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The British and their bizarre view of American
January 6, 2013 3:08 PM   Subscribe

The British and their bizarre view of American. "So, while from afar America may seem, to the Briton, a bewildering and Brobdingnagian phenomenon, close up and personal, the Americans themselves take on the more familiar Lilliputian lineaments of his own countrymen and women." Will Self takes a look at the ambivalent relationship the British has with the USA.
posted by zoo (125 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm always in a rush, cleaning the house before the folks come to visit.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh.

Well, I've lived in the US, am married to an American and my kids are American but American culture still seems pretty silly to me in a number of ways, FWIW. I suppose other peoples always do.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Artw: “Well, I've lived in the US, am married to an American and my kids are American but American culture still seems pretty silly to me in a number of ways, FWIW. I suppose other peoples always do.”

Go to hell, you furren bastard. Nobody runs down this lovely country of mine.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm an American, and gawd ain't American culture stupid?
posted by koeselitz at 3:36 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, as an American teenager who was really into British tv, the Mr. Neutron sketch from the fourth series of Monty Python told me everything I needed to know about British/American relations... basically, Americans worry way too much about body odor...
posted by Huck500 at 3:39 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compared to British culture?

Hmm.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:40 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read that in my head with an English accent.
posted by chillmost at 3:40 PM on January 6, 2013


So...people often misread foreign cultures, which are a mix of positives and negatives? Got it.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:42 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


All Americans on UK TVshows* have werid anachronistic Texan accents.

That's odd.

(* except that one episode of Ab Fab where there was broad NYC area Jewish/ lawn guyland accents, that was also odd.)
posted by The Whelk at 3:44 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Eric Idle's terrible American accent is the best terrible American accent.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:45 PM on January 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


You can always rely on America to do the right thing. After it's exhausted every other option.

What did I learn from war? Son, never go into battle in front of the Americans.

Americans believe in three things - freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from fear. Just don't talk about God, or they'll shoot you.
posted by Devonian at 3:47 PM on January 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


Alan Rickman doing Hans Gruber pretending to be American is the best terrible American accent.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:48 PM on January 6, 2013 [43 favorites]


In any discussion of UK/US culture, it should be noted for the record that the English gave America reality television and tabloids.
posted by koeselitz at 3:50 PM on January 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


All Americans on UK TVshows* have werid anachronistic Texan accents.

That's because everything in Texas is BIG and EXCESSIVE and everyone has too much RELIGION and GUNS and only cares about MONEY, thus making it the most American of American states.

I'd say that was a simplistic view of America missing out on much diversity, but I've been through two presidential elections here and it's not an unuseful aggregate view of a lot of the population.
posted by Artw at 3:50 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well we gave them Pizza Hut so it's about even.
posted by The Whelk at 3:55 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: "All Americans on UK TVshows* have werid anachronistic Texan accents."

Mr. Hamilton: You're gonna stay here, nice and quite, while these people say whether or not they're satisfied. And you move off that spot, Fawlty, I'm gonna bust your ass!

Basil Fawlty: Everything's bottoms, isn't it?
posted by Splunge at 3:57 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


In any discussion of UK/US culture, it should be noted for the record that the English gave America reality television and tabloids.

You can blame the Dutch for reality television.
posted by atrazine at 3:58 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well we gave them Pizza Hut so it's about even.

Have you been to Angus Steakhouse yet?
posted by Artw at 3:58 PM on January 6, 2013


I know those words but that sentence doesn't make sense.
posted by The Whelk at 4:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always like reading British views of America but this was pretty thin.
posted by octothorpe at 4:05 PM on January 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


As a first-generation English immigrant, I've often been confused about the English establishment's willingness to play second-fiddle to the Americans.

I mean, as is right and proper, I was taught at my father's knee to loathe the French, sneer at the Belgians and make World Cup jokes about the Germans, but c'mon, how about a little dignity when it comes to the 'special relationship'?
posted by madajb at 4:05 PM on January 6, 2013


Funny thing is, the actor who played the American Mr. Hamilton on Fawlty Towers was born in Calgary.

Also, I'm afraid we're fresh out of waldorfs.
posted by gimonca at 4:06 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


In conclusion, America is a land of contrasts.

(Look, somebody had to get it out of the way.)
posted by uosuaq at 4:07 PM on January 6, 2013 [22 favorites]


You're both crazy. </australia>
posted by Jimbob at 4:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [21 favorites]


I've often been confused about the English establishment's willingness to play second-fiddle to the Americans.

