Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brits v. Yanks, Part I

Okay, so I found a little romantic comedy on Netflix instant play called I'll Be There. It was set in Wales, which is perfect since I'm becoming a regular visitor there.

But it got me thinking.

Why do British people, as a rule, carry so much disdain for Americans? I mean, I suppose I could ask the same question about Europeans in general, but I was thinking about the Brit v. Yank question since many Americans really like Britain and the Brits. Or perhaps it's just that we think they seem distinguished and smart because of the accents. In return, the Brits seem to think we are losers who talk through our noses. Perhaps we do talk through our noses, but why are we perceived to be losers?*

I mean, really, what's up?

*And I won't even go into the whole who-won-the-war issue.


baxie said...

You've worked retail and you watch the news- you already know the answer to this. =P

Academic, Hopeful said...

As an Aussie in England (and I assure you, the British, particularly English, disdain or at least intense ambivalence towards Australians is beyond any anti-American sentiment) who went to a wedding of a North American in Oxford (England) last night with a my English boyfriend, I may have something to add:

1) The English find the American tendency to be very polite and smiley on first meeting suspicious, if not insincere.

2) The English are threatened by your outwardness, but underneath actually really appreciate that positive effort. My boyfriend actually commented that it was nice how all the 'Americans' danced so enthusiastically even if, during certain songs they didn't like or know, you could see they had to muster up the energy to keep going. English people would never do that for the sake of the group or appearances.

3) The Brits tend to think that Americans see them as old worldy and irrelevant (tourist attractions). I don't think they despise them, I think they presume they won't stick around long enough for meaningful relationships. The Brits, like other Euros, are far more precious about friendships/letting people in.

4) The obvious issues of the War, but also just simply you guys being a former colony means you are seen as a derivative, a naughtly child who has now gotten too big for her boots, who won't listen to her parent anymore. That's irritating.

5) Lastly, the above points should be watered down with the fact that Brits, while ostensibly tolerant, are in fact very inward, private people. The average Brit wouldn't think about Yanks or the idea of America very much at all, just have this vague sense that it is a New World superpower etc with fast food and guns. But, in all honesty, most Brits wouldn't know much about or care to know much about the States (or Canada, Australia, NZ etc, or the rest of the English-speaking former Empire). They really don't think outsiders are that relevant and are utterly surprised to form real friendships with outsiders. (There is a similar phenomenon in France.)

Academic, Hopeful said...

excuse typos. meant to be thesising.

Academic, Hopeful said...

in point three, for instance, first 'them' = Brits, second = Yanksprob

Academic, Hopeful said...

I have realised I didn't really answer the losers thing. I would say that Brits see earnestness, what they see as forced behaviour, and the New World energy as embarrassing, infantile and loserish. They think we (New Worlders) need to chill a bit and be a bit more philosophical and grey about the world. But not in a tacit way. It's our lack of self-containment that makes us seem like losers. But it's also a source of envy, that openness. Don't worry about it too much. Most Brits are polite and just take a few more encounters to open up. You have to change your expectations and then you get the best out of them - their wry humour, loyalty, quiet observations and also this strange superficiality (they love to keep things at a surface level, as if analysing is a sign of some kind of self-harm tendencies. Why would you bother?, they wonder).

Academic, Hopeful said...

Hey - I love how there's a typo in my apology. 'Prob' was the beginning of that bloody word verification thingy.

It has also occurred to me that Hollywood also doesn't help the case of the Yanks. Beauty in that really blond, polished sense (as distinct from that obviously manufactured sense, like Jordan/Katie Price) scares the shit out of the Brits. But they will say it shows that the Yanks don't care as much about wit and personality etc.

They say the same of the Aussies because most of our soap stars (whom they're more obsessed with than the Aussies) are beautiful in that tanned, healthy, glowing way.

I have really gone off on one here! Clearly some issues (The Ashes test cricket is on at the moment so Oz-Pom relations strained). No more. For now.

