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How Americans view us...
February 26, 2002 12:58 PM   Subscribe

How Americans view us... You don't really ... do you? "They responded very readily to Britain and the British: 'Tea... proper... trousers... Monty Python... Jane Eyre... Austin Powers... soccer hooligans... Prince William... dry and witty... educated... not huggy...' "
posted by feelinglistless (61 comments total)

 
No, no. The correct line is: "Fish, chips, cup o' tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary-fucking-Poppins London!"

Err, wait...
posted by Danelope at 1:08 PM on February 26, 2002


A lot of the standard stereotypes seem to be missing. I had a conversation about this with my British mother-in-law the other day, and we also isolated pointless generalizations such as a fixation on potty humor, "no sex please, we're English", bad teeth, and low cuisine. Oh, and the Lucas electrics on your cars really suck.
posted by machaus at 1:09 PM on February 26, 2002


Another in a long history of Europeans using their sense of subtle irony (read: tactical nuke-out of blatant anti-Americanism) to poke a bit of good natured fun (read: totally blow shit to) at America, particularly the American south. Wee!

It's this kind of backhanded stuff that prompts Americans to respond with comments like "... well, if it weren't for us, today England would be the smallest, least productive province in Germany."

And for an Englishman to poke fun at American restaurants, in light of the legendary horribleness of English food...? It's unseemly.
posted by UncleFes at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2002


Point being, there's plenty of crap in the world. England and the US are supposed to be friends - why can we not act like it?
posted by UncleFes at 1:14 PM on February 26, 2002


two places i would not try to take the pulse of America:
1) alabama
2) the Olive Garden.

but good try anyway, old chap.
posted by tsarfan at 1:14 PM on February 26, 2002


How about a third, tsarfan: Metafilter
posted by luser at 1:16 PM on February 26, 2002


children, children...

sorry being english, I am not sure what you mean There is no such thing as english food, curry is the national dish old boy.

sorry but I am sure I have heard 'Damn england is the smallest most,least productive province in Germany....and the food sucks' in birmingham alabama.

two nations seperated by more than a common language. It is true we are eternal moaners and whiners but the guardian is how can I put it full of shit sometimes.
posted by johnnyboy at 1:19 PM on February 26, 2002


My favorite line:
Patten's attack, said Wesley Pruden, "might have been taken as a declaration of war except that the Europeans, concerned with selling cheese and sausages, have neither the will nor the stamina to make war on anyone more fearsome than the United Republic of Upper Bunga Banga".

Heh. We're insensitive idiots.
posted by ColdChef at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2002


Great article. Great post, feelinglistless.

The fact of the matter is that--for at least a generation, probably two--the relationship between Europe and America as been a one-way street. We Americans know very little--and care even less--about what goes on over there.

The European leaders who've criticized Bush's "Axis of Evil" have an excellent point, and quotes from newspaper columnists in this article are unforgivable. "Europeans, concerned with selling cheese and sausages, have neither the will nor the stamina to make war on anyone more fearsome than the United Republic of Upper Bunga Banga". That kind of characterization of Europe is outrageous--let alone the thinly-veiled, quasi-racist swipe at Europe's willingness to recognize Africa as--heaven forbid!--a viable continent.

We're so godamned proud of ourselves, and so self-righteous, yet we're threatened into defensive name-calling whenever someone across the pond suggests we're out of line. Hands over your testicles, everyone! Someone in the word refuses to recognize our inherent superiority!
posted by jpoulos at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2002


Jpoulos: Jinx!
posted by ColdChef at 1:36 PM on February 26, 2002


I'm english american. See? I capitalize neither.

curry is the national dish. there is cultural integration in parts of england which I've never seen in North America, with the exception of Toronto.

England is cool for lots of reasons. However, america is cool for lots of reasons to. Both are cool, compared to say Iran. That puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Now, as far as the the abuse of power goes, the parliament would do the same thing if they could, or one might say. So both countries are even there.

However, england wins. Why? Oscar Wilde:
"I myself would say that America was never discovered - it was merely detected"
Now of course he was kicked out and lived the rest of his days in Paris. And yes he was Irish. And yes they did the same thing to Alan Turing. But the wit still stands as tall as it stands stiff.