Good post Empire policy, play the Good Cop, the one you can " reason" with.
posted by The Whelk at 4:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Over-paid, over-sexed, and over here."
posted by octobersurprise at 4:11 PM on January 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am totally making Waldorf Salad for the Post Flavortown Meetup BTW, my UK SO * insisted* it was the most American thing he could think of that could be made in an hour.
posted by The Whelk at 4:12 PM on January 6, 2013


As a first-generation English immigrant, I've often been confused about the English establishment's willingness to play second-fiddle to the Americans.

Largely an attempt at pretended international relevance post WWII.

Ah well, at least we didn't get hoodwinked into going into Vietnam - if there was one American adventure to sit out in the late 20th century it was that one.
posted by Artw at 4:12 PM on January 6, 2013


"Over-paid, over-sexed, and over here."

Wait, where do they concregate? When? Do they still wear the uniforms? Why didn't anyone tell me this was still going on?
posted by The Whelk at 4:14 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it just me, or is he trying a little too hard to load the piece with Britishisms and obscure English words?

Or is that the point?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:15 PM on January 6, 2013


Nah, he's Will Self.
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on January 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


at least we didn't get hoodwinked into going into Vietnam

Likewise, I thank God we never sent the Marines into Belfast.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:22 PM on January 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


I never knew backing the IRA *that* far was on the table.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on January 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Good thing Kissinger wasn't Irish.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:28 PM on January 6, 2013


The Whelk: “Well we gave them Pizza Hut so it's about even.”

But gosh, didn't we get Pizza Hut from Italy, though?
posted by koeselitz at 4:29 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading Will Self always expands my vocabu-fucking-lary.
(tmesis)
posted by w0mbat at 4:30 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd like to read that translated to English.
posted by The Deej at 4:32 PM on January 6, 2013


Your pizza history fact of the the day, the traditional Napoli Margherita pizza comes from the coronation of Queen Margherita of Savoy and the nationalism of the new unified Itlian state, the look of the pizza, red tomato, white mozzarella, and green basil, was supposed to mimic the newish national flag.

This has been the whelk, your guide to the world of facts.
posted by The Whelk at 4:33 PM on January 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


You know, I dislike the word "pond" when used to described the Atlantic sea. It makes the US seem so near, and the gap so small and bridgeable. As though were it not for a few small things, the UK and the US could be one and the same. On the surface folk from the US and the UK look the same and do the same things, but I just don't see the likeness as being fundamental. I can't put my finger on the exact reasons though, and it's hard to explain. I think I once heard somebody describe it like, "when times are hard, those from the US redouble their efforts and hope they have what it takes to win through, while those from the UK laugh at the world and make do with what they have". I don't know which is better.
Is it just me, or is he trying a little too hard to load the piece with Britishisms and obscure English words?
Will Self loves his bookwords. You should read a few of his works if you thought the words in this were obscure. They'll make you horripulate and tergiversate with an horrible apotheosis.
posted by Jehan at 4:46 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good post Empire policy, play the Good Cop, the one you can " reason" with.
posted by The Whelk


That's the Good Bobby, featured here.
posted by springload at 4:52 PM on January 6, 2013


This has been the whelk, your guide to the world of facts.

And slash fic.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


And how.
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Heh. I think British (English) people have a much better handle on what's weird about British (English) culture than American people do about American culture. That also means that they are better able to articulate the contradictions and shortcomings of their culture to outsiders.

Also, the average British person has a larger day-to-day working vocabulary.
posted by subdee at 4:55 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: "The Whelk: “Well we gave them Pizza Hut so it's about even.”

But gosh, didn't we get Pizza Hut from Italy, though?
"

Bastardo!
posted by Splunge at 4:59 PM on January 6, 2013


As a person who is both British and Nigerian my short stay in the States reminded me of Nigeria far more than Britain. It's confusing because there's a common language.

*ducks*

will i have to leave Metafilter now?
posted by glasseyes at 5:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


glasseyes: "As a person who is both British and Nigerian my short stay in the States reminded me of Nigeria far more than Britain. It's confusing because there's a common language.

*ducks*

will i have to leave Metafilter now?
"

Que?
posted by Splunge at 5:10 PM on January 6, 2013


As an Anglophile who's never been, I feel really torn up by this whole brouhaha.

