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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.

Comments

( 121 comments — Leave a comment )
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chickenfeet2003
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
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.

To be fair, this view is also held by New Yorkers and Californians. My partner, a Californian, refers to most of the United states as either the "flyover states" or "the square bits in the middle".
reasdream
Dec. 23rd, 2011 04:49 am (UTC)
Just a ditto for that. I attended college (undergrad, not the other sort of college) in NY State, and had to endure the sort of "what? where?" response when I explained that I was from a southern state - and got only vague acknowledgment of importance when I said my parents lived near this other US City... Washington, District of Columbia. Kinda near Baltimore. Vaguely important. Got torched by the Brits about 200 years ago...
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Dec. 23rd, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
sartorias
Dec. 21st, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
Heh!

Comments about British that I have heard from fellow Americans: they have two accents, Cockney and Tony Blair.

They are all pale.

They live in stately mansions or in slums a la Dickens movies.

They all know each other (like you pointed out)--an impression fostered during freshman English Lit classes, where it seemed like the writers all wrote essays about each other.

They have a weird government, but there's a queen at the top, who has her throne at Buckingham palace, and sticks her enemies in the Tower.

They have weird money that is impossible to figure out.

England is kinda like old-fashioned Disneyland, only they don't have anybody playing Robin Hood.
la_marquise_de_
Dec. 21st, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
All very true, although our current Business Secretary, (Vince Cable) might like to cast himself as Robin Hood.
(no subject) - sartorias - Dec. 21st, 2011 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 0olong - Dec. 23rd, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
teriegarrison
Dec. 21st, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Well, being as how you've met me in person, you KNOW 1.ii is Not True. :-D

Also, might I add a line to item 4 on your second list? 'Britain is really, really small and everyone knows everyone else.' Add: *Because 3.*

But really...great post. Very Good Fun!
la_marquise_de_
Dec. 21st, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
Good point!
(Deleted comment)
mizkit
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC)
*shrieks and runs and hides*
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dougs
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
> 6) The British [...] drink their beer warm (the latter is true -- and Proper).

<cheek>tongue</cheek> I feel I must correct you, for the benefit of your American readers -- We British drink our beer at room temperature, rather than warm.
autopope
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
CELLAR temperature, please!
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birdsedge
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
I love the USA. I've been 31 times since 1995 and met lots of folkies. By and large the folkies in the UK and the USA have more in common with each other than with their respective national governments, however outside my immediate circle cultural misunderstandings I've come across include:

Visiting Americans think that you can easily meet up with them if they're coming through London because, well, it's London, so it won't take long to get there from anywhere in the UK. Right?

Americans think that because the Queen is head of the Church of England that we all _have_ to attend services every Sunday, because, like, it's the law. American's just don't grok how secular (or multicultural) Britain is. But in return Brits don't grok the size of the Hispanic population of the US or why Spanish is often taught as a second language. (It's very unusual to find Spanish taught in British schools.)

Americans think they can buy stuff from the UK by writing US dollar cheques, cos, well, they're DOLLARS, and that's good the whole world over.

Americans think Brits are opressed because we don't have a written constitution. Brits think Americans are free because they do.

Brits think that everyone drives really fast in the USA all the time (and don't realise that some states have speed limits of 50 or 60 miles per hour even on their equivalent of motorways).

Brits don't realise that in many states you can turn right on a red light and those who do, don't realise that you CAN'T in NYC. (Found out the hard way!)

Brits think Walmart is cool.

Americans think Hershey is good chocolate.

Brits think that tipping wait staff in restaurants is optional depending on good service, and even then an approximate 10% will do.

Americans think flying the stars and stripes at home is patriotic, normal good and right. Brits think anyone flying a Union Jack in the UK is a weirdo racist member of the National Front and to be avoided at all costs.

And, I don't know who said it first, but it's still true: Americans think 100 years is a long time and Brits think 100 miles is a long way.
lil_shepherd
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
Some Brits may think Walmart is cool, but I've never met one.

