December 21st, 2011

Goth marquise

Stupid Things the British Believe About Americans and vice versa

So, at World Fantasy, I was on a panel about class, and the issue of the weird things we non-Usians think about the US sometimes came up in passing. And I was foolish enough to mention that I'd been meaning to write a blog post about that for a while, but, well, y'know...

But the truth is that it can sometimes look like laughing-at-the-Americans is a British national past-time. The 'stupid American' is a newspaper staple on slow news days -- the guy who called Cyrano de Bergerac and unfunny rip-off of Steve Martin's Roxanne? The British press loved it. The guy who claimed that if Stephen Hawking would be dead if he was British? A classic, had us rolling in the aisles. Rick Perry forgetting what he'd abolish? The BBC played that clip over and over. We are mean, and we point and laugh. (Though in the latter case, we point and laugh at our own politicians, too. The time someone threw paint over Lord Mandelson? The BBC showed that clip 4 times in one news bulletin.) I can give you all sorts of reasons why we do this -- some of them more serious than others. There's the necessary diffusion of tension felt about a big and worrying neighbour who outweighs us. There's simple schadenfreude, there's the streak of unkindness that seems to run through too many human beings.

However, we know (mostly) that the majority of the things we believe about Americans are kind of silly and mostly untrue. So here, in the spirit of writing-procrastination, is a list of some of them (and some things we think you believe about us).

1) There are only three kinds of modern Americans. i) New Yorkers, who are all In A Hurry and Obsessed With Fashion And Relationships. Or Joey from Friends. ii) Californians, who are all Very Thin and believe in crystals iii) the rest, who live up mountains with guns and Bibles. Except the Mormons, who live in a lake and have a lot of wives.

2) In the past (which is shorter in America than elsewhere), all Americans were either cowboys or gangsters. Except the puritans, who were like 1.ii above, only wearing more black.

3) Americans are very polite, don't drink and say 'gee' a lot.

4) Americans think chocolate goes with bacon.

5) America is a theme park *really*. There's an admission charge and everything. (This is true, about the charge.)

6) Everything in America is Really, Really Big (especially cars and food), apart from Californians, who are really, really thin.

7) There are only four real cities in the US -- New York (fashion and lattes), Chicago (gangsters), L.A. (Hollywood) and San Francisco (hippies). Everywhere else is imaginary. Or Baltimore.

8) America is very, very dangerous -- all those gangsters and guns. (Also the wildlife. Alligators. Shudder.)

9) But, on the other hand, Americans are all incredibly perky and friendly and visit each with apple pie all the time.

10) Americans have names like Johnboy and Suellen. (We know this, we saw it on The Waltons.) Or Newt.

11) Americans can't spell.

On the other hand, observation from films, tv and books leads me to the following list of Stupid Things Americans Seem to Believe About the British.

1) There are two kinds of British people. i) Hugh Grant and ii) Dick Van Dyke.

2) British and English are synonyms, and are the Bad People. The Irish and Scots are the Good People: they have clans and wear kilts and paint themselves blue. The Welsh don't exist -- Wales? Is that near Lon-don? (If you don't believe me on this, watch The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down A Mountain.)

3) There are two cities in Britain, London and Liverpool. And Scotland.

4) Britain is really, really small and everyone knows everyone else. (See 3)

5) The British have really quaint accents, live in really quaint black-and-white houses and drive minis. Apart from the ones who drive Reliant Robins. (No, Mr deLint, the Reliant Robin is *not* cute. It's unstable.)

6) The British live on fish-and-chips and drink their beer warm (the latter is true -- and Proper).

7) Apart from the Scots, that is, who live on haggis.

8) British people have names like Rupert and Gwendolen. And Wesley. (Yes, Mr Whedon, I am looking at you. Wesley is a surname, thank you!)

9) All British actors are male, with the result that we have to borrow American actors for female roles. Apart from Dame Helen Mirren, of course.

10) The British are terribly formal and repressed.

11) The British can't spell.

Okay, tongue out of cheek. Time to write, I think.

Skirt of the day: black and purple cord.