One common misconception about the british is that they are intelligent and good looking. They are neither and despite the public healthcare, the teeth leave something to be desired. One misconception about Americans is that we are in fact dropping cluster bombs mislabled to look like food relief packages. The truth is that we didn't know that, and now that we do know it, have gotten used to the idea.

Eh.
posted by Settle at 1:40 PM on February 26, 2002


Settle, the British may not all be intelligent and good looking... but the accent's attractive. All variants thereof, too.

I'd far rather listen to an English english speaker read something than an American english speaker.

And I say this as an American.

The English win on style. They've got it, in spades.

On the other hand, why should we give a flip what they think of us and how we conduct our business? We shouldn't care when the British- or any European nationality- say we're out of line. We should just laugh and do as we will, secure that we have the power to back ourselves up, whenever necessary, and to go our course alone, to pursue our own best interests, when necessary.
posted by dissent at 1:52 PM on February 26, 2002


The United States is big country with a diverse poplulation. Please, oh please, don't make generalizations about all Americans based off of what one guy in Alabama has to say.
posted by awcole72 at 1:59 PM on February 26, 2002


Please, oh please, don't make generalizations about all Americans based off of what one guy in Alabama has to say.

What about basing generealizations on what one doofus from Texas (who fell ass-backwards into one of the most desired jobs in the world) says?
posted by ColdChef at 2:04 PM on February 26, 2002


The United States is big country with a diverse poplulation. Please, oh please, don't make generalizations about all Americans based off of what one guy in Alabama has to say.

Yes, there's always the important viewpoint of the average Iowa farm hand (or at least our politicos would have them believe ever 4 years).

When I went back to my small Ohio hometown after living in the UK for a couple of years, the first question I got was "what do they wear over there?".

Making generalizations about places other than Alabama is as bad as making generalizations about Alabama. Alabama is Ohio, Illinois, Texas, California (except LA and SF of course), New York (except NYC of course), New Mexico, Nebraska, Connecticut, Florida, etc. etc. etc. etc. All 49 states are exactly the same, New Hampshire is different by Legislative Decree.
posted by m@ at 2:10 PM on February 26, 2002


"Europeans, concerned with selling cheese and sausages, have neither the will nor the stamina to make war on anyone more fearsome than the United Republic of Upper Bunga Banga." That kind of characterization of Europe is outrageous...

That characterization of Europe is certainly no more outrageous than most of the stuff that gets printed about the US in the Guardian. It's even basically correct, if admittedly a bit rude.

The US is not the only one being thin-skinned here.
posted by jaek at 2:14 PM on February 26, 2002


ColdChef: Why must you say such mean things about Larry Hagman? A selection of Hagman quotes:

"Well I can tell you one thing, my drinking game sure as hell is a lot better than my golf game."

"What's the matter Lucy, don't you know us rich folks are supposed to be happy all the time?"

"Once you give up integrity the rest is a piece of cake."
posted by haqspan at 2:22 PM on February 26, 2002


I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to Larry Hagman and his new liver.
posted by ColdChef at 2:26 PM on February 26, 2002


jaek, are you arguing against the article, or offering more evidence in support of what jpoulos said?
posted by iain at 2:29 PM on February 26, 2002


Um, I kinda like the food at Olive Garden.
posted by riffola at 2:31 PM on February 26, 2002


The only standout characteristic for me that sets the British apart is their humour. I generally find it more sophisticated and self-deprecatory than American humor. Must be the "u".

Of course, that's not universal. Just my experience as the son of a Welsh father and an English mother. YMMV.

Another great thing about the British. They will automatically assume the blame for any situation. Example: If you open a door and smack a British person in the face with it, they will apologize to you as they lie prone and bleeding on the floor.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:32 PM on February 26, 2002


I'm sorry, but this piece just isn't very credible: The president baffled Chinese interpreters last week by using the word "apoplectic" in a private meeting in Beijing

I'm supposed to believe Bush even knows that word?
posted by NortonDC at 2:43 PM on February 26, 2002


Honestly, the UK and europe in general have a bit more tact, and a better understanding of what they are in the bigger picture. And they don't get their knickers in twist over their public servant's blowjobs.

