The Great British Lie

It’s strange to be in a country that seems so proud to be British, and yet is chasing the same American dream that – well – Americans chase. We get blamed for a lot, but are copied more.

I’m going to just come out and say it – The Mother country of England wants desperately to be the rebellious teen that is America. (My British friends reading this will probably scream at my audacity, and I understand why. I won’t apologize (or even apologise), but I will say I did not want to come to this conclusion. I was in denial for a long time. And – obviously – it’s nothing personal.)

I’ve never said anything because it wasn’t completely evident at first – at least not to me. I mean, why would it be? When I move to another country, I assume that it will be me doing the assimilating, changing my patterns to fit in with them. I will be the outcast, and yearning to one day be able to soften my vowels. I have assimilated. There are huge differences in our two cultures.

It’s just, England always seemed so sure of itself. So goddamn – well, older and more wise.

I didn’t say anything even when I first began to notice because I was watching, waiting to be sure I wasn’t just seeing things. I’ll admit it: I thought the UK was bigger and badder than it actually is. I was deceived like so many others.

I utterly believed that Simon Cowell and his country knew everything there was to know about life. I mean, if they had a country full of Simon Cowell’s, why on earth would they need us? That’s the irony of it all – they need us. Simon Cowell needs us probably more than we need him.

And, we buy into it. In America, we’re bred to believe the the British are, in some ways, irrevocably more cultured and well-bred than we are. We watch in awe as actors take over our television screens, putting on better American accents than most of us as Americans can do. We are obsessed with the royal family. We giggle when we meet a man or woman with an accent, throwing our hair to one side. We automatically assume they are more intelligent than we are.

Most people think we are full of ourselves. In reality, I think many Americans are insecure about being American. We’ve been hated for so long. It might even be an epidemic.

But, let me let those Americans in on a little secret I’ve found out for myself…many British – not all and maybe not even the majority, but a big enough chunk for me to take notice – they actually wish they were American. (Or, they certainly wish they could live and work there.) Shhhhhhh. Don’t tell them I told you. They will deny it to their graves, and they will curse me to the heavens. But, below are a few things that have led me to this conclusion.

Sure, they complain about us. Sure, they curse us for polluting the Earth just as much as China. Sure, they hate most of our policies. But also, secretly, they love it. Jack Kerouac’s vision of a road trip is still blossoming in the British minds like a prepubescent boy’s first porno mag. Our ability to bear arms is disgusting to them and, at the same time, mesmerizing.

Some examples -

Their election process. It is taking place right now, and is eerily echoing many campaigns I have seen in my own country – more specifically the debates. I am told its because the Lib Dems demanded to have more of a voice against the shadow of the Labour Party and the Conservatives, and for the first time in the UK’s history, they are having staged debates. Actually, it appears that it was the Prime Minister’s idea (and more importantly, Peter Mandelson). The PM realized he needed to jump ahead in the opinion’s poll and therefore realized that a bit of “show biz” might do well for his image. That makes sense. (Ultimately, the UK is even more of a democracy than we are – they have had Question Time and the Prime Minister’s Questions every week since 1979  in which citizens can ask the PM and the people in charge straight forward questions about topics they want answers to. We have nothing of the sort. The most you can hope to question the top decision makers in the US is by writing them a letter, staging a protest (which will get shut down before it starts) or getting petitions signed. I really wish we had a Question Time.)

Normally, the UK’s election process is very different to America’s. (Read more about the differences at the blog, Pond Parleys, here.) However, this year, due to the Lib Dems, they are having American-style interviews and debates in which charisma matters! Its supposed to be all about the policies and yet the candidates and the news programs analyzing the candidates succumb to the pressure of discussing mainly: the candidate’s appearance, their gesticulations and how they eat ice cream with the grannies. (I seem to remember a certain Obama who did that same thing.) It is becoming more about the person, and less about the policies. Just like in good ole USA.

Celebrating the 21st birthday – We are celebrating a 21st birthday coming up, and I’m confused. I am told there are two big birthdays for a British person – their 18th and 21st. OK, I get the 18th one – they become an adult and can legally drink, vote and drive (although not in that order). But, the 21st? I have yet to have someone explain to me why the 21st birthday is a big deal. There was a vague explanation that it marks a British person’s adulthood, but how? What can they do when they turn 21 that is any different from when they were 20?  In America, we can drink legally for the first time in our lives. I can only come to one conclusion – and that is, they are celebrating the ability to drink in America.

Celebrities – no matter what anyone says, it is the goal of every British celebrity to “crack America.” I hear it all over the news, in the newspapers and in interviews – “Oh, if only I could crack America.” In terms of profit, I get it, it’s a bigger market and many record labels and agents want their acts to rake in the most amount of money. But, Hollywood still has the same sexy allure it did back when Marilyn Monroe was alive, and Elvis Presley was topping the charts. America is the ultimate end-all for show business to this day.

Proms – I didn’t realize this, but apparently proms are becoming bigger and bigger over here. Mike from Postcards from Across the Pond makes a good point about these. You can read it here.

Halloween – Trick or treating? The appeal is traversing the pond. Dressing up and having big “fancy dress” parties – same. (Watch Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry’s take on this phenomenon sent to me by HBLX: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZITno-8HP9o)

I won’t even go into the effect that McDonald’s, chain stores, clothing stores, etc. has had over here. That happened a while ago, and everyone knows the impact of mass consumerism.

There are many more examples, but I’ll leave it at that.

