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United Kingdom Need-to-Know Before You Go: A Vocabulary Lesson | CIE Tours

United Kingdom Need-to-Know Before You Go: A Vocabulary Lesson

CIE TOURS - July 25, 2018

United Kingdom Need-to-Know Before You Go: A Vocabulary Lesson

What Is Great Britain?

Have questions about the flag of England, the Union Jack? Do you know the difference between the UK, England, Great Britain, and the British Isles? Or who lives in Windsor Castle? For these answers and more, read on!

“I’m Celtic; what does that mean? Well it means I’m better than the English!” Our tour guide, Michael Discombe, loves nothing better than to make himself laugh. A Scotsman through and through, his subject of choice is the English of course! Our driver, Dave, endures the brunt of his jests, but, don’t worry, it’s all in good fun. One thing Michael’s lighthearted jokes have made abundantly clear of though is the cultural difference between the peoples of Great Britain.

At our welcome reception chatty conversation turned into curious questions and a guest asked the difference between the terms “Great Britain” and “United Kingdom”—previously thinking that they were synonymous. Our guide Michael was understanding of the confusion but quick to differentiate. He explained that England, Wales Scotland, the UK, Great Britain, and the British Isles were all distinct terms and by no means interchangeable. He compared asking “What part of England is Scotland in?” to the question “What part of Canada is New York in?” Canada and New York are both in North America but are no means the same place. Similarly, neither Scotland, Wales, nor Northern Ireland (nor the Republic of Ireland for that matter) are part of England.

To avoid embarrassment and the wrath of a Scotsman for asking this question, here’s a quick explanation for you:

Great Britain

– includes England, Scotland, and Wales

United Kingdom

– includes England, Scotland, Wales, AND Northern Ireland


– the largest country in the UK

British Isles

A geographical term including England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and around 5,000 islands around the coast (does not refer to nationality—people living in the Republic of Ireland are NOT British)

Picture of the front of a stationers shop in Eaton near Windsor, England. Two Union Jack flags fly next to the shop. The flag combines the red cross on a white background of England’s flag with the white x-shaped cross on a blue background of Scotland’s.
The Union Jack, flag of the United Kingdom, flies above a stationary store in Eaton near Windsor, England. It combines the red cross on a white background of England’s flag with the white x-shaped cross on a blue background of Scotland’s.

Wherever your travels take you within the British Isles, you’ll do well to remember that each country has a distinct culture and set of values that define its people. They even developed from different events, forever altering their history.

Picture of a tile commemorating Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday at Windsor Palace
There are around 60 of these tiles commemorating the queen’s 90th birthday and the unveiling of a plaque at the foot of Windsor Palace, the Queen’s residence. The current sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II of England but Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland.

These core differences lead to, well…complicated relations. They manifest in an ever-present rivalry and the occasional bitter comment (a Scotsman who plays well in a football [soccer] match will be called a “great Brit,” but is quick to be named a “damn Scot” when he misses a shot). In some cases, however, (like on a CIE tour!) you’ll be an amused bystander as your tour guide and driver keep a very biased tally system, giving points to whoever wins their friendly squabbles. It will be laughs all around as Michael gives himself another 300 points while subtracting points from Dave, yet admitting with a hearty laugh that “For an Englishman, Dave’s not bad.”

Picture of Dave, the driver, and Michael, the tour guide for the author's CIE Tours trip.
Our driver, Dave, on the left laughing with our tour guide, Michael, on the right during a shuttle bus trip down to the lovely seaside town of St Ives, England.

Want to learn more?
– Visit the official website for Queen Elizabeth II’s residence Windsor Castle.
– Check out this article on Quora for additional details about the differences between the countries in the United Kingdom.
– Here’s the Wikipedia entry for Great Britain.
– Find our CIE Tours escorted coach tours to all of the UK here! Check out our award-winning Ireland tours, Scotland tours and Britain tours!

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