In a few hundred years the US will mellow out. This is an infantile culture because it is in its infancy.
posted by Settle at 2:43 PM on February 26, 2002


I'm half-British.

And, I live in the South (USA). Granted, it's the best part of the South, but still.

Do I have to criticize myself?

Do I have to listen?

*head explodes*
posted by ebarker at 2:59 PM on February 26, 2002


Honestly, the UK and europe in general have a bit more tact, and a better understanding of what they are in the bigger picture. And they don't get their knickers in twist over their public servant's blowjobs.

No, they just worry over whether they can make the trains run on time. Hence Mussolini. Hence Hitler.

Mellowing out = decadence.
posted by dissent at 2:59 PM on February 26, 2002


iain - I'm arguing against what jpoulos said. He's claiming that the US is "quick to resort to defensive name-calling whenever someone across the pond suggests we're out of line based on one quote from a known crackpot publication (the Washington Times), all the while ignoring the fact that the European press as been full of things a lot more out in left field than what was reproduced in the Guardian article.

The Europeans think that we're a bunch of reckless cowboys bent on world domination, we think that the Europeans are a bunch of navel-gazing whiners who can be safely ignored. If either side really cared about these perceptions, they'd do something about them. Since they aren't, I don't see what the problem is.
posted by jaek at 2:59 PM on February 26, 2002


I've actually been ploughing my way through 'The Penguin History of the United States'. This is one of those moments were everything I could want to say is in the posted article.

I just want to ask a single question. Can it be right that the average British teenager knows more about American history than British? The average kid can tell you when Kennedy was shot but as this article demonstrates has fun with even recent history like 'The Falklands War'.
posted by feelinglistless at 3:00 PM on February 26, 2002


feelingPBSviewer. feelingbored.
posted by y2karl at 3:14 PM on February 26, 2002


feelinglikewhythehelldoIcareify2karlisbored?
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:25 PM on February 26, 2002


machaus: you beat me to it with Lucas electric. My nightmares were with an MGB-GT. I'm convinced the British can't build anything bigger than a hatbox and have it run reliably. On the other hand, it had incredible style.

On topic: England = cold houses + warm beer. But I live in (mind you, moved to settle in) Boston, so there must be something I loved about it.
posted by swerve at 3:58 PM on February 26, 2002


On topic: England = cold houses + warm beer. But I live in (mind you, moved to settle in) Boston, so there must be something I loved about it.

I don't get it. Oh, you mean Boston ;-)
posted by Gaz at 4:18 PM on February 26, 2002


The English are obviously a masochistic people. I should know. I lived with one for about a year and a half. Get enough Guinness into this man's system and he was regularly beaten by me, not of my own volition, taking my fist and applying it hardly to his face while yelling the words, "Captain Cook was here."
posted by ed at 4:19 PM on February 26, 2002


Can it be right that the average British teenager knows more about American history than British? The average kid can tell you when Kennedy was shot but as this article demonstrates has fun with even recent history like 'The Falklands War'.

I think that's actually the distinction between "cool" history and "boring" history. Kennedy's death was the first filmed assassination of a US president and turned into an enigmatic mess of cover-up and conspiracy. The Falklands War was fairly minor as wars go and didn't seem to provide much material gain for either side. I know which one caught my interest when I was younger.

I do remember reading a while back, though, that a large proportion of British primary school children believe that the emergency number was 911, rather than 999. Presumably this is due to media saturation in the form of films and cartoons.
posted by MUD at 4:27 PM on February 26, 2002


Frankly, I never understood 911 -- until I realized that a cellphone can, of its own accord, dial 999 fairly easily when placed in an inside pocket. Suddenly 911 seems like genius.

