably migrate to Britain. We already have a lot of friends who moved there. You might have seen that in the news.

We like that you're heavy drinkers, and you're one of the few Western nations who have some semblance of dark humor, which is basically the only humor eastern Europeans approve of. On the other hand, the people of Bucharest hate your dark beer, but love your drugs, because cocaine is very rare in Romania.

Music-wise, I don't think there's any new British band or DJ from recent years that was popular enough to reach our corner of the world, but we still fill up stadiums for British heavy metal bands from the 80s, so I guess we're a little out of the loop.

We also love you guys for Prince Charles, who keeps coming to Romania to throw money around and help preserve our historical heritage. As for our dislikes, we really hate your backwater xenophobia. Parties like UKIP and the Conservative Party make us out to be thieves and beggars in a manner that reminds us of Soviet propaganda. Some of our friends who work in the UK told us that they feel this prejudice every day, even though they've been working and paying taxes there for over a decade.

Also, what's the deal with grime music and cutesters? We really don't get how those are "a thing" there. ––– Mihai Popescu, Senior Editor, VICE Romania.


Photo that sums up Britain according to VICE Netherlands by Sander v Ginkel.

It's hard to definitively conclude whether Britain is still cool or not. On the one hand, it's hard to think of Britain as "cool" when your main contact with British people is hen parties—especially when you're having to weave around them as they sit-down-piss in the streets of your home town and capital city. When it comes to the British, our first association these days is girls who wear bulky belts as skirts, circling around guys in stained football shirts. If these people are cool it's only in terms of their body temperature, seeing that they refuse to wear coats or jackets, even mid-November, when the streets are full of snow and ice. Cool people, on this continent at least, wear coats or jackets.

The MTV of Blur and Oasis is dead, while the MTV of Geordie Shore is very much alive, continuously airing the life dilemmas faced by people with plastic hair, unintelligibly wheezing at each other. British people screaming, fighting, drinking, and doing drugs used to be cool, but somehow it now feels a tad trashy.

On the other hand: grime. ––– Wiegertje Postma, Editor-in-Chief, VICE Netherlands.