Good Enough Woman said...

AH, I'm in a rush so can't say much now, but I love these comments. You hit one of the exact details I'd been thinking about. In my mind, I was thinking, "But we're so FRIENDLY!" So I'm very interested in your comments!

Bax, Well, yes, I know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

AH, that was really interesting!

And GEW, especially in the period movies, it does seem like Americans are considered crass and classless. And together with AH's #4, it makes so much sense.

Interesting to consider that in the American period films, there are many of the same issues: upper-class vs. lower class, or old-money vs. new money.

Academic, Hopeful said...

The English boyfriend denies the class/colony issue, but given this comes up all the time when the Poms are under stress (say up against the ropes in a conversation), I would say it is relevant. It's the cheapest thing they can say.

He said that there are many complex reasons behind the tension between Brits and Yanks, but the main one, as far as he can tell, is that the Brits don't feel that they can 'banter' with the Yanks. He said, Americans are very funny, but it all has to be made so obvious/ spelt out. He says it is hard to communicate with them because of this.

The Aussies get off a little on this score - we're still quite British in certain ways. But I think whatever we gain here, we lose in many other ways and are essentially seen as arrogant and aggressive (even the women!).

Also, I am glad you liked my rants here. I am mortified to find other mistakes - like saying not in a tacit way, when I meant in a tacit way, and various noun and verb disagreements. But just go with me please! I am going mad with too much computer screen time.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Actually, now I think of it, here was an interaction with an American person that may or may not be telling (and I assure you, I have loads of American pals here). There was an American bridesmaid at the wedding on Sunday night dancing on the dance floor. She did some move where she crouched to the floor and then bobbed up and down for a bit (with one arm still in the air) and then came back up. She was coordinated and could throw a shape or two. Anyway, I said, 'Wow, well done. Going to the floor is a high risk strategy, but you pulled it off. There's a lesson about taking risks in there for all of us.' She just stared at me. So I said, 'Really, you took the risk and it worked.' She still stared. Then I said, 'You are a really good dancer. Well done.' She said, 'I will do anything for my girl (the bride)'. It just didn't flow, that's all I will say. May not be a representative interaction, but I have to say, it's not an outlier either!

Academic, Hopeful said...

was = is (in first line). I am really struggling! : ) Off to bed.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Lastly, the boyfriend has never said anything about the whole colony thing in relation to my Australianness (he's not a dickhead, thank goodness), but one of his most petulant moments with me was when I interpreted the queue in a creative way. He is also not impressed when I talk to strangers for reasons he perceives to be unnecessary.

Good Enough Woman said...

AH, I love the wedding story. I'm totally picture your face as you try to salvage the banter. And the talking to strangers thing seems to be huge. We Americans--esp. small town Americans--will strike up conversations with strangers all the time. I once struck up a conversation with a Croatian woman who was sitting next to me on an airplane. After I asked her where she was from and how she enjoyed her trip, she told me that it was nice but that it's weird how Americans always ask friendly questions, like "Where are you from?" and "How are you?" Guilty.

I'm heading over there in September, and I plan to get out my Harriet the Spy notebook to keep track of these dynamic you have mentioned! Fortunately, my supervisor and I get along splendidly. At least I think we do . . .

Good Enough Woman said...

That is, heading to the U.K. Not to Croatia. Although I would LOVE to go to Croatia.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Obviously let me know if you're ever in/near Oxford and need a student (with access to Colleges) to show you around for an afternoon.

Croatia is fun, the people are fireballs, and the water is stunning, but otherwise it's quite harsh and dusty. Hate to sound like a princess, but just don't want you to fantasize about it too much!

I look forward to the next installments of Brits v Yanks. BTW, Aussies love a 'How are you?', [straight to] 'What are you hoping to do with your life?' too, particularly city-folk Aussies. Aussies from elsewhere can be far more reserved, scarily so.

All the best!