Accidental genius, maybe, but even so.
posted by aramaic at 6:13 PM on February 26, 2002


Compare this (so far uncontested view): "September 11 confirmed the world-view of this administration," says Daalder. "They believed it was a dangerous world and that proved it. Europe thinks the threats are more diffuse and complicated. Furthermore, Europe emphasises norms, treaties and institutions, partly because they don't have an alternative. The US emphasises power."
...with this:
The Europeans think that we're a bunch of reckless cowboys bent on world domination, On the other hand, why should we give a flip what they think of us and how we conduct our business? We shouldn't care when the British- or any European nationality- say we're out of line. We should just laugh and do as we will, secure that we have the power to back ourselves up, whenever necessary, and to go our course alone, to pursue our own best interests, when necessary.

What's worrying is that Bush Inc, being 'outsiders' to Washington, endorse the go our course alone - and when you have nuclear weapons , but decline to announce restraint (see MeFi recently).... Europe gets worried.

Just my $0.02

- john
posted by dash_slot- at 6:18 PM on February 26, 2002


Great post; great thread. Europe and America have been having the same intense love affair for centuries. Europe is the woman; America the man. If they're both gay, then they're lesbians.

I love you; I hate you; I want to be alone; come over; back me up; I couldn't care less; what are you wearing right now; let's make love; let's go to war...

No other groups of countries in the world are as fascinated by(I'd say in love with) each other. The U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the "New World", all Western European countries as the "Old".

But we all dress the same way, listen to the same music; watch the same films; make the same sorts of wine; read the same books.

It's called the West! And it definitely exists - don't forget that English is half-latin, half-German and half-French. The only reason there's a slight separation is for the sake of avoiding incest and preserving sexiness. Wonderful stuff!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:46 PM on February 26, 2002


No, they just worry over whether they can make the trains run on time. Hence Mussolini. Hence Hitler.

The UK is no danger, then.
posted by normy at 7:15 PM on February 26, 2002


....United Republic of Upper Bunga Banga

That's near Lower Slobovia, right?

This strikes me as another "Let's go laugh at Joe Six-Pack eating at the Olive Garden," as if Europe dosen't have it's "yobs" and "lads" who like our (largely thoretical) Joe are the people who keep the whole wagon train running for the most part.
FWIW, I'm a first-generation American on my mother's side(she was born in Italy) and the only notion of fundemental difference I remember bringing back from my one sojourn to the Old Country was that the past seems much more tangible there. For instance, it's possible to walk by a thousand year old builkding on your way to work over there, and figures that seem more like folktales to us Americans(Cromwell, Napoleon) seem somehow more "actual" in Europe. Just my impression.
posted by jonmc at 8:28 PM on February 26, 2002


feelinglikewhythehelldoIcareify2karlisbored?

feelingmonitored
posted by y2karl at 11:15 PM on February 26, 2002


The Falklands War was fairly minor as wars go and didn't seem to provide much material gain for either side. I know which one caught my interest when I was younger.

That's the point though, you have to know Britain before the Falklands happened to know why it was important. In and of itself the war was not even remotely important to anyone except those directly affected by it. But as a marker in Britain's post-war history it's the event that sits between a long period of decline and a fairly long period of relative prosperity and growth.
posted by vbfg at 2:06 AM on February 27, 2002


For instance, it's possible to walk by a thousand year old builkding on your way to work over there, and figures that seem more like folktales to us Americans(Cromwell, Napoleon) seem somehow more "actual" in Europe.

The one piece of history in my back yard when I was growing up was this old house at the end of the street where I then lived. Cromwell stayed there during the civil war. I wrote my name on the wall in permanent marker at about the time of the Falklands war. That's how 'actual' history feels when it's on your doorstep.

Sometime between then and now I went and developed a passion for history. It's Russian history though - the far-away stuff. The stuff that feels like history because history is important and stuff that happens here just isn't important.
posted by vbfg at 2:19 AM on February 27, 2002


I liked the article. I do feel that there is a fundamental difference in the outlook, attitudes and aspirations of Europeans and Americans. I classify Britain (not England!) as being culturally much more European than American.

Whenever there's an article the even slightly criticizes America, a lot of American posters here and on other boards jump up and start counter-criticizing the article, rather than debating the issue. I think this is because they genuinely don't understand where the criticism is coming from, they don't understand the European attitude. One example would be the running of the Salt Lake City Olympics, which were perceived quite differently on each side of the Pond.

