6 British Things Americans Admire

 Colin Firth keeps a mean stiff upper lip in The King's Speech. (The Weinstein Company)

Colin Firth keeps a mean stiff upper lip in The King’s Speech. (Weinstein)

There are many things that Americans seems to like about us Brits and our culture. Far be it for me to blow the collective British trumpet, though; I asked a handful of Americans-in-the-U.K. (with no prompting) what they most liked about us.

Interestingly, our stiff upper lip was mentioned more than once. “Americans complain about the stiff upper lip, but I think we secretly admire it because it’s so dignified compared with our ‘let it all hang out’ emotional style,” said journalist and Brit Mums co-founder Jennifer Howze.

Blogger and social media expert Meagan Adele Lopez, currently enjoying her second stint of living in the U.K., agrees, “Americans admire the British ability to have composure no matter what. As much as we mock the stiff upper lip, I think it’s something we wish we had more of, more restraint.”

Class was also mentioned a few times; not the British class system, but our refinement: “Class, not as in the class system but as in ‘classy.’ Brits have the royal family, and toffs with their tweed jackets and country piles. It just demonstrates a marvelous self-possession and classiness that’s the other end of the spectrum to Americans’ love of equality and casual lifestyles.”

Another comment was “I think Americans wish we could be as refined as well. There will always be that sense of admiration for the British culture.”

Surprisingly, social drinking got a few shout-outs.

Melissa, of Smitten by Britain fame told me, “I admire the pub culture and not for the drinking but for the sense of community, the local. It’s hard for me to describe that to someone else however. They have to experience it.” (I do miss a good pub session, I have to say.)

Jen Howze agrees saying, “Social drinking. People are much less alarmist if someone has a glass of wine or pint of beer at lunch. They have one, they go back to work, end of.”

This reminds me of my first work Christmas lunch in the U.S. Of course the waiter came to me first so I ordered a glass of white wine, and immediately knew I’d erred. My colleagues looked from me to my boss’s boss, then back to me. Stony silence, with a frisson of excitement. The big boss just smirked, but my immediate boss (a Scot, would you believe) reminded me that I had work to do and then suggested I order “something else.” I was very tempted to ask for a sherry!

Blogger Michelle Garrett and my (American) husband both came up with our ability to disagree on fairly serious topics and keep it civil.

Michelle says, “In the U.K. we get into all kinds of meaty topics (but not necessarily profound) at dinner parties, and everyone leaves as friends.”

I do find, at least here in the Midwest, that social conversations rarely touch on politics or religion unless there is unanimity. Criticizing a politician, for example, is seen as inappropriate, possibly rude, if there is a known supporter in the group. A stark contrast to the “speak as I find” approach of some Brits.

And of course, there’s the accent.

As Jen Howze says, ”Top is the British accent, it makes everyone sound smarter.” 

Some people even find it sexy, as this American student confirms, “Is there anything sexier than a perfectly executed British one-liner?” Americans, please note that while we’re happy to have our accents loved and admired, we’re not trying to dupe anyone.

As Stephen Fry puts it, “I shouldn’t be saying this, high treason really, but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren’t fooled by our accent into detecting brilliance that may not really be there.”

Which brings me to another point of admiration, our self-deprecating humor, illustrated nicely by Funny or Die in this “Not All British Accents are Sexy” clip here.

As Michelle Garrett says, “The Brits’ ability to take the mick out of themselves, self-deprecating humor: the Brits may be critical of other nations, but they also take a hard look at themselves and when found wanting they are not only happy to criticize, but go one step further and turn it into a joke. I love it! Have I Got New for You is a prime example of this, and it’s one of my favorite shows.”

Makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside doesn’t it?

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

    Michelle came up with some good ones. I equally admire the ability to have conversations with friends about sensitive subjects without it getting out of hand. Fun post Toni. Thanks for the mention.

  • Maybe

    Smitten, I have to admit, as a Brit, I have noticed that too…We can in the UK have a debate, in fact we love a debate and it can get heated but not in the way I see sometimes between Americans…In the US, it can get quite personall and nasty…In the UK, it is seen as your right to criticise Politicians after all, they were put there by us..or not as the case may be!! :)
    One other point, I do love our pub culture in the UK, that said, I despise our tendency to binge!!

