For many people, movies are the only way audiences experience a foreign culture. For anyone not fully immersed in that culture, watching the stories that are set within it can sometimes be confusing. There are so many commonly understood shorthand references that moviemakers use to capture their native audience that it’s no surprise that some of them can lead to misunderstandings from people who live farther away. By which I mean not everyone in Britain lives in a thatched cottage, rides a red double decker bus or has a butler.
Naturally, this is a state of affairs that is made all the more confusing if the moment in question is the sort that only ever happens in movies, not real life. So you can’t blame Brits for getting hold of the wrong end of the stick from time to time.
Here are five examples:
All boys go to their prom in a powder blue tuxedo
For Brits of a certain age, there’s a lot of information to gather here in one hit. First, there’s the prom. These days, it has become relatively common for British secondary schools to have a formal leaving ball or somesuch, and some of them will even call them a “prom,” but these are recent innovations and they have only come about after exposure to movies like Grease, Carrie or even High School Musical 3 (undoubtedly the best of the franchise).
Then there’s the T-word. Tuxedo is not a common term among Brits, as we’re quite happy with suit, with the possible addition of the prefix dinner to signify formality. But even if there’s a prom and a tux in the U.K., none of the boys attending will be wearing the kind of powder blue monstrosity with bell bottoms and a frilly shirt that often appears in the movies (albeit those set in the 1970s). And yet, because of these cultural and linguistic differences, there remains a lingering suspicion that this is what a tuxedo is, and that this is the kind of thing teenagers choose to spend money on hiring to impress their dates to the prom.
A great date starts at the drive-in
It has come as something of a shock to discover that there aren’t still drive-in movie places on the outskirts of every town and city across the breadth of America. A horrible, horrible shock. Coming from a country that simply could not sustain such an amazing innovation without having a tractor on standby, as each car inevitably gets stuck in the mud caused by the driving rain that would greet every single screening, the idea of a drive-in movie is among the most beguiling in all ’50s iconography. And nowadays you could just tune your car’s bluetooth doohickey into the signal and have true surround sound. You’ll be telling me there are no T-birds or Pink Ladies next…
If you want to steal a car, flip down the sun visor
Because we all know that’s where all Americans keep their car keys. And their registration documents too, in case you get stopped by the Feds. Pockets or purses are of no use for car keys because the key needs to stay with the vehicle in case… well it’s because… I think it’s due to… nope, no idea. So, if you can get in (a smashed window should do the trick), that’s how you get going.
A gun is a perfect tool for every job
Guns are such a rarity on British streets that it’s easy to assume that, for a certain breed of Movie American, the humble handgun is a combination Swiss Army knife, food blender, microwave oven and spiritual advisor. It can unlock doors, it can convince strangers to lend you their car, it can open canned food items or bring down a moose to cook for dinner. You can use it to get someone’s attention (it’s like extreme waving) or win an argument without actually forming a coherent sentence. In the movies, a handgun is like a VIP pass, a platinum credit card and a guarantee of personal integrity rolled into one. And if a grumpy man in a black hat says you have to meet him at noon, and he has a gun, you can’t just explain that you have another appointment or can’t be bothered and expect to get away unscathed.
All American telephone numbers begin “555…”
Now this is something that definitely only exists in the movies. The fake 555 prefix is there to prevent anyone from attempting to ring a phone number that appears in a film, and therefore harass some innocent family during their dinner. However, because all British phone numbers begin with a zero as part of the area code (most commonly 01, with cellphones tending to have numbers that begin 07, 08 and 09), the alien format of the 555 numbers have, through endless repetition, made them appear to be the standard model for all American phone numbers.
Also, Brits also believe that Americans never say goodbye before they hang up, while maintaining the contradictory belief that Americans are instructed to say “Have a nice day” as a parting wish in every social interaction. Consequently they believe Americans are at one and the same time terribly impolite and obsessed with fake courtesy.
That’s all for now. Thanks for coming. Buh-bye! Bye! Bye! *hangs up*
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