Fortunately, MeFi is one of the better places on the internet for cultural understanding. Fark and usenet can be much much worse.
posted by salmacis at 3:11 AM on February 27, 2002


'My nightmares were with an MGB-GT. I'm convinced the British can't build anything bigger than a hatbox and have it run reliably. '

You might want to look into where 90% of Formula 1 race cars are designed, tested and built. Or even into who holds the land speed record and who doesn't.

Being British I can tell you with total authority that drinking is the only important part of our culture. As for Europe, we do get on well with Scandinavian (they speak better English that we do) and alright with the Dutch and Germans. We don't understand the French (who does?) and we look down on the Southern European, just for fun more than anything. They are a bit hick.

We have a lot of time for America's, although we wish you would quieten down a bit. THERE IS NO NEED TO SHOUT. Oh yeah, and we don't understand why American men always dress as if they are heading off to the golf course. My personal opinion is - that there is nothing better than an educated America, and little worse than an ignorant one.

Britain rocks because we produced Churchill, Maggie, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Telly Tubbies.
posted by RobertLoch at 4:28 AM on February 27, 2002


Oh yeah, and we have the SAS.
posted by RobertLoch at 4:31 AM on February 27, 2002


'My nightmares were with an MGB-GT. I'm convinced the British can't build anything bigger than a hatbox and have it run reliably. '

[cough] Rolls Royce [cough] Bentley [cough] Jaguar.....

there is nothing better than an educated American, and little worse than an ignorant one.

Very true, and Metafilter is the place I come to hear the views of the educated ones (well, some of you seem educated...).

What I do take umbrage with is the attitude that anyone criticising anything American is wrong, and is then a target for counter criticism rather than rational argument. America as a nation, from this side of the Atlantic seems very bad at taking criticism in whatever spirit it is offered.

I love the way Americans are generally a positive people, although I think this is sometimes misconstrued as insincerity by we Europeans.

You're getting better at understanding irony too.
posted by Markb at 5:22 AM on February 27, 2002


RobertLoch: I don't wish to derail this thread, but are you seriously going to put forward Maggie as an example of why Britain "rocks"? There will be street parties when she pops her clogs..

I did like your comment, "there is nothing better than an educated America, and little worse than an ignorant one". Very true.

It's not just F1 either. There would be no CART or IRL if it wasn't for British engineering.
posted by salmacis at 5:30 AM on February 27, 2002


'The U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the "New World", all Western European countries as the "Old".'

I would contend with that in a certain respect. The world is forming increasingly around city expanses, with nationhood becoming a less prevalent factor. Take London, it is a centre of the New World. It simply can't be described as old. It is a world city, in much the same way as New York is. Arguably New York has more in common with London that any American city - they are both very New World.

Sal, Of course Maggie rocks. Don't you remember the mess Britain was in before her. We were a joke. Her influence on the country, the world, and mankind was incredible. If for no other reason, she rocks because of the part she played in ending the Cold War. Nowadays people put forward her reign as a failure, well trust me, given her starting point she did an extraordinary job. Personally I will shoot anyone who parties when she dies, on the grounds that they will have commited treason. She was one of the greats and history will in the end record that. (I will not comment on this again - I don't want to aid and abet any derailing of this find thread.)
posted by RobertLoch at 5:55 AM on February 27, 2002


You might want to look into where 90% of Formula 1 race cars are designed, tested and built. Or even into who holds the land speed record and who doesn't.

And the bigger, harder, faster Indy cars too. Behind ye olde concrete cows in Milton Keynes.
posted by vbfg at 6:03 AM on February 27, 2002


'My nightmares were with an MGB-GT. I'm convinced the British can't build anything bigger than a hatbox and have it run reliably. '

I had a Triumph GT6, drove it all over the place for 10 years. Other than the transmission, which my dad & I rebuilt, I had surprisingly few problems with it. They didn't tolerate much abuse, but as long as you didn't drive it like a Camaro or Firebird, they held up pretty well.

