In this series, we talk about different cultural traditions in the UK. Many of them may be similar to traditions in your own country. What differences and similarities can you find? In this article, we discuss Valentine’s Day. We have highlighted some of the trickier words. See whether you can guess their meaning from the context of the sentences and compare your answers to the definitions in the glossary below.
The origin or Valentine’s Day is a little unclear. One popular myth is that Roman Emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he thought it made men bad soldiers. Valentine saw this as unjust and performed marriage ceremonies despite Claudius II’s ruling. As a result, he was sentenced to death!
Aside from this common understanding of Valentine’s Day’s beginnings, there are other myths, such as that Valentine was executed for freeing slaves. There are also expansions on the version above, which involve Valentine falling in love with the prison guard’s daughter while he waited to be killed. On the day of his execution, he is said to have left her a card to declare his love. There are also pagan legends that predate these accounts.
Today in the UK, we tend to remember St Valentine as he became known by the Catholic Church – as a defender of love and romance.
People celebrate Valentine’s Day and other celebrations of love in many countries around the world. In the UK, most people celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February.
In England, the tradition used to be for women to leave five bay leaves on their pillow in order to make their dreams of future partners come true. In the East of England (in Norfolk), until this day, a mysterious figure knocks on people’s doors and leaves gifts for adults and children on Valentine’s Eve (13th February).
However, like many celebrations in British and other cultures, for some people Valentine’s Day has become another Hallmark holiday. They view these occasions as a marketing opportunity for companies to make money on flowers, chocolates, jewellery and other modern Valentine’s gifts.
The popularity of this belief might explain why British couples spend less on each other (£35 per person in 2021) compared to couples in other English-speaking countries, such as the USA ($165 per person in 2021). Or perhaps British people are just less romantic than their friends over the pond!
Despite the negative attitude to Valentine’s Day that some Brits have, it is still a big money-spinner for retail in the UK. It also brings in a lot of money for restaurants as people often like to go out for a meal with their partner on Valentine’s Day.
According to the shopping comparison site finder.com, 61% of Brits spent money on their significant other in 2020, resulting in a total of £1.45 billion spent in the economy – quite an impressive figure! Some might be happy about the economic boost this provides, but even if some people don’t share the positivity of Valentine’s Day’s economic benefits, they might see it as a day to spend quality time with those special to them.
These days, it can be hard to find a unique present for Valentine’s Day because many gift ideas seem clichéd. Buying your lover another bunch of flowers or box of chocolates can appear unimaginative or boring.
Some people say we are in an Experience Economy, and we prefer to spend money on moments together, rather than products. The idea is that we will remember these experiences longer than the soft toy now gathering dust in the attic. These experience-based gifts are very popular with millennials, who now spend the most money on Valentine’s Day. Ideas for experience-based gifts for Valentine’s Day include a spa break, time together in a rage room, a foraging experience or a pottery class.
We suggest another experience gift idea: learning a language! And why shouldn’t that language be English? You may laugh at the idea of language lessons being a good Valentine’s Day gift idea, and you might laugh even more when someone tells you that English is a suitable language for the day of lovers…but hear us out.
It’s true that when you ask most people: Which language is the ‘language of love’? They almost never answer: English. First on the list is usually French, Spanish or Italian. The musical sound of te amo is more romantic than the clunky I love you. Most people think of English as the language of business or the language of the internet.
However, love has been the subject of some of the UK’s most famous literature. From Chaucer’s poem Parlemant of Foules, which first linked the phrase love birds with Valentine’s Day, to Shakespeare’s sonnets on love. The city of Glasgow in Scotland also calls itself the City of Love, and the village of Gretna Green, also in Scotland, was famous as a place for eloping English couples.
In modern times, love is a theme that appears in countless pop and rock songs: think Yesterday or Hey Jude by the Beatles, Can’t Get no Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones, Beyonce’s Crazy in Love, Rihanna’s Love the Way You Lie… There are also an endless number of romantic films in the English language: Titanic, When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ghost, Bridget Jones’s Diary… People all over the world have listened to these songs and watched these films.
