Little things: the UK versus the U.S.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the past 3 or 4 months since I began watching television from the UK (mostly England) almost exclusively, I've picked up on a few distinctions between Americans and the Brits that I hadn't noticed as much while living there.

1.  The British like to use the passive voice

"My dog is lost" is a good example.  We Americans are taught to avoid the passive voice, as we are not being acted upon but acting upon.  In this particular case, we would say "My dog is missing".  Another example is "We were sat in the classroom", when Americans would say "We were sitting in the classroom".  Not sure if the distinction there is as strong, but the word "sat" itself sounds passive.  "We were made to eat quickly" is another example ... there is hardly an equivalent in American English.  Apparently no one makes us Americans do anything we don't want to do!!!  Rawr.

2.  Brits like to call the United States "America"

This is a funny one for me, as I was actually told by someone (probably an American) while attending my lectures in England that the English did not think well of Americans who called their homeland "America" because it implied that the United States of America is the whole of North America or both the Americas.  This seemed like a reasonable criticism to me at the time, especially given some of the anti-American sentiment I'd witnessed in some of my English literature classes (to be fair, I took a class on British literature at one point and the comparison came up).  In any case, I promptly began exclusively calling my home country "the U.S.".

However ... it now seems British teens (not sure about other demographics as I have been watching shows mostly popular with British teenagers) call the United States "America".  I don't know if it has anything to do with their favorable view of Obama or just a wide-eyed wonder they have towards everything the U.S. stands for in international media (Hollywood, the American Dream, etc), but I find it kind of cute and charming.

3.  In comparison to the rest of the world, Americans are a bunch of uptight social conservatives

This has probably always been true, even at the birth of the U.S., but I hadn't really noticed.  I was happy living my relatively liberal life in liberal New York City and at my liberal arts school in liberal New England ... well, apparently we lot are not so liberal after all.

In watching just a small share of British television shows and films, I can tell that Americans try to be more politically correct and generally controlling over little things, such as revealing clothing and cleavage ... and bigger things, like language and curse words and things of a more graphic nature.  (Some episodes of the Canadian television show Degrassi: The Next Generation were censored or not aired in the U.S. ... and let's not even get into Skins.  Let's just say there's a reason there is an AMERICAN version of the show rather than having the UK version on American television.  Although more than half the cast of the "American" version is, in fact, Canadian.)

I'm still not sure where I stand on this issue, but it seems the British have turned out okay even after being subjected to all this, so I'm not sure why we couldn't be.  Except it will probably never happen, as we seem to be moving more and more towards political correctness.

4.  British celebrities are a hell of a lot more well-adjusted

I don't think I really need to explain this one ... just look at Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.  They're just the most extreme examples.  I think the problem here is that American celebrities get too much too soon and it all goes to their head before they can grasp what is happening.  I've noticed that the British take their celebrity with a much larger grain of salt -- many view acting/singing as a job more than a lifestyle, as it is often viewed here.

I don't know if British kids strive to be famous, but it is high on the list of priorities here in America, sad to say.  Perhaps it is the relatively easy access to fame here that makes it seem like a reasonable goal -- New York City and Los Angeles are both easily accessible places that are breeding (and burial) grounds for those who want to be someone, and of course there are the multitudes of reality shows that regularly launch D-list celebrities.

Or maybe it is something broader, like the American ways of excess.

5.  British (and European) teen boys seem to be less homophobic than American teen boys

I don't know if this is actually true, as I had very little contact with teen boys while I was in England ... and when I did, I was not privy to their potentially homophobic moments.

There's this stereotype about the English, about them being aloof or cold ... not exactly unfriendly, but not forthcoming or particularly warm.  And from both personal experience and observations (through the media and following several British teenagers on Twitter), I have never found this to be the case.  Through my observations of the guys on this past season of The X Factor (maybe not the best example?), British guys are not afraid to embrace one another, show affection, talk openly about their admiration.  I'm looking particularly at the relationships between Matt Cardle, Aiden Grimshaw ("Maiden"?) and One Direction (the bromance between Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles).

Particularly with the younger One Direction boys, I have seen much embracing, affection and even kissing ... things that are rarely seen among American teen boys -- especially not on television, in front of millions and millions of viewers.  I don't know if these boys are just more confident and at ease with themselves and thus more carefree with how they express themselves or what, but whatever it is, it's incredibly admirable.  Better than attempting to explain through words, here are some visuals:

I'd try to find American examples, but ... that's the problem: they don't actually exist.  At least not to my knowledge.

I need to figure out the "trick" to raising boys like these before I become a mother.  I'd love a well-adjusted teen boy who isn't afraid of wearing pink or joking around by kissing his friends on the cheek.  And if he happens to be gay, that's great too.

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