Guess I'll just pop another Nukie and fageddaboutit.
posted by Twang at 5:16 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


He doesn't mention British people popping into every Internet thread to remind us all how backwards and crazy America is, no matter what the subject is.
("You do WHAT???" Yes, okay, we get it, we don't like it either, but you can shut up now.)
posted by bleep at 5:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think Monty Python is getting so far back there, it isn't really very representative of Britain or what Brits think about Ammies.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:38 PM on January 6, 2013


Goddamned un-American foreigners...
posted by Pudhoho at 5:39 PM on January 6, 2013


I feel that the first minute of this clip is relevant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:41 PM on January 6, 2013


Are we talking about Britain or are we talking about England? Because I'm not at all convinced that it makes sense to talk about British attitudes toward America. In fact not only can you not lump Scottish and English attitudes together like that, you can't really even lump London (or to stretch it a bit, the Home Counties) attitudes with the rest of England; culturally they're massively different places when it comes to things like that. (For completeness, I haven't spent a meaningful amount of time in Wales, but presumably the same applies.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:48 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the Awl's posts tagged "Knifecrime Island," are a nice way to soothe my feelings of inferiority to the Motherland.
posted by emjaybee at 5:49 PM on January 6, 2013


Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. Or so I've heard.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:00 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the Awl's posts tagged "Knifecrime Island," are a nice way to soothe my feelings of inferiority to the Motherland.
Is there really a feeling of inferiority in this way? I've never heard of that.
posted by Jehan at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2013


Let's just admit we would both be happier in a "special relationship" with some sexier country where everyone knows how to Tango or Salsa.
posted by relish at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is reminding me of the Arrested Development episode where Michael and Rita go out to dinner at the one "American" restaurant in Wee Britain. Every Texas stereotype, check!
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:28 PM on January 6, 2013


It took me the longest time to realize that in Monty Python's Splunge skit all the characters were supposed to be doing some variety of American accent, if only a very broad comical exaggeration. I thought they were just doing another silly British accent.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:35 PM on January 6, 2013


What British people think Americans are like.
posted by meehawl at 6:48 PM on January 6, 2013


A more nuanced view.
posted by meehawl at 6:50 PM on January 6, 2013


What did I learn from war? Son, never go into battle in front of the Americans.

Canadians learned to never go to war under British officers.

Speaking on behalf of the commonwealth, it's fun to watch the two arrogant hegemons of the anglosphere take blind drunken swings at each other.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:51 PM on January 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


Are we talking about Britain or are we talking about England? Because I'm not at all convinced that it makes sense to talk about British attitudes toward America. In fact not only can you not lump Scottish and English attitudes together like that, you can't really even lump London (or to stretch it a bit, the Home Counties) attitudes with the rest of England; culturally they're massively different places when it comes to things like that.

Kind of like Des Moines vs El Paso vs New York City vs Monkey's Eyebrow, KY?

The US is a large, complicated place with a population as diverse as its geography. Of course there are common bonds that tie us, but whenever I'm in London I'm struck by how narrow (and inaccurate) views are toward the US. Funny thing for England of all places to call the US provincial or tabloid-obsessed or strange or colonialist. For them to criticize a country they've not visited, I often find out, all the while chiding Americans for not traveling more.... it's all a bit rich.

Because 2 wrongs don't make a right, I won't bother pointing out the many, many silly things about British cultures—all of them—that are apparent from the outside. The US doesn't have a monopoly on that stuff.
posted by deern the headlice at 6:52 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to point out one of the touchstones of modern American culture,Bacon Ice Cream, is a British invention.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:02 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back in the 80s, at the height of the, kind of, Thatcher/Reagan alliance I went to Harvard, and I was there for a year. When I got there I would refer casually in conversation to the "Special Relationship", imagining that my American peers would would know exactly what I was talking about.

And to a man, they just didn't have a clue what that meant. They thought it was a sex thing.
Toby Young, From The Anti-Americans (a hate/love relationship)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:05 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Compared to British culture?

I think you mean "cultoure".
posted by adamdschneider at 7:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Point of information regarding ongoing Pizza Hut debate in this thread:

Will Self reviews Pizza Hut as part of a regular column reviewing food venues in the UK where "real people" (i.e. "ordinary people" ) eat
posted by Bwithh at 7:29 PM on January 6, 2013


This has been the whelk, your guide to the world of facts.
And slash fic.


I think this means we are due some Pizza Hut/Angus Steakhouse slash fic from The Whelk...
posted by 445supermag at 7:37 PM on January 6, 2013


Many Brits think they are ironic but are really just sarcastic, the lowest form of wit.
posted by stbalbach at 7:43 PM on January 6, 2013


I grew up American but lived in England for a year, so I've given this matter some thought.

One English reaction to the US is awe, because much of the culture of the country came from England originally, and look at the behemoth America has become. Another English reaction is horror, because the values that Americans profess are at times very different from the ones the English have.

