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?  ;-)


  1. You forgot one...No. 4. Englishmen wear socks with their sandals. Rob

  2. That is totally hilarious. Haven't laughed so much for ages.

    I rather like it that people are so kindly predisposed towards me - though it's very unfair. It's kind of positive racism, if that makes sense, and as such, I feel I ought to be opposed to it. But of course it's very nice to be thought well of, without doing anything to earn it.

  3. Wow, great post. Must Tweet.
    Just last night, at the ball game, I got a couple of beers for me and the Ball & Chain. All I said was "Two Becks please" and the waitress said "Oh what a beautiful accent".

  4. There are some stereotypes that I have found as an American living in the UK that I would rather ignore. However, I realized that the reason a lot of the reason that people back home didn't get my jokes is that I have an English sense of humor...or humour as it were....go figure.

  5. @V - I never know how to respond when someone says "interesting post", so I won't! ;-)

    @Rob - The Aussies have their own unique take on the English with their "whinging pom" stereotype! :-) (And I have the tan lines on my feet from wearing flipflops barefoot to prove that I don't make the classic English error - is it true that the Aussies call flipflops thongs?)

    @Iota - I prefer to be praised for doing or achieving something, I feel a little embarrassed to receive praise just for uttering any old thing! Shouldn't complain, I guess! :-)

    @Expat Mum - I know the feeling, though it took me while to work out that all barworkers expected me to tip them!

    @Kat - I can understand that, some of my favourite American comedians have done better in the UK than the US! :-)

    @Lindy - We are certainly unique - not sure if that's a good or a bad thing! ;-)

  6. Because the accent just sounds so good on a bad guy! Haha. Good observation. I don't know if I have many perceptions about the English. Their humor makes me cringe, as in it can be more cut throat than American humor. But other than that, I can't think of anything! I will have to think. But you are totally right about the accent. Everyone in the US thinks it is just so cute, haha.
    BTW, I think it was you that mentioned Sibelius as a composer?? I am actually living in his home town and on his name sake street here in finland! Pretty cool you would mention that. If that was you. If not, please ignore, haha.

  7. You talk of English then of British-we Scots might take offence at that you know-we would tell you, but you might not understand our accent! :)

  8. @ Texa - Yes, twas me that mentioned Sibelius! I remember Sibelius ended up living in the countryside in later life, as he decided the pub was proving to be too much of a distraction.

    @Robyn - I was actually well aware of the English and British interchange and spent some time considering it. I thought about trying to make it all 'English' or all 'British' for purposes of consistency. I am very much aware that I have readers from Scotland and Northern Ireland (if they read me in Wales, they don't comment). But there were too many problems associated with this approach, so I opted for an interchanged approach.

    Problems included the national stereotypes of Ulster people, or Scots are not quite the same as English ones, so 'British' would not quite work for that. The survey I mention was related to British people, but I thought it was pertinant to English people too. People in other countries often visualize the concept of 'Britain' as being London and the South of England in their imagination in my experience (and I am not from London or the South of England).

  9. Insightful post, as always. You've got to create a place for me to sign up for emails when you have a new post - I don't want to miss a single one :)

  10. Seems like the British guy is always the villain, but the American guy is always Robin Hood :)

    Now my wife when she visited England was asked if she was Australian. Seems like wherever we live someone thinks one of us is Australian.

    As for the reputation of Britain abroad, it constantly amazes me how positive it is despite our imperialistic history, especially considering how we carved up most of the middle east in the worst possible way ignoring ethnic and religious divides and then hastily leaving.

  11. @Happy H. Thanks for your suggestion. I'm not a big fan of auto-generated emails, but I can appreciate that not everyone uses Twitter and Facebook.

    @Rob. There is another Rob on here (Robynne not Robyn) who really is Australian. She did tell me, but I've forgotten what nationality people confuse her for in England! ;-)

  12. It is interesting that Americans like to categorize people as goodies or baddies and the fact they love Brits is definitely a good thing.
    As a Canadian I've always enjoyed all the love we tend to get from the world (except of course Dubai right now, thanks to the Canadian government ticking them off - it certainly makes moving here feel much less welcoming). I can only imagine how the baddies feel on a regular basis.

  13. Regional accents and expressions make life fun. Awesome post!!!

  14. @lisaroy - The Canadians manage to be universally popular, rather like the Irish.

    @Angus - Yes, I agree. I am uncomfortable with attempts by people to say one way of speaking is better than another!

  15. You've missed alot of stereotypes that are much more common.
    One being the teeth, british people are quite gay and ugly women. These are the generaly ones in american media. Also the stereotype that British despise americans for saving them in WW2 which they won. Of course that deserves a punch.