There are so many things I didn’t know about the UK when I moved here. Previous to my leap of faith across the pond, I actually thought I knew quite a bit – I mean how hard could it be? I spoke the same language (of a sort), and I had watched Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, so I assumed that I had sufficient exposure to the British culture via the media. I was to discover almost immediately how very wrong I was, and how vast the cultural differences could be.
I had only visited England twice before moving to the Southern Counties, so I wouldn’t say I had had a great deal of contact with the British people. My perspective may be somewhat unique – but not entirely so; there are quite a few American expatriates in Great Britain. Primarily, I would say, we live in pockets around RAF bases, where American Airmen are stationed, and, of course, in London and the larger cities. I have only ever met two other Americans who live in my area. One, I have never seen again, and the other I see semi-regularly because she and her British husband visit my workplace on a routine basis.
These are a few things, in no particular order, I knew nothing – or next to nothing – about when I moved to Great Britain:
- Coronation Street and British Soap Operas
- Television and the TV Licence
- The National Health Service (NHS)
- The West Country
- The Class System
- The British Demeanour
- The Lake District
- Holidays and Little Britain
- Rip Off Britain
- Music and Radio
- Ale and Cider
- Anti-Social Behaviour
- Crime and the Kray Brothers
- Four Countries Within a Country
- Walking and Rights of Way
- The Immigration Backlash
- British Politics
- The European Union
- Carry On Films
- British Slang and Expressions
- British Regional Accents
- The Pantomime
- Christmas Celebrations
- British History
- The British Perspective on the Two World Wars
- Allotments and Gardening
- British Scientists and Science
- Perspectives on Pets and Animals
- British Sexism
- Property and Holiday Homes
- The British Plumbing and Central Heating Systems
- British Newspapers and Tabloids
- The British Education System
- British Cuisine
- Public Transportation
I daresay that this list is shorter than it could be, but it will take me quite some time to exhaust these topics.
I think many Americans are under the impression that they know more about Britain and the British than they really do. The same could be said about what the British think they know about America and Americans. My own ignorance has stunned me over the years, but I have been stunned in equal measure by the ignorance of the British people regarding the country and people of my birth. Of course, I’m generalizing here. I don’t like to tar everyone with the same brush, but for clarity’s sake, I will.
I cringe nearly every day at the things I hear about Americans as expressed by the British public at large, as well as in news items, and on television. Some of these statements are grounded in anti-American sentiment, and some are born of pure ignorance, and others are even well-meant blurts. I once was asked, “Is America as bad as everyone says it is?” Examples like this are too delicious to pass up. After suppressing my horror and internalizing a strong guffaw, I responded diplomatically by answering the question with a question. “To what exactly are you referring? Politics, crime? You’ll have to be a little more specific.” I have also been asked whether Canada is a part of America. I will let the Canadians and Americans out there sort through their North American Continental minutiae and draw their own conclusions.
I may be chastised and corrected by my dear readers who are of British origin as I write about these topics, and more. Please rein in your desire to whip out a great red pen and slash my text to bits. It will ruin your screen if you do so. Accuracy is important, so you are free, of course, to comment on any factual errors you perceive, and also to disagree with my point of view, but please use a degree of respect. That goes for you Americans out there and nationals of other countries too.