Sunday, March 08, 2009

Only in Britain!

One of the usual mysteries in my life is that however apologetic I might try to sound, and sincerely feel, most people from the US feel offended when I share my difficulty with appreciating the "American" culture (way of life?). I usually get frustrated with myself too in this regard, but when something is fed down your throat, it is difficult to appreciate the taste. Hence, most my friends from the US either do not live there, or dislike that "American way of life" equally as I dislike certain things about where I come from -usually both.
In either case, just to emphasise my feelings about the matter even more clearly (and to highlight that I feel equally offended by cultural stereotypes when they are applied to the US as much as anywhere else), I would like to introduce you Stephen Fry's wonderful commentary on his travels in the "real America". Although he has written this in his "quintessentially British" way and for Britons, with a few changes (enter being obsessed with food, weather, and the whole rhetoric about how life is best and only possible in the [enter south european country name]) it could apply to any southern european country.
Anyhow, I will copy some of it below, and for the whole of it click here. (on a final note, I would like to establish how British/European it is to actually realise what Fry tries to make us realise... and how enjoyable his language is to read... oh well...)
"For years then, I have harboured deep within me the desire to make a series of documentary films about ‘the real’ America.
I have often felt a hot flare of shame inside me when I listen to my fellow Britons casually jeering at the perceived depth of American ignorance, American crassness, American isolationism, American materialism, American lack of irony and American vulgarity. Aside from the sheer rudeness of such open and unapologetic mockery, it seems to me to reveal very little about America and a great deal about the rather feeble need of some Britons to feel superior. All right, they seem to be saying, we no longer have an Empire, power, prestige or respect in the world, but we do have ‘taste’ and ’subtlety’ and ‘broad general knowledge’, unlike those poor Yanks.
What silly, self-deluding rubbish! What dreadfully small-minded stupidity! Such Britons hug themselves with the thought that they are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Americans because they think they know more about geography and world culture, as if firstly being cosmopolitan and sophisticated can be scored in a quiz and as if secondly (and much more importantly) being cosmopolitan and sophisticated is in any way desirable or admirable to begin with. Sophistication is not a moral quality, nor is it a criterion by which one would choose one’s friends. Why do we like people? Because they are knowledgeable, cosmopolitan and sophisticated? No, because they are charming, kind, considerate, exciting to be with, amusing … there is a long list, but knowing what the capital of Kazakhstan is will not be on it.
The truth is, we are offended by the clear fact that so many Americans know and care so very little about us. How dare they not know who our Prime Minister is, or be so indifferent as to believe that Wales is an island off the coast of Scotland? We are quite literally not on the map as far as they are concerned and that hurts. They can get along without us, it seems, a lot better than we can get along without them and how can that not be galling to our pride? Thus we (or some of us) react with the superiority and conceit characteristic of people who have been made to feel deeply inferior.
So I wanted to make an American series which was not about how amusingly unironic and ignorant Americans are, nor about religious nuts and gun-toting militiamen, but one which tried to penetrate everyday American life at many levels and across the whole United States.
There is one phrase I probably heard more than any other on my travels: Only in America!
If you were to hear a Briton say ‘Tch! only in Britain, eh?’ it would probably refer to something that was either predictable, miserable, oppressive, dull, bureaucratic, queuey, damp, spoil-sporty or incompetent - or a mixture of all of those. ‘Only in America!’ on the other hand, always refers to something shocking, amazing, eccentric, wild, weird or unpredictable. Americans are constantly being surprised by their own country. Britons are constantly having their worst fears confirmed about theirs. This seems to be one of the major differences between us."

1 comment:

Vincent said...

Haha, fantastic read indeed!
I'm already downloading the series now!