The Latest from Anglophenia
Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby) stars opposite Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) and Tom Sturridge (The Hollow Crown) in the […]Read Now
Here on MTG, we like to zone in on how Brits differ from Americans. But our nations overlap in countless amusing ways. So, next time you’re trying to connect with a local, perhaps mention the following. (Note: if you’re not a fan of sweeping generalizations, look away now.)
Take our behavior abroad. The British and American governments love to throw their weight around outside their boarders, so it’s hardly surprising that we, the citizens, do this too. The phrase “Ugly American” could just as easily be applied to holidaying Brits. We’re probably the only other country in the world whose residents obsessively seek to impose our etiquette while vacationing overseas. We complain bitterly because we can’t find familiar food and the signs are all written in “gibberish.” Naturally, we expect the locals to understand us, especially when we make the effort to shout instructions. Somehow, we remain convinced that bellowing “Egg and chips twice, please!” is more likely to get results than diligently looking up the key words in a phrase book.
Personal space is another area where Brits and Americans think as one socially awkward organism. We like to have lots of it and feel uncomfortable if someone breaks through our invisible perimeter. Mainland Europeans might enjoy a bit of close-talking, but we mostly feel that if you’re so near we can smell what you ate for breakfast, you need to back off.
Maintaining that boundary is made all the more difficult since “kissy kissy,” European-style greeting became fashionable. Unless you’re naturally flamboyant, applying your lips to someone’s cheek to say hello and goodbye is a source of much confusion and embarrassment for Brits and Americans. How many times am I supposed to kiss you, exactly, and do we still have to do it if we just met and didn’t really hit it off? And how about hugs or the baffling half-hug, half-handshake? I propose that we all start turning up at social gatherings with contracts stipulating the terms of any resulting interactions. Otherwise, I’ll spend the rest of forever diving in for the second cheek even when it isn’t expected or required. Afterward, I’ll make an uncomfortable joke about being secretly French, then have a full-on shame attack in the back of a taxi.
But it’s not all bad. Surely you’ve noticed that neither Brits nor Americans like being told what to do or think by anyone who’s supposed to be our superior. We don’t respect politicians, royals or managers just because we’re meant to — they have to earn it. When we’re disgruntled, we speak out and satirize. Ever wondered why British and American comedy is the best in the world? That’s why, right there.
How are you like an American?
See more posts by Ruth Margolis
Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.