    • Andrew

      I find that a lot of things are taken very seriously – there’s a serious lack of self-awareness in some quarters and self-deprication in most! Laughing at yourself is essential in a country where sarcasm’s a national sport!

  • Kenny Saldivar

    I love Have I got news for you too !!!! :D I find the accent sexy and I have to say the way you critizice your own government should be an example for a lot of another countries… Cheers Mate!.. I love that too :D

    • Angela Roberts

      I wish we could criticize our government in America but if you do that now or disagree with anything they say or do you are are a racist. Personally, I wish we had the monarchy here in America because when the citizens income goes down so does the monarchy. Our president, congress and house of representatives still get their salaries no matter if the American people are poor and hungry.

      • frozen01

        “but if you do that now or disagree with anything they say or do you are are a racist”
        I’ve rarely seen anyone accused of being racist while criticizing the government who wasn’t at the very least saying something borderline racist. For example, calling Obama “the Kenyan”. You never saw anything like that of Bush, or even Clinton for that matter.

        • Maybe

          I have noticed a difference between when Bush was in power to now with Obama…I remember when some celebrities questioned Bush, they were heavily criticised…But with Obama and also with Michelle, it has become so personal…Not necessarily against his policies but about them personally… As I say it is your right to criticise your Government, we have been doing that for years in the UK and Obama should expect that too but I have read some really unkind comments over the last few years!

    • Maybe

      Its a Good programme Kenny! …I’m always proud that we have Prime Ministers question time in the UK and that it is televised…Again why shouldn’t the Prime Minister be questioned, he is there because we put him there. I have to say sometimes the Commons debates can be very boring but there are moments the banter is hilarious!

  • bronco15

    For me it is tv, The quality of american actors and programming has declined. We are stuck with Affleck while you have Cumberbatch.

    • Angela Roberts

      That is why I watch Downtown Abbey and I will start watching Dr. Who once I get BBC America.

      • John H Harris

        Indeed. I’ve been addicted to “New Tricks” since it premiered.

        • Andrew

          New Tricks? Madness.

          I can’t take Dennis Waterman seriously since David Walliams sent him up on Little Britain: “write the theme tune; sing the theme tune.”. Not that I took him all that seriously before!

      • MRadclyffe

        BBC America is lovely if you only ever want to watch Top Gear, Ramsey & Picard’s Star Trek. Get yourself a VPN and iPlayer but you didn’t read that here.

        • Michael Davis

          TO be fair, ST;TNG was a brilliant show with one of the world’s greatest actors, backed up by what eventually became a very talented cast. It is amusing to watch Jonathan Frakes develop as an actor over the course of several seasons, likely due to the experience of working with Stewart.

          • Heather Pickett

            ST:NG was a great show, but BBC America airs it several times a day, when they could be airing Skins or Sherlock or heck, even East Enders. Star Trek isn’t a BBC show, we can watch it on other channels here, but we can’t get quality BBC programming if they are using air time on other things.

          • Michael Davis

            ah, I see your point. I havent had cable service in years, myself, so I wasnt aware they were overdoing it.

          • Cornish Pixie

            Would love it if they showed Eastenders or a few of the other soaps. I miss them. They can keep the snooker though.

          • Andrew

            ST:NG was a staple of my youth. Watching BBC2 when I was supposed to be doing homework :D I still don’t understand why it’s always on BBCA, except for the obvious Pat Stewart.

            All the TG and ST:NG yet we’ve got to go to PBS for Sherlock? Really?

        • PauperPrincess

          I miss the reruns that they USED to show, such as The Vicar of Dibley, Keeping Up Appearances, Are You Being Served?, Coupling, etc.

          • Marie Shanahan

            PBS plays them all the time, but you can’t really get them anywhere else. I like them, too. I rarely laugh out loud at sitcoms, but do often when watching UK TV shows. :)

        • Marie Shanahan

          That is so true! I was so happy to see it in the New England cable line up, only to get stuck watching Top Gear back-to-back for forever. Absolute waste of what could be outstanding quality shows. Some of us in America get sick of the violent shows. Drug-based shows, etc. Shows from the UK start to look and sound a bit like a “distant lullaby” to some of us. Wish BBC channel in the USA was much better – they’d have a BIG, BIG following.

      • Dahlia

        I love Downton Abbey (not Downtown, which just shows that you don’t watch it), and while it’s great fun, it’s just a high-toned soap opera. And Whovians never abbreviate Doctor as Dr. in the title.