Otherwise, spot on.
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la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:30 am (UTC)
I think to us Texas means The Yellow Rose of Texas and John Wayne, but yes, when I've met Texans, they do seem to have that attitude (though according to the The Rainmakers 'Everyone from Texas is from some place else'). We tend not to realise how huge the US is.
And yes to the bad guys. I left that one off as it's kind of a sore point sometimes. ('What, we help out in your oil wars and you reward us by casting us as villains and claiming to have captured the Enigma machine?' Outraged of Tunbridge Wells. -- don't know the US equivalent of TW but it's somewhere small, conservative and suburban, that knows that everything was better in the past).
a_d_medievalist
Dec. 21st, 2011 07:48 pm (UTC)
Of course, my daughter, who has a British passport, still has the impression that she will just be able to find her way around anywhere in England by virtue of that passport. And that my mother-in-law is being completely ridiculous when she worries that her loud, flashy granddaughter who picks up few social cues is not best equipped to swan around SE 17 at night by herself, because England is so much safer than Seattle...

la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)
Oh,. goodness. I hope she doesn't find out the hard way that it's not, in many places. Inner city Coventry after dark is really not a good idea, for instance.
queenoftheskies
Dec. 21st, 2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
I wish all Californians were thin, LOL. ::raises hand:: This one is not.

Great post.
la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
:-)
owlfish
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
I learned from one Canadian once that all Americans are expected to know each other. Upon realizing I was American, he enquired if I knew his cousin who lived in Florida.
gillpolack
Dec. 21st, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC)
I used to get that in Britain. Australians all know each other or are related. (although we often do or are in relation to Brits who know Australia, which is odd)
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(Anonymous)
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
Outstanding! :-)
la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
Thank you!
purpletigron
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Not sure where the Hawkins comes from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking
klwilliams
Dec. 22nd, 2011 12:09 am (UTC)
It's a misspelling. Americans and the British can't spell.
(no subject) - caffeine_fairy - Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:44 am (UTC) - Expand
aberwyn
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC)
Alas, I have met English people who don't know Wales exists. They do know about whales, though they persist in calling pinwale corduroy moleskin.

Great post!
la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:51 am (UTC)
I used to get asked if Wales had any history when I told some people what I studied. London-centricity is a plague here.
Ah, moleskin. Haven't heard that in ages. Good word: we should use it more.
(Anonymous)
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
Nope
Well, i don't like America or American culture in general, although i know and love many Americans. But suffice to say that i do not hold a single one of the beliefs on this list. The only thing i vaguely relate to is the spelling, and it's not that i believe that American's can't spell, but that i find American spelling annoying.
la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:50 am (UTC)
Re: Nope
I don't believe any of them either: it's mostly a joke, based on tabloid nonsense and odd things I've overheard.
Re: Nope - birdsedge - Dec. 22nd, 2011 11:54 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Nope - la_marquise_de_ - Dec. 22nd, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Nope - birdsedge - Dec. 22nd, 2011 12:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Nope - la_marquise_de_ - Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
jezebellydancer
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
Great post. I'm sharing this link to my UK friends :)

I had a coworker who saw a British show on cable--forget which one... and couldn't understand why on of the black characters had a British accent. *facepalm* Because everyone in the UK is white. Right?

And don't get me started about how abysmal Americans are about geography.

And now my Canadian friends will be all over me for using the term Americans to mean folks from the US. I like USians. I think I may start using that :)

la_marquise_de_
Dec. 22nd, 2011 10:52 am (UTC)
My favourite was something I heard on Radio 4, where a US tourist referred to Idris Elba as 'the African-American British actor'.
My geography can be shaky, too, at least in terms of the US, so I have to be quiet on that front.
(no subject) - lil_shepherd - Dec. 23rd, 2011 08:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stress_kitten - Dec. 24th, 2011 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
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