"Great Britain" has several different name. Some people say "Britain", or "the United Kingdom", or just "UK". There are four different countries in the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but only people from England are English. People from Scotland are Scottish? people form Wales are Walsh, and people from Northern Ireland are Irish. Don't call a Scottish or Welsh person English, he won't like it. The capital of England and of Great Britain is London. The capital of Wales is Cardiff. The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh. The capital of Northern Ireland is Belfast.
Altogether more then 56 million people live in Britain, many of them in big industrial cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester, but people are often surprised how much of Britain is open country lonely hills and woods, quiet rivers, lakes and farmlands.
The British isles are separated from the European continent by the North Sea and English Channel. The Wester coast of Great Britain is washed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea. The total area of the country is over 244,000 square kilometers. The Atlantic Ocean and the warm waters of Gulf Streem influence the climate of the British Isles. It is mild the whole year round. There is sometimes fog, but not so often as foreigners think. British people never know what tomorrow's weather will be like.
Every one in Britain speak English, but they do not all speak in the same way. A Scottish person has to listen carefully if he wants to understand a Londoner. And when Welsh person speaks, everyone knows at once where he come from.
The UK is a constitutional monarchy. The British method of the goverment has developed very slowly over hundreds of years. This is perhaps why it can be rather difficult to understand. For example, the Queen is the Head of State, but she has no real power. Parliament is the real government of Britain. It has two "Houses", the House of Lords and the House Commons. The "Lords" are members of old aristocracy, bishops, lawyers and retired politicians. They have little power now, but they can suggest new laws and change or delay laws that the House of Commons wants to pass. The House of Commons makes laws, agrees on policy and decides what taxes the people must pay.
There are three main political parties in Great Britain: the Labour, the Conservative and the Liberal parties. The party who get most members into parliament makes the new government. The Prime Minister is the leader of the winning party. The Labour party is the ruling party nowadays, the Prime Minister is Tomy Blayer.
The Queen, Elizabet II, represents Britain. She travels about the U.K., meeting people, visiting schools and hospitals, and going to important local events. She and her husband and other members of her family also travel abroad as rather special ambassadors to other countries. British people enjoy their "royals". They like reading about them in newspapers and seeing them on TV. The Queen is a symbol of Britain long history and national traditions.
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