Lost In Translation: Five Things The Brits Can Learn From America

The Ameritish Flag

Last week, we had a look at just five things that America would do well to learn from the British, or consider learning, or even think about considering learning. Hell, I was happy anyone even read the blog, so let’s not pretend we’re about to change the world here.

In any case, it’s time to tip the balance back, here are five aspects of American life that would probably improve Britain forever more.

Getting On With It

The expression “look before you leap” was clearly coined from bitter experience, but let’s be truthful here, you do still have to leap at the end of all the looking. The international stereotype of the British is that, when faced with a dilemma, they would rather think things over, examining every possible outcome from every possible angle, before finally making a tentative version of their move and seeing what happens. Then, when considering the immediate aftermath of whatever it is they eventually chose to do, they embark on another lengthy process of consideration. That scene in Four Weddings And A Funeral where Hugh Grant fails to tell Andie McDowell that he loves her? That’s our internal monologue, all the time. It makes for good comedy, but we’ve got into the habit of procrastinating to a horrific degree, and that doesn’t seem to apply to Americans. You’re a ‘can do’ nation, and we’re often a ‘will probably look into considering it, once we’ve read the report’ nation.

Using Hip Hop Slang Without Wincing

I am a British writer whose career thus far has been largely concerned with modern popular music. Hip hop has been at the epicentre of pop music for well over 20 years now, and yet it is still impossible for me to talk about certain elements of hip hop without sounding preposterous. Even when I’m being nice about, say, Jay-Z and his capacity to make up rhymes off the top of his head, hone them, remember them and deliver them without once writing them down, I can’t use the correct nomenclature for that process, which is (I am reliably informed) ‘flow.’ Jay-Z has incredible ‘flow,’ but I can’t write it without the air-quotes. I just can’t. It reads like I’m trying to be ‘street,’ (again, embarrassed air-quotes ahoy!) when in reality I’m just desperately trying to use the right word for the situation. Help me, America!

See also: “diss.’

Yes, Yes, Putting A Bloody Rocket On The Moon

What I love most about the conspiracy theories around the 1969 moon landings is the idea that somehow Russia — who had numerous satellites in orbit by then, who’d been to space themselves, and who were engaged in an actual RACE with America to see who could get the furthest, the fastest — would allow any deception to prosper. Had there not been an actual rocket on the way to the moon, the very first people you’d have heard from would’ve been in Moscow. If they begrudgingly admit that they saw a rocket go to the moon, a rocket went to the moon. You did that, and it was a phenomenal achievement. Contrast this to when the British launched a probe to Mars, called Beagle II, and it got lost. That’s less impressive.

It is not, however, a reason to gloat. Not unless every single American space mission went without a hitch, and I think we all know that isn’t true.

Celebrating

Well it’s not the done thing, is it? When we had our little showboating moment at the end of the last Olympics, with London buses swooping around and Brian May and David Beckham and all that, it just looked as embarrassing as it must have felt. Triumph is not an emotion British people tend to be very good at expressing. And even when they do, there will always be someone there to tell them off. Case in point: yesterday the much-loved British band the Stone Roses announced they’re reforming for some concerts, and they’ll be working on new material. Before the press conference had even finished, the world of social media was awash, half with people punching the air with delight, half with people mocking the other people for being excited. Today, newspapers are running editorials about how idiotic we are to be pleased to see the return of a well-liked pop group. It is no wonder Led Zeppelin only did one comeback concert. It’s just not worth the grief.

How To Mock The British

What’s the best comedy film that features British characters, being British, talking about British things in British accents, and generally Britishing about the place in a very British way? That’s right, This Is Spinal Tap. Which stars three Americans, pretending to be British rock stars. Which TV channel found enormous success just by following an actual British rock star and his family around and filming them fighting and him falling over? The very American MTV. Which Hollywood blockbuster series rejuvenated the myths and legends of the British pirates by placing an American actor center-stage and then basically making up whatever story entered their heads? Yep, Pirates of the Caribbean. Who’s got the best Scottish accent in the whole world? Mike Mye…hang on, that can’t be right (plus he’s Canadian). Anyway, the point is we British pride ourselves on our ability to mock ourselves, to take a joke, and yet some of the best jokes at our expense are made by Americans. We would do well to follow their example.

Fraser McAlpine is British. This explains a lot.

What else could the British learn from America? 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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