Perhaps it’s just a mutual respect we have in this “special relationship”. After all, how many Americans wish they could live and work here in the UK? I know Smitten by Britain does for sure ;). I also realize that a big part of my opinion comes from what I see in the media, and the fact that my ears prick up whenever I hear my country being mentioned so perhaps that’s already a biased opinion. I just can’t stop thinking that people feel they are on the wrong side of the pond – on both sides of the pond.

Feel free to shower me with your comments – agreements? Disagreements?

15 thoughts on “The Great British Lie

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Great British Lie | The Lady Who Lunches Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. As a self-confessed Anglophile, I know that what I love about the Brits WAS Britain. it's a very different place from Jane Austen of Charlotte Bronte's time. And they wrote of a fictional Britain. maybe we are all in love with a fantasy that in America we (of a certain age) called Masterpiece Theatre. I do think the world has become a smaller place and we are more defined now by our similarities than by our differences.

  3. Also, I don't think it's true to say the tv debates have happened this year because of the Liberal Democrats. There have been attempts to have such debates for many years but they always failed because there was never an election where all three main party leaders were willing to partipate. Basically whoever was in the lead saw such a debate as a risk. Instead it's been normal to have interviews and public questions to each leader one to one in separate programmes. (The laws about election coverage mean that it wouldn't be possible to have a debate with only two out of the largest three parties participating.)

  4. Thanks for the link to the current prom post and previous election post. Hmmmm – though, Not sure that Brits really want to BE in America. True, a lot are fairly pissed off with their country right now, but they're moving in droves to other places too. Australia is the biggest landing spot according to government statistics.
    The 21 thing – my mother celebrated her 21st and not her 18th. Although there hasn't been a time in England when the drinking age was 21, (to my knowledge), it was a big celebration. (You got "the key to the door"). The 18th is the more recent celebration.
    A few decades ago, (well, about three) many Americans will tell you tales of drinking in college because most states' legal age was in fact. 18.
    Go figure,
    Great post.
    PS. I love Bristol – spent three years there ar uni.

    • I think the 21st birthday thing probably dates back to a time when 21 was the age at which you became eligible to vote. Expat Mum's right that celebrating your 18th is a more recent tradition.

      • Ah ha! That makes more sense then about the 21st birthday. Glad that's been explained!
        Expat mum – I do know that 18 was the age for many states after 1933 until the 1980's. Before 1933, the age was 21. Funny that both of our countries rely so heavily on those two ages. Australia is the main place to immigrate because they have a worker's shortage which makes it much easier for British to move there. I suspect that if America had a more open door policy that it would be more of a popular place to go. (Trust me, that's VERY frustrating for us. My boyfriend and I would love to go back at some point. Although, Australia is looking better for me at this point. Who wouldn't want to move to sunny Australia?)

        Thank you both for your comments! Isn't Bristol so nice? Especially when the sun is shining. These past two weeks have been gorgeous. I personally love England.

  5. Hey, thanks for the shout out M. ;-)

    The difference between me and some other Anglophiles (although, as you know I prefer to call myself a Britophile) is that I have actually lived in Britain. I was also married to a Briton and all of my friends were British. I completely immersed myself in the culture, outside of my work life, which was as a member of the U.S. military. As I'm sure there are some British who would like to be American, there are Americans who want to be British. But as eoshea points out, the image they have of Great Britain is a bit of a fantasy image, just like the one some people have of America. We have media like TV and film to blame for some of this. Not every Briton knows the Queen and not every American lives in a mansion.

    As eoshea suggests, the world ist a much smaller place thanks to the internet , FB and Twitter. We are learning more about each other every day, that we are more alike than we know. So now, maybe more people are realizing that we are not as bad as imagined and they are seeing things to admire about us and as we are in them.

    I think it's human nature to feel that the grass is greener, and all that.

    • Definitely agree with you. I had fantasies about living here (although not as much as I would love to go back to France), and through the year and a half that I have – that fantasy has played on my mind for the good and bad. I have to admit, for the most part, I have been more impressed with England than not. And, I know for sure that I will miss it even more once I leave. It's an incredible country full of incredible people. Mainly, media is the main cause for this Americanization and this I agree with as well. I just think we offer the ability to chase money, fame and beaches…doesn't interest me that much.

  6. Twenty-one was for a long time the age at which people were allowed to vote, it was only in 1969 that voting was extended to 18 year olds. Also it's the normal age that someone going straight through the academic system with no gaps graduates from university.

  7. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Great British Lie | The Lady Who Lunches Blog -- Topsy.com

  8. I tried to post a comment on this the other day but the invisible internet bullies wouldn't let me. Anyway, wanted to say I love this article and I love your audacity! I agree that Americans are an insecure bunch – I certainly was when I first left. Britain, Europe and America all create their own fantasies around them and it can be a shock to find out that reality is not exactly like expectations.

    I just started reading A Field Guide to the British by Sarah Lyall. Have you read it? Just one chapter in but really insightful so far about how the UK has changed in the last decade even.

  9. As person with a conspicuous American accent living in England, I get a lot of people starting up convos with me about the US vs. the UK. Many people almost immediately ask me why I would want to come to England from the States, as if it would be crazy for a person to do! I get a lot of people mumbling that they wish they could move to LA. C'mon! When was the last time you'd spent $2,000 on doctors' visits? I did, 2 years ago!

    Before coming here, I definitely shared some of the preconceived notions of Britishness you'd mentioned in this post. But it does really bother me, disappoint me, rather, that instead of learning more about England through my interactions with people, I find myself defending my decisions, and furthermore reminding people about the merits of living here rather than in the States! In Brighton especially, I'd expected to meet people brimming with local pride. My tactic recently has been to mimic the British accent so as to avoid the questions and talk about the election instead!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s