Lost In Translation: Five Things Americans Can Learn From Brits

President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama with The Queen and Prince Philip in 2009

Frankly even I’m surprised I didn’t just put ‘withering scorn and rolling your eyes’ five times and leave it there.

1: Have a Royal Family
Now, before we spark off a second Revolutionary War, let’s look at a few things. You seem to like our Royals a lot. And we’ve seen The Princess Diaries and King Ralph and all those other films where stuffy royalty is invaded by brash American sensibilities. Having a proper American Royal Family would be a riot! And it’s not like there are no dynastic families in American life, is it? The Kennedys, the Hiltons, heck, even the Sheens and the Douglases. The trick is to allow your chosen family (and picking the family is a whole nest of vipers right there) to represent America to the world, while holding back on their power to, y’know, pass laws or behead people. And the ensuing media storm might give the President a chance to get on with running the country for a bit.

2: Make Period Dramas
Here’s a thing: for some reason, Britain gets all the credit for costume dramas, whether they’re about Edwardian life, like Downton Abbey, or all of those Jane Austen adaptations, or even Shakespeare In  Love. We can trot out endless amounts of finely-honed acting masterclasses set in a big house in the olden days, and everyone loves them. But America existed in the time of Austen, and it certainly hasn’t been without wealth and privilege, snobbery and class struggle during the last 200 years. So where are the American period dramas, set in stately homes, and concerning the manners and morales of the day? It’s been an awfully long time since Gone With The Wind, is all I’m saying.

3: Learn Geography
The British Empire was many things: cruel, brutal, and about as subtle as a chainsaw in a Bible, but if there was one positive outcome from the years of colonial rule across the planet, it was simply that British children grew up with a very good idea of where all the countries are in the world. Mainly because a lot of them appeared on the atlas, colored in pink. We’d been meddling with international affairs for so long, everyone ended up knowing a bit about everywhere, if only because uncles and cousins went off to work in these places. This is not, as I understand, a situation which is replicated across the Atlantic. If that’s true, I can entirely understand why. 50 states, all those different time zones and micro-climates, you have a world of your own to explore. But sometimes it’s nice to find out a bit about a country before you announce that it’s part of an Axis of Evil.

4: Gun Control
And I mean this in a very literal sense. Contrary to popular belief, some British people do have guns, and they use them for hunting, just like Americans do.  Otherwise we’d be up to our knees in clay pigeon poop. What we don’t tend to do is buy a gun or ammunition in a shop that also sells food or other non-weaponry items, and then try and find as many practical applications for that gun as we possibly can. Need to drill a hole in the wall but can’t find your drill? Why not use a gun? Stuck with a can of beans and no opener? Fetch the pistol. Need to tidy your desk? BAM! And the paperwork is gone. Need to staple some important documents together? BUY A STAPLER.

There should be a warning stencilled on the handle of every gun, and it should simply say this: This is a gun, it’s not exactly a Swiss army knife, is it?

5: Make Savory Pies
The theory behind any good pie is perfectly simple. You take a stew, a really good stew which has been cooking until the meat is beautifully tender, the gravy is thick and meaty (in texture, it works the same way for vegetarian pies too), and the vegetables aren’t quite mush yet, and you encase it in a pocket of short-crust pastry. This you seal with some egg yolk, maybe decorate with a pastry letter or a forked pattern in the lid, and then bake, and serve with potatoes. You can vary the shape and call it a pasty, or add offal for steak and kidney pie or liver and bacon pie. The only rules are 1) Do not put squirty cream on it, and 2) Do not serve a la mode.

Fraser McAlpine is British, which explains a lot.

What else could America learn from Britain? Tell us here:

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

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