Monday, August 22, 2011

Anglophilia: Americans Love the English

I was told by numerous Brits and Americans before I came to the USA that the Americans love the English.  But I didn’t quite believe it until I got here.  Here is an extract from a conversation with my next door neighbour, which is pretty much transcribed word for word:

“Where are you from?” she said.  “You sound foreign!”
England,” I replied.
“No, England!”
“Oh, England!  I love your accent!  I’ve always wished that the pilgrims had kept their English accents after they got off the boats and we didn’t speak like we do now - you know, with the American accent…”

Okay, the neighbour is slightly dotty, but her general sentiment has been expressed to me over and over since I started visiting US and then living in the USA as a British expat.  Basically, the Americans love the English, and the English accent, although ironically, many Americans can’t locate my own Northern English accent until I tell them where I am from -  I’ve been asked if I am from Australia or Poland many times.

US and UK mugs owned by my wife and I
I guess I should be pleased, but I do find it a little disconcerting sometimes.  I have never been to another country like this.  As an Englishman, I can travel a short distance to parts of Wales, or Ireland, and find people who dislike me because of my nationality and what they perceive it stands for.  Across the Channel, there are French and Germans who will mutter behind your back when you’re at the bar about the “bloody English” (or sentiments to that effect), thinking that if they say it in French or German, no one in your group will understand them.

(Digressing briefly, I once did a similar thing in Berlin, Germany.  There was some awful music playing in a café where I was eating with a German-speaking English friend.  The barmaid had previously been conversing to my friend in fluent German, so I assumed she was German.  Although many Germans speak reasonable English, I was still confident that she wouldn’t understand me when I described the music to my friend as “dross”.  Imagine my surprise when she bellowed at me in a broad Ulster accent: “This music is not dross!  I picked it myself!”)

Anyway, back to Anglophilia, or rather, moving on to its opposite: Anglophobia.  The truth is that there are many negative stereotypes of the English around the world, but these are probably the main ones:

  1. The English are arrogant and consider themselves to be superior to everyone else.
  2. The English are duplicitous and they play mind games with people (especially when it comes to politics).
  3. The English are at best cold and aloof, and at worst, downright cruel, especially with their humour, which they use to berate people that they don’t like.

How true the negative stereotypes are is a matter of opinion, of course, but Americans don’t generally buy into any of them in any significant way, in my experience.  Quite the opposite, in fact, they have all sorts of positive stereotypes (I can feel a little embarrassed sometimes, because I feel sure that I won’t live up to expectations!)

Britain does generally do a good job of projecting itself abroad.  Possibly too well, I sometimes think.  I remember being back in Blighty and working with immigrants from places like India and the West Indes.  They would sometimes tell me how naïve their views on Britain were before they moved there.  They thought that everyone lived in big houses, either in beautiful old cites resembling central London, or in rambling green countryside, and the British people were very polite and civilized.  In reality, of course, lots of people live in grotty inner cities with grey suburbs and the British people can be a pretty surly and miserable bunch at times (unless they’ve had a few drinks in the pub).

There is a tendency in the US culture to look for simple truths and to some extent there is a tendency to split the world’s countries into goodies and baddies, or white hats and black hats, as they say here.  Americans generally prefer cultures that are similar to their own.  I remember reading a survey that showed the American public overall feel most positive about the Canadians, closely followed by the Brits.  I do sometimes feel a little sorry for the peoples that are designated black hats though (generally those people in arab and muslim countries).

Anyway, having said all of the above about Anglophilia, one question still puzzles me: If the Americans are so positive about the English, why does every other American movie seem to cast an Englishman as the leading bad guy?  ;-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The UK Riots

A Scottish expat living in Canada asked me about the UK riots the other day, when I was playing an online game of draughts or checkers (the name varies according to which side of the Atlantic you hail from).  They dropped the subject when they found out that I was living in Florida nowadays.  The joke is that I know as much about the riots now, as a British expat, as I probably would have done living in Britain.  Because of the internet, my news sources regarding the riots in the UK are exactly the same here in the USA as they were in the UK, mainly the BBC and The Guardian online (although I can also get pretty much get any US or UK tv channel or newspaper over the internet).

