There was an interesting survey by Chatham House a few weeks back; asked which countries they had good feelings about, the British put the following as their top ten favourite.
1 Australia: 47% favourable
2 Canada: 44%
3 = USA and the Netherlands: 33%
5 Sweden: 28%
6 Norway: 26%
7 Ireland: 24%
8 Germany: 21%
9 Italy and Spain: 20%
Their least liked were Russia, North Korea, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and Ukraine, which is not surprising as all are involved in conflict in some way and people are probably sick of hearing about them. Strangely, 1% of Britons feel ‘especially unfavourable’ towards Norway. Are they still bitter about Harald Hardrada’s invasion? Or possibly that commentator from the 1981 game still grates?
All such surveys show Australia to be most liked, because Aussies are basically close family members who just happen to live 10,000 miles away, which is where most English people like their families to be. Canadians and Americans are more like cousins, similar to us but with better teeth and skin, although the Americans are just a bit too successful for our liking, and also slightly more foreign than Canadians. (New Zealand, if it were included, would no doubt finish in the top three).
Aside from Ireland, the next four most popular countries are also, not by coincidence, those with the most proficiency in English, in that order. Almost every Dutch person speaks English, and a large proportion speaks it so well they understand nuance and irony as well as natives do.
And although a majority of Germans can speak English, the vast majority of the younger generation can, and therefore as they grow up the idea of the Anglosphere may increasingly disappear. This may sound strange, as the Anglosphere is essentially an internet-age phenomenon, and the web has very much amalgamated the public arenas of the English-speaking countries (or at least people in Britain take the public debate in America to be theirs, even to the extent of holding protests in west London about policing in Missouri).
But America is actually moving away from Europe politically and culturally, becoming more like Latin America in character and more concerned with east Asia. Increasingly Britain may have less in common with the United States, let alone Commonwealth countries like India, and more in common with English-speaking Germany – and even France where English proficiency is finally catching up. This new generation of English domination may have other effects; for the last 30 years, for example, the PR war between the Israelis and Palestinians has been affected by the fact that most Israelis speak English very well whereas most Arabs don’t, but among teens and twentysomethings you find a lot of Arabs who can articulate themselves well with westerners.
But for the British it’s surely likely to change our worldview. Bismarck remarked accurately that the 20th century would be determined by ‘the fact that the North Americans speak English’. The 21st century, at least from our point of view, may be influenced by the fact that the Germans and French do.