If I had to explain how it was that the US diverged from England, I'd say it was immigration. Over the past 200 years, the US has taken in vast numbers of people from many different countries. The people already living here had negative reactions to the immigrants, and I suspect for the immigrants, there was a certain amount of pride involved, meaning they wanted to prove they could make it here.

So people in the US often haven't had empathy for their fellow citizens. When people can agree on our common values, they have mostly focused on working hard and maybe being an entrepreneur. There has been a premium on succeeding economically.

England has had its fair share of immigrants too, but not to nearly the same degree as the US. England also has a much longer history and a much better defined sense of national character. There is a stronger sense there that the entire country is a community.

So I think that's why England has its NHS and America has its bitter struggle to implement national healthcare. In the US, there is a history of privileged groups not wanting to help the less fortunate, because there is this implicit belief that the less fortunate should be able to take care of themselves. (Now that we've become less of a country of immigrants, this deserves re-thinking.) In England, the sense is more that even if someone is poor and unable to look after themselves, they're still not so different from everyone else, and they should be taken care of.

This might also explain our willingness to imprison people. And maybe how people are more willing to demonize the politicians in power (if they disagree with them).

I think most other European countries are like England, but they don't share our language, so it's easier for both them and us to treat the other as An Other and not something of a paradox.

This is all a generalization and should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. And I'm not even going to get in to religion. I'm not qualified to be talking about cultural stuff in the first place, but fuck it, I wanted to get this out of my system.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:50 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


We (Americans) do this to ourselves just as badly as anyone else does it to us. Just ask someone about Texans. Or people from Jersey. Or Californians. We all simplify like this. It's good to be aware of it and talk about it, but that article seemed really over-wrought to me. It was interesting to read insofar as reading someone's blog post, but it just didn't seem to get anywhere.

Not, that is, while British civil servants still hide their stars and stripes pants beneath their pinstripe trousers.

I mean, what.
posted by juliplease at 8:02 PM on January 6, 2013


I used to have a British co-worker who would come to me asking for an explanation of people's motives when something American seemed utterly bewildering to him. About 9 times out of 10 I could explain the situation with the phrase, "Well you see Richard, Australia got the criminals and we got the Puritans."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:06 PM on January 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


Is it just me, or is he trying a little too hard to load the piece with Britishisms and obscure English words?

Or is that the point?

Nah, he's Will Self.


"Writing, his is willful. Not writing, he is will self."
-- Aristaenetus
 
posted by Herodios at 8:19 PM on January 6, 2013


Will someone explain what Angus Steakhouse is, and confirm that it must be just as terrible as the name sounds?
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:24 PM on January 6, 2013


Well, that must have taken him about five minutes. Talk about phoning it in.....
posted by Ideefixe at 8:30 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


All Americans on UK TVshows* have werid anachronistic Texan accents

God damn the British TV show "American" accent drives me crazy. It doesn't sound like any American I've ever heard, it drives me crazy. It makes me realize how much the American generic "British" accent must be maddening to anyone from the UK.

Also Will Self's mother is American? That was unexpected.
posted by aspo at 8:32 PM on January 6, 2013


Largely an attempt at pretended international relevance post WWII.

Oh sure, but couldn't we do it with a little bit of class?

Ah well, at least we didn't get hoodwinked into going into Vietnam - if there was one American adventure to sit out in the late 20th century it was that one.


Unlike New Zealand and Australia, but I suppose they had the excuse that it was sort of in their backyard.
posted by madajb at 8:44 PM on January 6, 2013


Patterson Joseph in Jekyll is THE WORST AMERICAN ACCENT EVAR, because it just wanders all over the place. One moment it's New York, then it's Texas, then it flattens out to Ohio.

It's like each line he had a different regional dialect coach. Drove me up the wall listening to it.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:50 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I moved from America to Australia as a teenager, and I think the main difference between the two cultures (since Australia has a bunch of British culture in it) is that the British are very nervous around unabashed earnestness and enthusiasm. They can't understand it, they can't really process it, and they mock it. I remember a Simon Reynolds book where he couldn't understand the idea of rock and roll as a religious phenomenon because he was basically embarrassed by it.

The Descendents sum up the differences nicely.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:52 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Will someone explain what Angus Steakhouse is, and confirm that it must be just as terrible as the name sounds?

LOL

(Far worse.)
posted by Artw at 8:53 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: “Patterson Joseph in Jekyll is THE WORST AMERICAN ACCENT EVAR, because it just wanders all over the place. One moment it's New York, then it's Texas, then it flattens out to Ohio. It's like each line he had a different regional dialect coach. Drove me up the wall listening to it.”