I have lived in numerous places in the UK, but spent much of my adult years in the Leeds area, which strangely enough, was largely unaffected by the UK riots.  I say strangely because Leeds is a big city with some very rough areas and bleak housing estates.  The Chapeltown area, which I know well, rioted back in the 1980s riots, but there was relatively little trouble there this time around.  I have lived, or spent quite a bit of time in some of the English inner city areas that were affected, however, including Dalston in London, Manchester in the North, and Leicester in the Midlands.

I must admit that I wasn’t surprised that there was rioting in the UK.  The sudden drop in living standards caused by the recession was likely to spark trouble at some point.  Plus, for some reason, there often tends to be more disorder when the Conservatives are in power (although that may well be because they are usually voted into power at times of economic struggle).  But like most people, I was shocked by the form that the riots took, with mobs of amoral underclass youths looting at will.  It seemed almost medieval in character.  I’ve heard the UK riots described as ‘shopping with violence’, and it seems difficult to disagree with that assessment.

Everybody looks into the smouldering ashes of the burnt out shops and cars and sees what they want to see at the end of the day and I am probably no different, but here is my take: In recent times, the UK seems to have lurched from crisis to crisis: the MPs’ expenses scandal, the police getting bribes from the News of the World, bankers awarding themselves massive bonuses despite being kept afloat by huge public bailouts, and now the inner city riots...  I am on the centre left politically, but strangely enough I found myself agreeing with an article in the (conservative) Daily Telegraph, namely that:

“The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.”

Over here in the US, the problems are no better, but they take a different form, with political polarization virtually paralyzing the government and all the cross party consensus of previous years seeming to evaporate in the new, vitriolic atmosphere. 

The world is not in a good place at the moment.

Further Reading

An American expat in the UK talks about her experience of living in the capital during the London riots in the Telegraph:

Telegraph: London and UK riots: 50 powerful images:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blowing my own trumpet (and 10 other peoples!)

In the second and final part of my reflective expat blog posts, I thought it would be a good time to recap some history of my British expat blog and give some of the positives that have occurred over this time.  Despite having blogged extensively in the past on sites such as Myspace, I wasn’t actually sure what or where I would go with this blog when I started out.  I did want it to have some sort of definite theme that I could hang my experiences around, rather than just writing a general blog about whatever random thoughts came into my head.  I flapped around in some of the early posts, looking for a style and plan.  

For instance, I tried writing about my experience of the K1 fiance visa process as posts, but after a while I decided that they were too dry for a general consumption (unless you have gone through, or are going through the process, you really don’t want to know about the relationship proof requirements for the I-129 Petition, or the financial support documents needed to support an I-485 Green Card application).  In the end, I put my visa experiences in in their own separate blog which I imaginatively named: My K1 Fiance Visa Experience.

Titles were also something that I toyed around with.  The “From Sheep to Alligators” name was actually the third title I tried, but I felt happy with it enough to make up a unique banner header using an old alligator picture and Adobe Photoshop.

Features and Blog Award

My expat blog about living in Florida has featured online in various websites and online publications, including 'The smart-insegors Daily', the online publication of the expat website for professionals, Insego, which I would heartily recommend as a friendly place to visit if you want an intelligent debate, information and advice or just a place to fraternize with other expats.

Australian blogger, Robynne from Robynne's Nest gave me a versatile blogger award, which I will display here below (I guess the term ‘versatile’ maybe fits, as I tend to mix up my blog with humour, trivia and serious discussions).  I am not quite sure what I am supposed to do with the award, but I do appreciate it.  Do I award it to someone else after I’ve finished with it, or just leave it to gather dust on my virtual mantelpiece?