But it's also true that most British cars had a less than enviable reliability history, at least the ones imported to the USA. Some of that may have been due to making them comply with US safety and enviro regs. But I don't think Jaguar really got it's act together until it was purchased by Ford.

Is Lucas still making automotive electrical components? Lucas was commonly referred to as "the prince of darkness" here in the US.
posted by groundhog at 6:37 AM on February 27, 2002


groundhog, AFAIK Lucas Automotive went down the pan (or were swallowed up) long, long ago.
Jaguar went through a shaky period in the seventies along with the rest of the British motor industry (or at least that which came under the banner of Leyland/Rover/...../Morris/MG - which was 90% of it). Strikes, poor management and quality issues were the order of the day. I think that is where the current American impression of poor reliability came from.
Of course, most of what was the British motor industry is now under foreign ownership and doing vastly better (economically) for it.

Let us not forget that over half of the WRC teams are based in the UK too.

Where did the idea that we all have bad teeth actually come from anyway?

Oh, and RobertLoch, better get your gun because there'll be one hell of a party in my house whan Maggie finally shuffles off.
posted by Markb at 7:13 AM on February 27, 2002


I always thought "Prince of Darkness" as a nickname for Lucas originated in England. (Not sure--but my brother who owned an MG-B said it was apt.)
"Why are there no British computer makers?
--They haven't been able to figure out how to make them leak oil."
In fairness, Detroit also had a well-earned rep for shoddy cars back then.
posted by StOne at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2002


As the thread's already been hijacked by car fans, I'll also take this opportunity to invite Robert and his gun round to mine - The Champagne's on ice, just waiting for Thatcher to pop her clogs.
posted by niceness at 7:59 AM on February 27, 2002


...pop her clogs...

It's sayings like this that make THIS American love England.

Bless your little pea-pickin' hearts!
posted by groundhog at 8:11 AM on February 27, 2002


Incidentally, Thatcher probably gave more people a false view of Britain than anybody else - we are not like her (except those from Essex). By claiming that there is no longer any such thing as society and that anybody over 30 who travels by bus is a failure she betrayed her aspirational, nouveaux riche attitude. Without a shred of humility she destroyed concensus and was anathema to the majority of Britons. The fact that many will party on her death shows how divisive and hated she was by most (she never won a majority of the popular vote).
posted by niceness at 8:20 AM on February 27, 2002


You realize that jaguar, Astin Martin and Land Rover are all Fords, right?
posted by NortonDC at 9:35 AM on February 27, 2002


[cough] Rolls Royce [cough] Bentley [cough] Jaguar...

And you also realize that none of these vehicles, while incredibly stylish, runs reliably without weekly maintenance?

I dunno. I drive a older Saab now. No problems.
posted by swerve at 10:10 AM on February 27, 2002


ahhh, cars. now i can chime in. in a thread a year ago we had a dicussion about british automobile engineering. i feel that the british engineers are simply not capable of producing economic reliable cars on a large scale. the companies tend to shine mostly with high-end machines, or support of high-end machines (prodrive, wrc), but financially they can't hang, and that's why they become easy acquisition targets for american companies, who are more capable of producing cars on tighter budgets and with healthier profit margins. the cars might become a little "cookie-cutterish" but the assembly is much more uniform, thanks to machining and parts-sharing.
posted by mich9139 at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2002


not only are saabs made in sweden, many are fitted with engines supplied by ford.
posted by mich9139 at 10:30 AM on February 27, 2002


I've heard this teeth thing before. What is it with our teeth? Admittedly my teeth were long since sacrificed on the altar of chocolate but most people I know have perfect teeth.
posted by vbfg at 2:44 PM on February 27, 2002


Looks like you're not the only person wondering that, vbfg. Perhaps it goes back to Elizabethan times?
posted by MUD at 4:14 PM on February 27, 2002


Not sure about the origin of the dental deficiency mythos, but it's probably been reinforced by some stories I recall about contaminating the water supply by putting fluoride in it. Here in the US, we only get a handful of "quaint and quintessentially British" stories each year. Such as the uproar over the Chunnel, and that silly Mad Cow disease.
posted by groundhog at 5:57 AM on February 28, 2002


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