Wow – you weren't kidding. He only has one short line in this clip, but still manages to cram all kinds of bad into that attempt at an American accent.
posted by koeselitz at 9:00 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like how in British spy shows the Americans are treated like slightly malevolent, all-powerful aliens who must be appeased.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Fun fact: Martin Van Buren, America's 8th president, was the first to be born as an American, not a British, citizen.
posted by bardic at 9:08 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another fun fact: he was granted US citizenship by virtue of his facial hair alone.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:16 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


All Americans on UK TVshows* have werid anachronistic Texan accents.

Not quite -- the stereotypical Awful American Accent sounds kind of like someone who was a kid in Brooklyn and then spent thirty years in Texas.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:17 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


For at least two decades British performers and bit players got their idea of American accents from exactly two sources: Kojak and Dallas. Given that Telly Savalas' idea of being cool was to affect the patois of the Rat Pack circa 1958 and the Dallas cast were less convincing fake Texans than Dubya on his worst day, the result is an endless supply of risible moments in British television for an entire era.

On the other hand, given that the same category of American performers for the same period got their English accents from Terry-Thomas if the characters were middle-to-upper class or, god help them, Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins if they weren't, the reverse was also true.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:18 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is a little bit click-trolly of Will Self because everyone knows there's nothing we Americans like quite so much as dissecting our Americanness, especially if we get to do it in contrast to other countries' not-Americanness, and double-especially if it involves the British generally and/or Kate Middleton in particular.

"You can blame the Dutch for reality television."

And also for New York City!

"You know, I dislike the word "pond" when used to described the Atlantic sea."

We only call it that because here in America we have lakes bigger than your ocean.

--

More seriously, I would point up that the U.S. is a country founded upon an idea -- not a shared history, not a bloodline, not a place, but an idea -- and that makes Americans take those ideas very seriously and enforce a sort of orthodoxy about those ideas that you don't see as often, I don't think, in most European countries (I can't really speak to other parts of the world). I think a lot of both the best and worst of American politics come from that; when someone disagrees with you about certain ideas, it's not just a debate about "should we have national health care" but about "who is American?" because Americanness is tied up in those ideas, not the place or your parents or a long shared history. I think some of the American political disputes that puzzle Europeans boil down to the fact that they're not actually about health care policy (or gun violence or what have you) but instead are proxies for fundamental questions of what America is and who is an American.

(And in fact a lot of the European national politics that get traction in the U.S. media are questions of "who is really French?" or "what does it mean to be authentically French?" or whatever, especially if they're about immigration or freedom of speech or religion, because those sorts of disputes interest Americans, probably because they map more easily on to our own common political questions.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:49 PM on January 6, 2013 [22 favorites]


Aaah Will Self, the poster boy for saying little new or interesting but using a thousand felching unneeded words to say it.

"You can blame the Dutch for reality television."

Not us, gov, we stole Big Brother from the Scandinavians.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:55 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


InsertNiftyNameHere: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. Or so I've heard."

So I gathered from Downton Abbey tonight.

[Spoiler!]
posted by deborah at 11:09 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just me, but the writer of that article needs to not quit his day job.
Unless his day job is writing, in which case quitting is back on the table.
posted by anonymisc at 11:35 PM on January 6, 2013


Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: "Patterson Joseph in Jekyll is THE WORST AMERICAN ACCENT EVAR, because it just wanders all over the place. One moment it's New York, then it's Texas, then it flattens out to Ohio. "

That's just Patterson Joseph going full-on ridiculous there, right? That's certainly what he did with Johnson on Peep Show.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:52 PM on January 6, 2013


Look, I don't like to cast aspersions, but some of my best friends are Americans.

And Americans are crazy with their guns and god.
posted by Mezentian at 1:11 AM on January 7, 2013


I sadly find this topic endlessly interesting, even when it gets boring, because I'm a Chicagoan married to a Brit and living in London. I live it.

Whoever above noted that the Brits see our culture as having came from them, its more complicated than that. There's a great book called Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer that talks about the regional variations in America and their cultural origins from various British/Scots-Irish origins. There isn't even uniformity in the kinds of British culture that seeded here.

What many Brits underestimate is how much regional variation there has been in American culture, and how much non-British influence goes into it. I think that our old WASP establishment (Groton, Wall Street, OSS, etc) was highly Anglophilic, which hasn't helped in the 20th century.

