Wednesday, February 09, 2005

On Britishness

I did a very British thing this last Sunday: I sat in a pub with a bunch of guys and watched the big rugby game while having a pint. (Perhaps it would take away from this comfortable image to tell you I was having a pint of squash, not beer. So I won’t tell you.) In a totally unexpected development, I actually found the game itself entertaining apart from being enthralled by the sight of so many hot bodies running around in those wee uniforms. I don’t know what this means exactly, but I was also eating fish and chips at the time and it couldn’t have been more British if I was playing cricket or hanging out with the Queen or something.

“Britishness” has been a topic of conversation lately because I’m starting to see more distinct differences when it comes to certain issues, mostly because a boatload of North American exchange students just arrived for the new semester, although I will concede that some of them may have arrived by plane and not a boat. Many of these North Americans (as many from Canada as the States) have infiltrated my new classes and contrasts are making themselves evident.

It’s so weird that I haven’t really met any Americans in the five months since I’ve moved here. Apart from Thanksgiving, which was a lot of fun, it’s mostly been in clubs where people will drag someone up to me and be like, “Hey! This one’s American too! Talk amongst yourselves!” and I talk about how much better it is living in the UK than in America and they don’t like that very much.

A lot of things I’ve really started to notice about “Britishness” revolve around two things: apologies and compliments. The British (commence wild generalizations) seem to love the former and hate the latter. When I ask Rosie to pass me something like the salt or the remote control, she says “sorry” as she hands it over as if she had been hoarding it like a pirate. Everyone here is sorry about everything! It doesn’t seem to mean much really, it just comes out of everyone’s mouths all the time. Kind of like the word “fuck.” Which is awesome. (British people also love to curse, and do it much more entertainingly than we do.)

Compliments, on the other hand, are not a happy occasion. People tend to deflect them in an almost hostile fashion. Last week, I witnessed a compliment stand-off where Marianne and her friend utilized raised voices and swear words in order to redirect every compliment in the direction of each other. It’s like modesty taken to the next level. Whereas Americans take compliments by cooing, “Awww, you’re so sweeeeeet! Come here, give me a hug!” The most common description of Americans I’ve heard from people here is “emotional.” (I’ve also heard some nastier ones, but whatever.)

I’ve heard over and over from British people that Americans don’t “have” sarcasm, but I don’t see where that comes from. I just think we’re more obvious about it and tend to make it clearer that we’re joking. British humor is totally different from American humor, but I think the main difference is subtlety. When I’ve heard the term “British comedy” used before moving here, it was mainly used to refer to Monty Python because that’s all a lot of people know about it. But just judging from the comedy programs I’ve seen on TV here, British comedy is so much quieter. There’s a lot more comedies without laugh tracks, which I think is a lot better. And there’s so much funny based on awkwardness, or having people react completely normally to surreal or extreme situations. It’s going to be so sad going back to American television.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?