Friday, 3 January 2014

Americans versus British

       No, sorry, can’t resist, what with it trending and all! The Americans versus British issue has been exercising our deepest, most chauvinistic sentiments ever since the Boston Tea Party. Yet, along with all the (for the most part petty)  resentments, there is also affection - America viewing Britain as the irascible, highly eccentric, Woosterish Great Auntie, while the stiff-upper-lipped regard America as the brash young nephew who has never quite learned his place!

       We are, of course, extremely fond of each other, which gives both nations the right to chivvy and tease.

       One thing we Brits find rather alarming is the sheer outspokenness of Americans – understandable when you consider the subtle nuance and obfuscation for which cold-eyed civil servants who haunt the hallowed halls of Westminster are famed. In fact, there is nothing we Brits hate more than being ‘put on the spot’ by a direct question.

       “Why do you people hate Americans?” asked a young colonial I once met at a party. Now, had I been older with years of priming by my elders, I would probably have been more diplomatic. What I should have done was raise a quizzical eyebrow and say, with just a trace of condescension: “Do we? What an extraordinary thing to say!”  Instead, I blustered something about John Wayne winning all the battles during World War II - something British veterans were forever bleating on about. “The Yanks were never even there!” was one such utterance when watching Mr True Grit or other beefy US actors conquering Europe single-handedly.  “Too busy chatting up our girlfriends back home, most of them!” was another.

       Speaking of action films, this is an area where Brit/American differences are brought into sharp focus.  Think James Bond, about to be (say) thrown to the crocodiles/sharks/piranha or whatever. Does he flinch? Weep? Scream? Pray? Never! With one light-hearted quip as he flicks a speck from his immaculate tuxedo, he’s ready to face danger – and not a hair out of place! 
       American heroes on the other hand will spend their last moments speechifying, mouthing deeply profound solliloquys to wring every shred of emotion from the situation. This can take a very long time, especially if it’s a death scene.  “Come on, mate! Gerron wi’ it?!” growls the shaven-headed Mancunian in the neighbouring cinema seat, prompting laughter all round.  He’s not being unkind, you understand. It’s just that, however dire the situation, given a choice between heartfelt outpourings and a merry parting quip, British people will invariably opt for the latter – along with a nice cup of tea!

       Americans are also very loud. Faced with a group of sightseers in London,  the average Brit will take pains to keep a distance, as any decibels greater than a full-on heavy metal concert will cause his/her sensitive ears to burst. A brisk side-step into the kerb usually manages to extricate the native passer-by from the howls and whoops of US camaraderie. “OK peoples, we’ll meet here at 7pm sharp. NOT 6.59. NOT 7.01 but 7pm EXACTLY!”

       To be honest, I believe many British people resent the ‘rulers of the world’ attitude so many Americans adopt wherever they happen to be. Our cousins across the pond have such gusto, such curiosity, such a rage for experience, they can hardly help having interesting, exciting lives.

      In contrast, Brits of a certain generation are easily embarrassed, hate to make a fuss and would rather be torn to pieces by rapacious lions than draw attention to themselves. “Whatever will people think?” is their guiding thought, whereas Americans don’t care what anyone thinks. Life is there for grabs, not for standing in queues waiting patiently for buses. They complain if they have to, speak out when they want to, and go all out to get everything that life has to offer.

       Which is probably why we British envy them so much!

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