Most Brits don't realise just how Germanic the US has been, or Scandinavian in certain areas.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:14 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I still think Americans misunderstand the British more than the other way round. That's only natural - we're exposed to more American culture than vice versa. I even asked about this on AskMeFi a while back.
posted by salmacis at 3:02 AM on January 7, 2013


I think Monty Python is getting so far back there, it isn't really very representative of Britain or what Brits think about Ammies.

Monty Python is a) knocking on for fifty years old b) pretty establishment compared with many comedians who followed (public school, Cambridge and that) so I'd agree with this. Though it may have been revealing at the time. It's not repeated that much on UK TV these days to be honest, so it's less of a cultural touchstone for under-30s than it was. This sums up more contemporary comic attitudes to the US, I think.

My dad had a strange hatred of America - he thought Americans were arrogant, which was exemplified by the fact their 'local' sports tournaments were called the 'World Series' which clearly showed they overestimated their importance in the world. (Of course, the 'World' there is a reference to a newspaper.) He never visited the country. I had a half-American boyfriend and went there with him when I was seventeen, and the things I found odd there - strange pre-fabricated cream cheese, adverts for prescription drugs in Cosmopolitan, the distance between London and Liverpool being small, lack of pedestrianisation (it was California), people not being able to understand me in the slightest - seemed charming if anything. I feel like I can't really say I've 'been to America' - partly because we were dropped off at malls each day by ex's mum while she worked, and partly because I'm not sure how representative California is of, say, New York, Chicago or Minnesota.

I do find it odd that US folk can't always distinguish between British/estuary accents and Australian ones, but thinking about it, they influenced each other to an extent. We tend to think here that there is an 'American accent' (generally a brash Texan or a Noo Yoiker) just as you guys sometimes think there is a 'British accent' (generally a south of England accent). I wasn't aware of the Scandinavian influence until I saw re-runs of the Golden Girls and later Garrison Keillor's radio shows. I think we underestimate it because US people have a tendency to describe themselves as Something-American in a way which we wouldn't here - if I was American, I could describe myself as 'Irish', but in the UK, someone who's never been there and whose Irish-born relatives died before I was born wouldn't be able to legitimately claim Irishness in the same way. I quite like how proud Americans are of their origins.

There is a Welsh actor on The Mentalist who - for me - has such a convincing accent that I couldn't believe he was American. I think there was an Ask Me post a while ago about people doing 'American accents' in film and TV and how authentic it sounded to Americans.
posted by mippy at 4:07 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't take it too personally, USA, remember - this is the bloke who was fired by The Observer newspaper when he was caught taking scag on a plane carrying the Prime Minister.

Talk about flying!

But ultimately, we all know the truth.
posted by marienbad at 4:09 AM on January 7, 2013


bleep: "He doesn't mention British people popping into every Internet thread to remind us all how backwards and crazy America is, no matter what the subject is.
("You do WHAT???" Yes, okay, we get it, we don't like it either, but you can shut up now.)
"

Hey, every thread on Mefi about the UK has Americans doing precisely the same thing. People like to compare all sorts of things, apparently.

Also, this article is classic Will Self. He's a professional chin-stroker of the first order.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:25 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it helps, I'm one of many Americans who no longer understand American culture.
posted by Legomancer at 4:57 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Durn it. We got ourselves a pinko LIE-BHURAL.
posted by Mezentian at 5:06 AM on January 7, 2013


An interesting take on the British view of America was Steven Fry's America series.
posted by gjc at 5:34 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


dunkadunc: "I think Monty Python is getting so far back there, it isn't really very representative of Britain or what Brits think about Ammies."

No but it is how a huge number of Americans, myself included, got their ideas about Brits.
posted by octothorpe at 5:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favourite Will Self thing is that he spent a lot of time and money completely de-branding his Volvo car. It's a fantastic piece of bourgeois anti-capitalism.
posted by mippy at 5:58 AM on January 7, 2013


benito.strauss: It took me the longest time to realize that in Monty Python's Splunge skit all the characters were supposed to be doing some variety of American accent, if only a very broad comical exaggeration. I thought they were just doing another silly British accent.

Not all of those accents were terrible. Terry Gilliam's American accent is almost perfect!



That's, I say, that's a joke, son
posted by hanov3r at 6:26 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Americans don't know much about Australia either. I too had no idea they didn't say "bloomin'" anymore down under.

Maybe it's Middle Earth where they still say "bloomin'".
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:57 AM on January 7, 2013


I enjoyed learning via the secondarily-linked Pizza Hut review that arugula is called "rocket" in the UK (from the French "rocquette") and is put on pizza. That probably shouldn't seem as weird to me as it does given the last slice I ate was feta, spinach, and olives (i.e., salt-overdose pizza). This is all also reminding me how much fun Will Self is to read, even when I don't 100% understand what he's saying.
posted by aught at 8:27 AM on January 7, 2013


There is a Welsh actor on The Mentalist who - for me - has such a convincing accent that I couldn't believe he was American.

