Lost In Translation: Five American Things The British Would’ve Spoiled

The Ameritish Flag

As Monday is the 4th of July, it seems a good time to look over the unique relationship between Britain and America, and how our two nations have got along ever since we unhappily lost control of what we used to call The Colonies.

So here’s a brief examination of five things that would definitely be worse, had the Revolutionary War not taken place.

Note: this is not an examination of the reasons for the war. It’s just a look at the last 200-odd years of subsequent history, and a weighing up of the pros and cons.

Currency

British coins

America has dollars and cents; Britain has pounds and pence. It’s simple. But we’ve only had a nice, easy to understand decimal currency since 1971. You guys went metric with your currency nearly 200 years before that. Before that, we had pounds, shillings and pence. Pounds were divided into…some…shillings, and shillings were divided into…some…pence. Then there were ha’pennies, which were half a penny, and farthings, which were a quarter of a penny. And something called a groat. And half a crown? All very complicated stuff. So if you wanted to work out how many farthings’ worth of change you’d get after spending sixpence-ha’penny on a tin of Spam – this is before computer-assisted retail technology, let’s not forget – you’d just have to guess and hope for the best, or risk internal bleeding of the fiscal cortex. Something to bear in mind the next time someone starts banging on about the iniquities of the metric system.

Sport

The baseball cap

American sporting life is dominated by baseball, basketball, and football (or armored rugby, as we Brits like to call it); British sporting life is dominated by cricket, rugby and football (or kickbladder, as you Americans like to call it). We may reach a tentative agreement on sports such as tennis, but otherwise we are worlds apart. Had the War of Independence not split our two nations asunder, you’d be enjoying three-day trips to the even older ball game, playing keepy-uppy with your circular football (instead of a hacky sack), and coming home from rugby practice with cauliflower ears and no teeth. And we’d be bereft of your great sartorial gift to Britain, the baseball cap. Everyone’s a loser.

The Blues

Robert Johnson

A slightly delicate topic to navigate, this one, even now. Let’s just say that a silver lining to the dark, dark cloud of slavery, in which both of our nations played an active role, is the gift of music, be it the blues, jazz, gospel, soul, funk, disco or hip hop. And while we are in no way suggesting that it was worth inflicting all of that misery in order to enjoy the sonic rewards of Louis Armstrong or John Lee Hooker, it is probably worth remembering that their British counterparts, if such a thing had existed, would not have sounded as powerful. The accent is all wrong, you see. And while British bluesmen did very well during the ‘60s, they did so by learning the mannerisms and idioms of an American musical form, and then adapting them. Had we still been part of the same nation, that insistence on keeping a stiff upper lip even under desperate circumstances might have prevented the colossal magic beanstalk of 20th Century music from taking root in the first place.

Roller Coasters

The Coney Island Cyclone

Have you ever been to a British theme park and seen the roller coasters? Some of them are great, aren’t they? Well those are a relatively recent development, and entirely copied from the best of your theme park rides. For years we tried to emulate the glory of the Coney Island Cyclone, but somehow there was never quite enough space or money, so our rollercoasters were never the same kind of unadulterated thrill ride.  More of an enjoyable trundle, really. The most you could have hoped from a British fairground was to whizz down the helter-skelter and bloody your gums on a toffee apple. It is safe to say that, had it been left up to us to develop the roller coaster from scratch, we wouldn’t really have seen the point.

American History

A history teacher

Ask any country that continued to endure the yolk* of Empire long after America threw it off; one of the things colonial schools were notoriously bad at teaching was indigenous history. You’d get chapter and verse about the kings and queens of old England, a lot of stuff about 1066 and Shakespeare, but not much about the country in which you happened to live. Possibly the teachers thought their pupils could get enough of that stuff at home, but to find out the correct way to address a viscount, should you happen upon one on your way home, you’d need a proper English education. It’s a little draconian, yes, but then the sad fact is, history is written (and taught) by the people who win the wars, not the people who play host to them.

Any more examples? Tell us here.

*yoke. It’s a mistake, but we don’t want your jokes underneath to look weird.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine