Thursday, March 10, 2011

Britons Have Complex View Of Americans

Original story can be found at

LONDON -- Britons and Americans have never been too far apart. Not long after the American Revolution, in re-establishing diplomatic ties with our former colonial master, John Adams spoke of the "the old good nature and the old good humor between our peoples."

More than two centuries later, citizens of this tiny island refer to the "special relationship," a term generally attributed to Winston Churchill. The special relationship is that wholly unique and somewhat inexplicable bond shared by British and American peoples.

It is the reason you will find far more Britons who have visited Orlando than those who have been to Belgium. The special relationship is the reason President Barack Obama is referred to simply as "President Obama" in the news, whereas geographical explanation is always necessary for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The special relationship is the reason many Britons will unwittingly use the pronoun "we" when discussing American foreign policy.

"Well, you're one of us, aren't you," states Jeff Williams, a retired mechanic from Swansea.

Williams is a fan of American football and will stay awake into the wee hours to watch NFL games, the next day rattling off play-by-play to friends in his local pub, the Beaufort Arms. He claims to be a die-hard Eagles fan, though confesses to have never been to Philadelphia.

"Or, perhaps we're one of you," he says, examining his pint. "No. You're one of us. We were here first. You just take our ideas and make them loud."

The incredible closeness shared by Britons and Americans is perhaps at the heart of any misunderstanding between the two cultures. Britons see a people so similar to themselves that they get confused upon learning of our different experiences.

"I owned guns as a kid. I never thought it was strange growing up," says Benjamin Angwin, a Texas native currently living in London. "But here, people are shocked when I tell them."

British popular culture is awash with American influence: our music fills the charts; our films and television shows are among the most watched. Britons are intelligent enough to know that fictional representations of American life are just that -- fictional -- but those slight variances in the personal experiences of Americans they meet make us difficult to comprehend. Britons struggle to know where to draw the line between fiction and reality.

"I don't think I have a negative image of Americans, I think I just have a warped one," says Jennifer Champion, an office worker from Devon. "My image of Americans before I knew any was the shiny America I see on television and in films. It doesn't seem real."

This surreality of perception mixed with geographic reality -- the fact that it takes a lot of time and money to visit the United States -- can sometimes work against Americans. In lieu of actual Americans to interact with, Britons often form their opinions based on stereotypes.

"I see them as a people of extremes: the clever ones are really clever; the stupid ones are really stupid," Champion explains. "The fat ones are really fat; the thin ones are really thin. I find it hard to imagine a middle."

A perception of extremism is a common theme in British attitudes toward Americans. They worry about the American religious right, and express frustration over the lack of liberalism in American governance. They are concerned by what they feel is a flippant attitude toward environmental issues and the rest of the world.

Perhaps, though, the criticism again rises from the incredible closeness shared by the two peoples. In finding fault with their partners in the special relationship, perhaps Britons are also finding fault within themselves.

"There are, of course, things I don't like: fat kids, political extremists and a vast chasm between rich and poor. But when I look at Britain, I see the same thing," Champion says. "The difference is Americans will stand up and say, 'I love America.' The British will avoid eye contact, afraid of being criticized for loving something that isn't perfect. Americans will say, 'Yeah, we aren't perfect but we are free,' and ride off into the sunset on a horse, or something American like that."


Unknown said...

Good job. I like this a lot and look forward to more.

Leroy said...

My kid brother (we grew up in Carmarthenshire) once got sweet on a girl from San Francisco. He was struck enough by her to try to relocate to California, and if you've grown up in Carmarthen, it's hard to see any flaws in that plan. And anyway, we're pretty much the same aren't we? However, he was soon overwhelmed by the difficulties of living in a different culture, even with the obvious similarities: dealing with visas; learning the etiquette; learning the ways people do things. Eventually he came home. He couldn't settle, couldn't adjust. It was almost as though the two cultures were so similar that those small differences were magnified whereas in a totally alien culture one would accept and expect them. He found it hard to relate to people because he didn't understand their body language or unspoken signs - people were really friendly but also distant and hard to joke with and get to know properly. He often offended people with his humour and both sides seemed permanently to grab the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps you'll empathise with that as an American in Wales; I have a few American friends here in Bristol that have struggled to adapt to living here. They enjoy it, but it's hard.

Perhaps our cultures are close enough to lull us into a false sense of security but different enough to bite us on the ass/arse if we're not careful?

Anonymous said...

"It is the reason you will find far more Britons who have visited Orlando than those who have been to Belgium."

I can't believe this? Is it true?