Understanding a language through its cultural artefacts and expressions can help you create deep, meaningful and long-lasting connections with other English speakers. It also allows you to see the cultural differences between your own culture and that of English-speaking countries.
English is the most spoken language in the world. As a result, people use it for many reasons. Perhaps you have moved to another country and fallen in love with a native English speaker. Learning the more nuanced aspects of the language will make your relationship stronger and prevent miscommunication with your partner.
Love is not all about romance and desire; it’s also about friendship and communication with others. In fact, in some countries, the celebration of love is not just for couples. The Estonian festival of Sobrapaev, also celebrated on the 14th of February, involves the exchange of gifts between couples, spouses, friends and family members – it’s a celebration of love for everyone.
Since the times of Ancient Greece there have been different types of love. Philia is focused on the long-term aspects of love, such as trust and the sharing of values. Pragma is the day-to-day management of relationships, which helps to reinforce business relationships and friendships alike.
Language is a key ingredient in realising and maintaining successful partnerships in life. If English is the common language in the place you live and work, then learning about its cultural intricacies is vital in terms of motivating and communicating with your colleagues.
In addition, a deep understanding of the language you work in is not only important for meetings and presentations, it’s also crucial for those watercooler conversations and coffee break chats. These intimate moments, in which jokes are shared, stories are told and ideas are expressed, are the building blocks for rich working relationships.
Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love that lasts for one day in the UK, but cultivating love and communication in our lives is something we need to practise every day. Perhaps we should follow the South Koreans, who celebrate their day of love (the Day of Roses) on the 14th of EVERY month, and remind ourselves of the importance of love more often. If learning a new language is part of your life, then it is also essential for helping this love grow.
An ancient story explaining the history of a group of people.
June said the play was an adaptation of a Greek myth.
A decision made by an official authority.
The court’s ruling was that Zack had to pay a £500 fine.
To come before something else.
The curator told the visitors that the Greek pottery predated the Roman ceramics.
Hallmark is a brand of card that people often send for birthdays, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. A Hallmark holiday is a holiday that people perceive to exist for commercial purposes only.
Sarah and I are not celebrating Valentine’s Day this year – it’s just another one of those Hallmark Holidays.
An expression that is sometimes used to describe the Atlantic Ocean between the UK and USA.
Harry told me it takes less than seven hours to fly over the pond these days.
A product, service or event that makes a lot of money.
The dairy owner knew that selling ice cream in the summer was a real money spinner.
A person with whom someone has had a long-lasting romantic relationship.
Fred invited Jenny to the party and told her to bring her significant other.
An action or phrase that has been used too often and become uninteresting.
Gemma thought the story in the film was cliché.
An economy based on selling experiences rather than products or services.
The newspaper reported that Covid did a lot of damage to the Experience Economy.
People born between 1981 and 1996.
Charlotte’s grandad just doesn’t understand the attitudes of millennials.
An experience in which people can spend time in a room destroying objects.
Ben and Anna released a lot of stress after smashing TVs in the rage room.
To search for food in nature.
After being lost in the forest for three days, Sally went foraging for fruit to survive.
To listen to a person’s opinion or argument.
The boss refused to hear his employees’ out in the meeting.
Awkward, clumsy or ugly.
The shop assistant told Tom his old shoes were clunky.
Two people who are obviously in love with each other.
Chris complained to Darren that the two love birds sitting in front of him ruined the film for him.
To leave home in order to secretly get married.
Rich and Tanya eloped because their parents didn’t approve of their relationship.
Having subtle, complex and appealing characteristics.
The critic said the new Sally Rooney novel was nuanced – it just worked on so many levels.
A married couple.
Rachel asked Terry for the name of Kim’s spouse.
The manager had a general idea of how to motivate the workers but needed to study the intricacies of each employee’s performance.
A chat, possibly next to a watercooler, in which workers communicate with each other in a more informal way.
Roberta had a great watercooler conversation about her cycling trip with Janet.
The fundamentals that create something.
The headteacher said that Maths, English and Science were the building blocks of a good education.
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