Monday, 1 August 2011

It's the American way

I have just landed back in Edinburgh from America.

What this means is that I am now in that dreadful state of ‘jet-lagged.’ Somehow I lost the night (and the sleep that the night tends to encourage) in a hop, skip and a jump across the Atlantic.

I feel a little drunk. Not the good kind of drunk where you are the funniest person you’ve ever met, are singing ‘don’t stop me now’, and dancing on table. No, the kind of drunk where you realise it’s time for  you to go home, have to hold onto the bed owing to the spinning, or even more likely, the kind where you find yourself, sitting on the kerb, head in your hands, shoes in the gutter and sick in your hair.

So, before I go and crawl into bed or collapse right here at the desk, I thought I’d share a little about my time state-side.

Let’s start with the most important question. Why does every American think that every Brit loves Monty Python? I was asked no less than 20 times (within a week) on my feelings towards the show.  In the end I just lied that I loved it.

And what is wrong with the understatement? I missed understatements this past week. Not quite as much as I missed a well made cuppa, but a fair bit. The Americans do not understate. We’re part of the ‘E’ for excellent team – don’t you know.

But the problem is that the Brits are ‘E’ for expert in the understatement team. We are not trying to be witty, we are just endlessly un-enthused.  Of course the reasons for the understatement are quite clear to see. As a nation we do not like gushing, emotional outpouring or boasting, and as such must go to the opposite end and feign utter indifference.

When we are seriously ill, it’s a ‘bit of a nuisance’, a dreadful experience is ‘not ideal’ and something incredibly impressive is simply ‘alright.’

We do not admit to ‘wanting to become an unstoppable force,’ to ‘paving the way to success’ or to being ‘exceptionally exceptional.’ I do however like the idea that when you run out of superlatives, you just repeat them.

We Brits much prefer a spot of modesty. Even if we are bright, successful and rich, we must deal with the embarrassment of having succeeded by making a self deprecating joke of the whole sorry matter. Of course this rarely works in our interactions with foreigners. They do not understand our hatred of boasting, and therefore tend to take our ‘witty’ downplaying remarks at face value.

And then we’re really stuck. We can’t very well shout after them, ‘no no – sorry – I’m playing down my achievements to conform to our culture. I’m actually blooming marvellous,’ can we? No. Of course not. Perhaps we’d be better off saying we were exceptionally exceptional from the outset.

However, when people were crying  (one woman was practically wailing) at the end of the conference I was attending, I was suddenly glad of our British emotional repression. We are a nation of the stiff upper lip, and would certainly not see fit to quote Martin Luther King in a closing plenary.

When I was the only one not partaking in the standing ovation I felt the fullest force of peer pressure.

I was thinking about this blog post as my plane came into land just a few hours ago. As we touched down (after a pleasingly non-eventful flight) the many American’s applauded and cheered. ‘Hurrah, we didn’t crash.’ ‘Amen, we survived.’

Now I am all for praise where praise is due, but if a pilot cannot land a plane with a pretty high success rate, he really should reconsider his career choice. 

I admire this generosity of praise, the ability to cry in public, the willingness to express emotions, to openly talk about what their therapist has suggested, and of course the TV series  - ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’

Maybe the Americans are just nicer?

Or maybe not. I’ll end with a joke, from a guy from Georgia, which I rather liked.

Person 1: ‘Where y’all from?’

Person 2: ‘Where I’m from we don’t end our sentences with a preposition.’

Person 1: ‘Oh I’m sorry. Where y’all from, bitch?’

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