        • Dahlia is Amazing

          Wow. You showed her! You’re such a Downton Whovian!!!!

          • Dahlia

            Thanks, I am amazing. And I would love to see the TARDIS show up at Downton. I also want the worlds of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey to come together just so I can watch Maggie Smith be Professor McGonagall and the Dowager Countess AT THE SAME TIME. You know that she’d be able to do it.

        • Gerrit Verstoep

          Downtown Abbey – is that the show where Petula Clark plays a singing nun in a convent located in London’s CBD?

      • Tiffany Souza

        I see I have officially assimilated into the Whovian fandom. I saw you write Dr. Who and cringed inside! It’s actually become a problem with me. I’ll be texting a friend to say I’m at the doctor’s and have to mentally remind myself to write doctor not Doctor. My doctor is a doctor but not THE Doctor. I have even started cringing inside when I see people write Tardis instead of TARDIS! Whovian problems. :D

    • Dahlia

      Seriously? Have you been watching American TV lately? There is some outstanding stuff there. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Justified, Game of Thrones, etc. My Brit friends are watching tons of American TV right now. (And Affleck has redeemed himself as a director, so that point of yours is lost.)

      • William Moran

        Point found, we like Affleck behind the camera

      • Brit

        Game of thrones? Almost entirely a British cast for the key characters

        • Byrneperfection

          Oh Aye, indeed an entirely British cast, except for the script writers I believe. Even the art direction-the art design team-production design team and what have you. It is filmed in Belfast too. Tis only aired on American television-HBO, though it is indeed almost an entirely “British production.”

        • Andrew

          Apparently it’s because it was primarily written for an American audience. They wanted people who sounded just foreign enough but were still intelligible, so British it (mostly) was.

      • Dahlia

        Game of Thrones is an American production. Yes, many of the cast are British, but not all of them (some Americans, some Europeans other than Brits). And the series is based on the novels of an American writer. It’s just that, for some reason, audiences expect Fantasy World people to speak in British accents.

        As for Affleck, he is hardly the worst actor out there (and can be quite good), and is not even considered in the pantheon of great actors. Seriously, no country has a monopoly on good and bad acting. The UK has Emma Thompson, the US has Meryl Streep. I’m not going to argue who is better, I just want to see them in a movie together. (Though I will take Dinklage as an actor over Cumberbatch.)

        • Andrew

          Affleck as an actor? No. Director? Yes!

          Emma Thompson’s fine unless she’s doing an accent. I have an irrational hatred of Meryl Streep. To me she always seems to come across as self-important. I’m not saying she isn’t a great actor per-se, just that I don’t like anything she’s ever done.

          Dinklage vs Cumberbatch? Too close to call.

    • William Moran

      And Tom Hiddleston..and we still have Affleck

    • Stephen Welch

      Affleck isn’t on TV so why bring him up. And he is actually a very talented actor/director.

  • Huggiebear

    As an American who lived in the UK (and traveled there often) I agree with everything in the article. I especially loved the pub culture with the liveliness and collegiality. True friends gather there (even with children) for the food, fun and fellowship. I miss England but stay in touch with a few dear friends.

    • dw

      Agreed. Apart from family and friends, pubs are the thing I miss most.

      • John H Harris

        I often mention the ten days I spent in southern Wales back in ’07 mostly because it’s the only time I’ve visited the UK, but it will forever be my favorite trip for the simple fact that, for those ten days, I was welcomed as “one of the locals” at The Bertie in Trehaford. They didn’t even bat an eye (or charge me!) when I reported that I’d broken one of the beds (it collapsed while I was sitting up in it), and when my bank shut off my debit card, they actually tossed in Saturday dinner, gratis. That place will forever be my “local”.

    • Andrew

      Being able to go out and have excellent British pub food – steak and ale pie, fish and chips etc. is one thing that I miss more than anything. Especially in Colorado where I don’t trust the fish – 1800 miles from the sea yet they still call it ‘fresh’? I was 50 miles form the sea in England, yet still found the ‘fresh’ tag dubious, even on the fish market at 7am!

  • Punkwhovian

    Um…I’m usually quite proud of my Brit knowledge, especially in the language department, so I’m a little thrown by the toffs’ ‘country piles.’ I thought piles were, *ahem* something that they make a cream for?

