The Brit List: Five Ways In Which British Culture Has Been Americanized
The Baseball Cap
As an item of utilitarian sportswear, the baseball cap makes a lot of sense. Someone is about to lob a ball at you with devastating force, and it’s a sunny day, if there’s even the slightest chance that the sun will get in your eyes and spoil your swing, this must be eradicated. Cricketers face the same problem, except the ball heading their way has a ridge around the middle and will have to bounce up off the floor, so their peaked headgear is also protective.
As an item of street-wear, particularly in a country where we don’t really play baseball and it’s often not all that sunny, the sense is less immediately apparent. Pete Doherty, when writing the Libertines song “Time For Heroes” observed “there are fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap,” and you can sort of see his point. There again, he pretty much cornered the market in distressing sights shortly after this, and the song was used in the soundtrack to an American Pie movie, so, y’know, YOU WIN AGAIN, AMERICA!
The Inflection Infection
You’re in a mall in Los Angeles, at some point in the late ’70s, possibly early ’80s. You spy a group of teenagers having a discussion about someone in their high school. There is nothing particularly remarkable about what they are saying, except that one girl, who appears to be a little unsure about her point, but bullishly insistent that she should be heard, begins adding a little question mark inflection at the end of every sentence? As if what she has to say is open to discussion? But not in any real sense? Because she’s only doing it to make sure that you understand what she is saying? But she’s not saying “know what I mean?” or “get me?” or “right?” because those are questions? And she doesn’t really want to know the, like, answers?
Within an hour, every teenager in Los Angeles is speaking with the same mock-humble inflection. Within a year it has spread across America, and started to make inroads into Canada. The Australians prove to be particularly susceptible, and the entire subcontinent goes down in a matter of hours. Britain manages to hold out for 10 years, maybe more, but eventually falls when infected television shows begin to arrive on British shores. It’s a worldwide epidemic now, and only getting worse.
A thorny issue, this one. By and large it’s a good thing that people who receive permanent injuries from events that are not of their creation can access financial support. However, as with all entitlements, it’s easy for some people to take advantage of the situation and use it to their own ends. And of course, the higher the payouts, and the more the legal system is forced to take into account emotional turmoil, the more chance there is to fake your way to a pot of gold on the back of the tiniest happenstance. Over in the UK, while compensation payouts remained relatively low, there was little in the way of compensation culture, no ads on the TV or in newspapers for free legal representation on a no win-no fee basis, or anything. Then, changes in the legal system created the opportunity for greater rewards and boom! We’re off to court.
Then this happened, which almost made it all worthwhile:
High Street Fast Food
You’re possibly expecting a whinge about the proliferation of McDonalds and Burger Kings across the nation, well, settle down. I’m not suggesting the heady mixture of burger, fries and shake (or soda, but we had fizzy drinks already) are America’s sole contribution to world cuisine. I’m simply saying that, as a meal, it’s a culinary work of astonishment. Hell, throw in the humble hot dog and pause for a moment to salute the eternal majesty of a big bucket of KFC and we are well on the way to a global love-in. We may bicker about how the ingredients are sourced, how the food is prepared and whether it’s entirely healthy to gollop these footstuffs down on a daily basis (I read a horrific news story once about a criminally negligent British mum who was chewing McDonalds food and feeding the mush to her six-month-old baby), but that doesn’t make the combination of foodstuffs a bad thing. They’re actually a delicious thing, so thank you!
When I was young, the word “prom” only existed within British culture either as an annual series of concerts (the last nigh of which was an opportunity to sing “Rule Britannia” while wearing a flag as a hat) or as a shortening of promenade, as part of the song “I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” (it goes “oh I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom, where the brass bands play tiddley-om-pom-pom,” if you’re wondering). Now, thanks to films like Grease and High School Musical and whatnot, the end-of-year disco (or, if it’s a private school, the formal ball) has become transformed into something far swankier. The stretch limos, the corsages, the powder blue tuxedos, the general air of “if not tonight, then when?” has pretty much been imported wholesale from the American model. Which is odd, considering it’s the British that have the reputation for making a formal occasion out of the tiniest social gathering. Cream tea in a tux, anyone?
Fraser McAlpine is British: this explains a lot.