Yes, Owain Yeoman. I recall the show's producers had a little fun one episode putting Rigsby undercover with a UK accent, letting Yeoman speak naturally in a couple scenes.

Don't forget Simon Baker is Australian, so there are two convincing American accents by native Commonwealth actors on that show. My parents were flabbergasted when I told them this. (Though since Baker does the before-commercial-break voice-overs using his natural Aussie accent, it shouldn't be any great surprise there.)
posted by aught at 8:36 AM on January 7, 2013


My dad had a strange hatred of America - he thought Americans were arrogant, which was exemplified by the fact their 'local' sports tournaments were called the 'World Series' which clearly showed they overestimated their importance in the world. (Of course, the 'World' there is a reference to a newspaper.)

It turns out that your dad may have been a bit more justified than you're giving him credit for. Personally, I think it's a perfectly natural bit of hyperbole for a tournament originating at the turn of the 20th century in an enormous country surrounded by other countries that don't really play the game. But the truth does still happen to fit in with the arrogance argument as well.
posted by MUD at 9:23 AM on January 7, 2013


aught: "There is a Welsh actor on The Mentalist who - for me - has such a convincing accent that I couldn't believe he was American.

Yes, Owain Yeoman. I recall the show's producers had a little fun one episode putting Rigsby undercover with a UK accent, letting Yeoman speak naturally in a couple scenes.

Don't forget Simon Baker is Australian, so there are two convincing American accents by native Commonwealth actors on that show. My parents were flabbergasted when I told them this. (Though since Baker does the before-commercial-break voice-overs using his natural Aussie accent, it shouldn't be any great surprise there.)
"

See also Jamie Bamber as Lee Adama in Battlestar Galactica, who's accent is good enough that it sounds very odd to hear him using his real one.

Idris Elba as Dinger Bell in The Wire is another.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2013


Tom Stoppard's New-Found-Land has a brilliant 6-page stream of consciousness monologue: an English loveletter to the whole of America. It is charmingly full of every cliche.
posted by binturong at 9:44 AM on January 7, 2013


ee also Jamie Bamber as Lee Adama in Battlestar Galactica, who's accent is good enough that it sounds very odd to hear him using his real one.

There was a couple-month period when BBC America was showing both Battlestar Galactica AND the UK Law and Order - it was wild to go from hearing him as American-sounding Lee Adama on Saturdays to hearing him as straight-outta-London Matt Devlin on L&O:UK on Wednesdays.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2013


Idris Elba as Dinger Bell in The Wire is another.
posted by Happy Dave


Damn, now I really do wish that character was named Dinger Bell! He could have a Boy-Named-Sue-instigated anger behind him.
posted by The Deej at 10:11 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a first-generation English immigrant, I've often been confused about the English establishment's willingness to play second-fiddle to the Americans.

It's not willingness, it's a complete lack of alternatives. The British establishment traditionally hated Americans, Jews, and Europeans. Roman Catholics are either okay (very very old English families) or foul (Irish). We liked Arabs and Sikhs.

Churchill - who was half-American - sucked up to the Yanks terribly, because he was realist enough to realise there was no alternative. But the Yanks successfully screwed us over as best they could throughout the 20th Century (Land Lease, East Asia, Suez) until we were weak enough that we were more useful propped up than further weakened. The fact that the Irish Roman Catholics we didn't starve ended up in the United States and their descendants made US policy didn't help.

The British elite knew this. They and their forefathers had ruled the world. Now the Yanks were taking us over and behaving as ruthlessly as we did, and they hated it. There was a great deal of anti-American sentiment in the middle of the 20th Century.

Now, those elites are gone. Their children have grown up in an American world. The special antipathy from being succeeded is gone, replaced by the usual envy and longing of a minor power to a Great one.
posted by alasdair at 11:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do find it odd that US folk can't always distinguish between British/estuary accents and Australian ones, but thinking about it, they influenced each other to an extent.

Hell, I get a few of my fellow Australians assuming I'm English on account of my apparent accent every year, particularly when I tell them I'm from Newcastle - guess they've never heard a Northern English accent then.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2013


Having watched the season premier of Downton Abbey last night, it was an interesting view of how Julian Fellowes views Americans. If his treatment of Shirley MacLaine is any example, in which nearly every line had something to do with either the American grandmother thought British were a) stuck in the past, b) cherished tradition too much, and c) are too uptight. It's a little better done with Cora, who occasionally shows sparks of American egalitarianism.
posted by Atreides at 3:30 PM on January 7, 2013


He doesn't mention British people popping into every Internet thread to remind us all how backwards and crazy America is, no matter what the subject is.