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

      In these days of political correctness and all that, the term “pile” has fallen by the wayside but yes, it also means a ma-hoosive house and estate.

      • Andrew

        “Ma-hoosive” Hahaha! Not heard that for ages :D

  • Barry Docherty

    did you spell check this article? Cute none the less, but a little extra read might find a few bloopers in grammar and spelling.

    • Miss AP

      Hey Barry, “nonetheless” is one word. Spell check yourself!

  • MRadclyffe

    “…our stiff upper lip was mentioned more than once…”

    Odd that, because “stiff upper lip” is an Americanism.

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

      Yes, and it was Americans who mentioned it.

  • Irené Colthurst

    Since I would characterize most of the differences between the two countries as differences in emphasis and not in outright lack or presence of certain traits, I would say that I most admire a greater emphasis on and tradition of stage-based training for actors in Britain. Like everything from composure in the face of trauma to a convivial and yet spirited political discussion, theatres training young professional actors do exist in the U.S., but they don’t get as much press as the flashier alternatives.

    Still, an admirable institution worthy of some (greater degree of) emulation.

    • Toni Hargis

      I love that Brit actors cross genres with so much ease. Stars like Judi Dench and David Tennant (to name a few) will do stage, then TV then a movie without being locked into one genre.

  • BryanCooper

    I recently lived in Durham, UK on and off for about 9 months. I really was impressed by how many folks read the newspapers. Often buying 2 or 3 at a time, there was clearly more interest in actual news and thought-out commentary than we see here in the US.

    • Toni Hargis

      Have to tell you though that there are usually daily “offers” in the newspapers, ranging from half price hotel/rail to London to coupons for food etc. They are very generous offers so people will buy a newspaper just for that. (Not that they don’t like to read them too.)

      • George Armstrong Bluster

        How many are “reading” page 3?

    • Andrew

      Oh, newspapers! My poor, dear, daily Guardian.

  • David Thiessen

    here in America we are so damned… Puritan, I guess… I admit I have never been out of the U.S., so…

    • Toni Hargis

      Plenty of time.

  • bbdrvr

    The British sense of humor (er, “humour”) is top of my list. You prove that a strong sense of national pride and an ability to admit to imperfections are not mutually exclusive.

    Another important difference is that Brits seem to have a much stronger sense that “we’re all in this together” – a collective social consciousness that, while subtle, is a vast improvement over America’s glorification of the myth of the “rugged individualist”.

    • yup

      “We’re all in this together”, except if you’re not white.

      • bbdrvr

        Good point, though that obviously only applies to some people.

        • Andrew

          Where I’m from – just outside Manchester – is hugely ethnically diverse. I’m yet to find that in Colorado!

  • John King

    For such a smart culture, they sure can’t number a list.

    (I married a Brit. Chill out.)

    • ARvL

      There are 6: stiff upper lip, class, social drinking, civilly disagree, accent, & humor.

      • John King

        I didn’t say there weren’t 6. They can’t use numbers and organize their writing? All of my in-laws use numbers daily.

        • Andrew

          For a nation apparently so good at ordering things sequentially, Americans sure can’t queue!
          ;)

  • Susan

    That lunch sounds horrible. It is not normal for Americans to get that uptight about a glass of wine at a business lunch.

    • Cyn2

      Many US companies have policies against drinking during “on-the-clock hours,” which would include lunch, even if off-site. A business lunch between company representative(s) and an outside vendor or sales team might have different rules. Sounds like it was an internal lunch, and therefore the alcohol would not have been appropriate.

    • Heather127

      I think it depends where you are. I lived in the Deep South, and drinking was highly frowned upon, even at the annual department holiday lunch (after which no one went back to work). One could buy a glass of wine (out of your own pocket), but a LOT of people would raise their eyebrows. Ditto if you travelled for work — my colleagues would raise eyebrows if I had wine with dinner (and I certainly wasn’t working after dinner). I blame the Southern Baptists.

    • PauperPrincess

      Oh, yes it is! It is quite frowned upon to order alcohol at a work luncheon. You are “on the clock”, and you could get fired if booze was smelled on your breath once you got back to the office.

    • woofa

      It’s quite normal depending on where you are for the puritanical twits to dictate what is acceptable. Never mind it’s but one glass of wine. How dare thee!