Early on, I got into putting links to some of my posts on the Social Bookmarking site, Reddit.  Two of my humorous posts got voted up the rankings and each received over 3,000 straight after they were posted.  I enjoyed the rush of 4 digit viewing figures, but I must admit that I felt a pang of relief when the party was over and my blog stats returned to their normal 15-50 visitors per day!

Google Traffic

I must admit that, unlike blogs that I have written in the past, I have deliberately courted Google traffic with this one, picking my keywords and tags carefully.  The nice thing about Google traffic is that people come to your blog even when you haven’t written anything new for a while (if I was ever to cease writing, I would probably continue to get 20-30 views a day from Googlers). 

The Blogger stats tell me how people have reached me.  It is amazing how many people want to know about Lake Alice, brown sauce and bacon butties!  There are also some strange ones.  Because I have written about the different names for underwear in Britain and the USA and my blog is called From Sheep to Alligators, I get visitors coming to my blog who have typed in Google searches for “sheep knickers” and “alligator underpants”, which strikes me as a little, urm, unusual.

The Google searchers are usually casual strangers, however.  So they crop up in viewer stats, but don’t tend to write comments.  I still like my loyal followers, the ones who like to comment and make some online banter, some of whom I know or have known in person, but many of whom have come from cyberspace and the blogosphere.

Pimping: Top 10 Best British Expat Blogs in USA

Last but not least, I pimped some of the other British expat bloggers in my Hubpages article: Top 10 Best BritishExpat Blogs in USA.  Keep on writing folks!

Monday, August 1, 2011

British Expat Blogger Reflections

Looking back over the past six months, I think I was a little naïve when I began this British expat blog.  I just thought it would be a bit of fun and that I might get some views and interesting comments from around the world, as well as keep in contact and report back to friends in the UK about living in the USA.  It has been fun, of course, but after a while you also realize that the topic area can be a bit of minefield.  That’s because you are dealing with issues of national identity and people can get very passionate about that stuff – hell, people have fought wars over it throughout the ages!

I have at times been accused of making sweeping generalizations, getting my facts wrong and being deliberately provocative– all of which are probably true to some degree.  I will admit that there is a streak in my character that makes me want to poke things with a big stick sometimes, just to see what happens, even if I risk getting bitten.  My priority has always been to try and make my blog engaging, however, even if I risk ruffling feathers on occasion, as the thing that I always fear the most is my blog being bland.  I do love getting comments from different corners of the world and hearing other experiences and viewpoints and see the comments as being integral to the blog’s success, as they can often be as or more interesting than the actual original blog post!

I have generally tried to skirt around politics and race, so far, though, which has probably helped me to avoid any serious controversy.  I was genuinely taken aback by the depth of anger expressed against African Expat Wife in her post: Busman’s Holiday Travel Writing.  Sure, I know that there is a negative legacy from British colonialism and I am in no way qualified to talk about the rights and wrongs of Kenyan issues, but it did all seem a little harsh.  Anyway, African Expat Wife wrote a second post clarifying her position and that seemed to clear the air.

Returning to my own expat experiences.  I do have American friends that I know, or have known over the years back in the UK who have experienced a similar thing to me in reverse – dealing with the British visa bureaucracy, moving to Britain, adapting to British culture etc. and, of course, I do read American expat blogs about their experiences of the UK.  British expat experiences in the USA and the American expat experiences in the UK are like strange mirror images.  I thought the American comedian and expat, Reginald D Hunter gave some pretty astute and hilarious interpretations of British and American differences in his Live at the Apollo stint.

You can pretty much reverse the experiences of Reginald D Hunter, if you want to know what it’s like to be a Brit in the USA.  As he points out, English people have a tendency to say one thing, but mean something completely different, which can certainly cause misunderstandings.  I am fairly confident that the people who know me well, such as my wife, usually have a grasp of what I am getting at and can distinguish when I am joking and when I am serious - but I sometimes wonder if Americans who don’t know me so well walk away from our conversations with a completely different impression of what we’ve just been talking about to my own.