There's a healthcare thread on the front page, if anyone is interested.
posted by Artw at 3:35 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sometimes get the impression that for most peoples of the British persuasion,
Joe Don Baker's Darius Jedburgh from "Edge of Darkness" is all, ALL, you need to know about America, Americans, and how to end a PowerPoint presentation.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:58 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joe Don Baker is all you really need to know about America.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:17 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


He doesn't mention British people popping into every Internet thread to remind us all how backwards and crazy America is, no matter what the subject is.
Well, c'mawn, six months total maternity leave?

It's the defensiveness Brits don't get. Anyone can tell us we're drunk, ignorant and thuggish and we'd agree. We've all seen Saturday night in the City centre. But the Welfare State was a wonderful thing, and it's a particularly British achievement. So for Americans who don't like to hear this, don't worry, our Cameroonian government will put that right pronto.
posted by glasseyes at 6:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you didn't have all those nice things you'd certainly be tired out by being constantly reminded of all the nice things you don't have. And always with this head-scratching bewilderment "Well, gee, we have maternity leave, I don't understand why everyone doesn't!" as if America isn't a complicated land of contrasts where we can just pass any legislation we want.
posted by bleep at 7:02 PM on January 7, 2013


Hell, I get a few of my fellow Australians assuming I'm English on account of my apparent accent every year, particularly when I tell them I'm from Newcastle - guess they've never heard a Northern English accent then.

Stephen Fry can't understand a Newcastle accent either.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:18 PM on January 7, 2013


After pausing to help a Londoner find their way on the tube, she turned to me and said 'My, that's a lovely accent, dear. Where are you from? Australia?'

I'm from London.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:58 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Deej: "Idris Elba as Dinger Bell in The Wire is another.
posted by Happy Dave


Damn, now I really do wish that character was named Dinger Bell! He could have a Boy-Named-Sue-instigated anger behind him.
"

Oops, 'Stringer' Bell. I did once know a Mr Bell who was nicknamed 'Dinger', poor chap.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:16 AM on January 8, 2013


And now there's a gun control thread. Those are the two areas where Brots consider Americans utterly and obviously insane, everything else is pretty much up for debate.
posted by Artw at 7:22 AM on January 8, 2013


Can someone start a thread about the place of soccer in America, and how soccer is the most correct name for the sport? That should let us hit a trifecta or something.
posted by Atreides at 11:24 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yowzers. The whole reason the world points at the United States and laughs when we say soccer is because the English came up with the word and ditched on us...[conspiracy!]
Soccer's etymology is not American but British. It comes from an abbreviation for Association Football, the official name of the sport (for those of you who have never heard the team "Association Football" before, it was named after the Football Association, which still governs English soccer, to differentiate itself from the other major type of football, Rugby Football, which was named after the Rugby School. FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, is French for the International Federation of Association Football… F-I-F-A). For obvious reasons, in the 1880s and 1890s, English newspapers couldn't use the first three letters of Association as an abbreviation in their pages, so they took the next syllable, S-O-C. With the British penchant for adding "-er" at the end of words: punter, footballer, copper, and, of course, nicknaming rugby, "rugger," the word "soccer" was soon born, over a hundred years ago, here in England, the home of soccer. We adopted it and kept using it because we have our own indigenous sport that we call football.
-US Embassy in London.
posted by Atreides at 11:27 AM on January 8, 2013


Are we talking about Britain or are we talking about England? Because I'm not at all convinced that it makes sense to talk about British attitudes toward America. In fact not only can you not lump Scottish and English attitudes together like that, you can't really even lump London (or to stretch it a bit, the Home Counties) attitudes with the rest of England; culturally they're massively different places when it comes to things like that.

That was my experience when I did my study abroad in Edinburgh. The only people who called me Yank or wanted to make me answer for U.S. cultural hegemony were from the south of England. Everyone else was nice, and my flatmates (one Scot, one northern Englander) taught me the appropriate name for those southerners.

When my friends tried to mimic my accent, they all sounded like John Wayne. When I did theirs, they said I sounded like Bob Marley.
posted by gladly at 11:41 AM on January 8, 2013


we have our own indigenous sport that we call football.

Yeah. About that name…
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:02 PM on January 8, 2013


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