  • Steven Burgas

    So, ‘Americans’ admire mostly stereotypical aspects of British culture, most of which have nothing to do with the average Brit.

    Got it.

    • B Mathiesen

      Wait, you mean to tell me that all Brits aren’t related to the Royal Family and aren’t upper-crust aristocrats?!!?

    • Camie

      I was thinking the same thing, sorry folks. My husband is English and I love England like a second home, but just like here in the States, I’ve had moments where I’ve been completely miserable.

  • Hahaha. All Brits are Classy??

    What I love is the willfulness on both ends to idolize the other culture’s finer points, completely ignoring everything else.

    Case in point: classiness. The person who thinks Brits are inherently “classy” gave as examples the royal family and toffs. I had no idea the majority of Brits were members of the royal family and/or toffs. What about the chavs? What about the, I don’t know, people who aren’t royals/aristocrats/snobs/whatever?

    • Andrew

      The chavs don’t tend to move to the US, though, nor would there be any serious interaction with them, unless an errant tourist got on the wrong train and somehow found themselves in South Manchester!

  • artillicous

    Shaun of the dead that’s all I got to say,.

    • George Birkin

      True, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are two of the best comedy actors, in fact best actors full stop, we have.

  • George Birkin

    Being from the UK, I don’t understand the fascination with the us that appears to be demonstrated by some Americans, to me it is very dull. Then again I live in Somerset…

  • Michael Brain

    the first week I lived in CANADA in 1965, I asked for a ‘lager and lime’ and they gave me Labatts with fresh lime juice!

  • Byrneperfection

    The British-but not just the British, the Irish too…..the U.K. has much more marvelous plots than the Americans. The U.K. has better plots for films than Americans as well loads more often than naught. Myself, American though huge fan of Gabriel Byrne hence my Twitter name. Oh and let’s not forget Da Vinci’s Demons shown on Starz-that is too an almost entirely British cast/crew!

  • Wallace Sterling

    Who in hades came up with this crapola??? And I am so tired of TOP GEAR.

  • PauperPrincess

    [[I do find, at least here in the Midwest, that social conversations
    rarely touch on politics or religion unless there is unanimity.
    Criticizing a politician, for example, is seen as inappropriate,
    possibly rude, if there is a known supporter in the group.]]

    Seriously? I don’t know where in the Midwest you are, but that’s not the case anymore where I live (also in the Midwest).

    • George Armstrong Bluster

      That’s because there’s only one party in the Midwest.

    • George Armstrong Bluster

      That’s because there’s only one party in the Midwest.

  • Maria McGregor

    ”Top is the British accent, it makes everyone sound smarter.” Did anyone else notice the comma splice? I guess it would sound smarter if it were spoken!

  • Cornish Pixie

    Have I Got News For You … Goodness I really miss that show!!

  • MisterDavid

    As an Englishman living Stateside, I’m very glad that Americans like ‘the British accent’.

    BUT WHICH BRITISH ACCENT?!!!!

    Scouse, Brummie, Weegie, Antrim, Brizzle, Sarf Landan, East Anglian, East London, Mancunian, County Down, Geordie, Westcountry, West Wales, Western Isles, Dales, Cumbrian, Black Country, Borders, RP, Cockney, Highlands, Teeside, Essex/Estuary, Valleys, Lancastrian, Aberdonian, Belfast, Yorkshire, or that everso-genteel one you get in parts of Edinburgh?

    [there are plenty of others, obviously...]

    • Andrew

      Gotta love an Edinburgh Morningside wifey accent.

  • Mastadon

    As though there is one ‘British accent’ for Americans to admire!

  • Marie Shanahan

    We just really adore you guys like family. I hope to God that this over-abused in current day terms of “special relationship” will, under God, just become a plain, old “brotherhood.” We’ve been through so much and are so much alike, I hope that we will always be, not just friends and allies, but actually related. This new strengthened alliance with France is welcomed very much, the only thing that would make it better is if the UK was back, strong as ever. :) We’d miss you too much, this is the truth!!

  • Jakar

    I don’t think Americans are more ‘free’ than Brits at all, especially not in speech. I would happily say something in a room full of Brits who I knew disagreed because here it’s normal to listen to and even entertain ideas that aren’t your own before rejecting them. How else would you grow?