Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why do the British love to party?

I was reminded by Rob over at The Inconsequential Opinion that Christmas tends to have a slightly more raucous edge to it back in Britain, which is encapsulated by some of the Christmas music, which includes songs by Slade and Wizzard that you don’t hear in the USA.  In fact, I don’t think I have been anywhere that loves a drunken party as much as the British.

I first talked about this topic back in the early 1990s with a Canadian.  We were in Germany, part of a group that included Germans, American, French, Irish and, of course, British and Canadians.  Anyway, it was observed that the English-speaking peoples have a tendency to enjoy getting drunk and going a little crazy, whereas the Germans and French tend to prefer to drink and act in a much more controlled way.

I would actually go further than what I agreed with my Canadian friend at the time and say that the British (and Irish) probably also top the English speaking peoples for raucous partying.  Americans, generally, are pretty civilized by comparison.  I was slightly amused by an American friend recently asking me whether a spoken poetry event that we attend at a local bar was too raucous for me, as from my perspective, it was generally not at all rowdy by British standards.  But her thoughts were understandable – what is usually projected to outsiders tends to be the rather quiet, civilized image of British culture and the other side is often glossed over.

Why do the Brits have this tendency?  I think we are a very schizophrenic group, who, being famously repressed in everyday life, every now and then need to blow off some steam and go a bit ga-ga.  The dark, damp weather is probably a factor too, it keeps you shut indoors and frankly, can get pretty depressing at times, especially in the North of England where I am from.

There is a pretty awful side to British partying culture too, of course, which never gets mentioned in the tourist adverts.  It’s virtually impossible to go through the centre of any major town or city on a Friday or Saturday night without encountering groups of extremely drunken (mainly, but not exclusively young) people spilling out of the bars and clubs, stumbling into the road, puking, groping, shouting, scrapping, swearing and collapsing… It can all seem rather hellish to the sober observer (I have spoken to more than one taxi driver that expressed their absolute horror when they first encountered British drinking culture after arriving from Pakistan).

But despite the downsides, when you’re brought up in British culture, it is difficult not to miss a little of the raucous edge when abroad.

My favourite Christmas song: A Fairytale of New York, by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl (which my wife described as “far too depressing for Americans” hehe!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why am I living in the USA?

Why am I living in the USA?  Well, there are 2 main reasons why I left my home in the North of England and made the big hop across the Atlantic:

  1. For love.  I met my American wife online.  We weren’t in a dating site, we just bumped into each other on the social networking site, MySpace (remember MySpace?).  Although webcams and email are great, at some point one of you has got to make the leap, so that you can both live in the same country.
  1. For the adventure.  My feelings about the USA are pretty mixed, I love some things and don’t like others, but despite, or maybe because of the ambivalence, I do find it a fascinating and exciting place.  When my wife and I decided that we would be married, we had a choice of her (and her daughter) coming to England, or me going to the USA.  We decided on the latter, mainly because I felt my life, although chugging along perfectly well, had sunk into a bit of a rut.  I relished the idea of doing something completely different, even if that meant risks in terms getting work etc.  (You only live once, right?)
Will my wife and I stay in the US forever?  I don’t know.  I do know that my wife would like to travel at some point.  Having become a single parent relatively young, I think she feels that she has delayed a lot of things, so that she can bring up her daughter successfully, and at some point she would like to spread her wings and go other places.

I have no intention of living anywhere except the US for the foreseeable future.  But now that I’ve made a big move once, the idea of doing it again at some point, no longer seems intimidating.  If my wife had some pension money coming in and I could secure a relatively reliable source of income from internet, it might be tempting to live somewhere like Thailand for a while, where the cost of living is currently about 20% of what it is here in the US.  (Okay, the Thailand idea is a bit of a pipe dream, but not an unfeasible one)

In the distant future, nobody knows how things are going to pan out, especially with the world economy being how it is.  As things stand though, I don’t know if I would want to stay in the US when I was older.  From what I’ve seen, old people can have a challenging time in the US, if they’re not wealthy.  The draw of the UK with its National Health Service and social infrastructure might be too tempting, plus I think my wife would be interested to live in the UK at some point.  But we’ll see.  That’s a long time into the future.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Living in the USA: My Culture Shock Top 10

I read with great interest and was amused by the directness of an essay by Sophia Angelique about the culture shock of moving to and living in the USA, after being in the UK, and I recognized much of what she said - although I must admit that I was a little troubled that she was still undergoing culture shock a full eight years after arriving there.

Some of the videos she posted up on there are excellent too.  The one of Stephen Fry (Brit) talking to Clive James (Ausie who lives in the UK) stood out as particularly outstanding and again, much of what they say is very recognizable to me.  (I’ve included the vid at the end of the top 10).

I thought it would fun to summarize some of the top 10 things that can be surprising and difficult for a typical Brit living in the USA, based on a variety of sources including my own experiences and those observations mentioned above.

I’m writing from a purely British perspective, of course, so I don’t know how much you will relate to it, if at all, if you’re non-British, or if you have never experienced living in the USA.  It also occurs to me that younger Brits might find it easier than older gits like me to cope with the culture shock, as I am probably stuck in my ways to some degree.  But anyway, in no particular order, here goes with my top 10.

  1. As Stephen Fry points out, coming from a monarchy, you kind of expect the US to have more republican values of “all men are equal”, but in fact American values are quite different from that.  Individual freedom is seen as more valuable than equality and justice in the US which gives it a different value system to the UK (and indeed the majority of republics).  Fry argues in the video that it’s rooted in the way that the American constitution prioritizes things.

  1. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s difficult to underestimate and understate the importance of religion in American life, whether it’s in everyday life, or in general society and politics.  Outside of respectable religion, I would also say that superstition and hokey beliefs are also much more common too.

  1. It’s much more commercial and materialistic here compared to Blighty.  Practices that would be considered mercenary back in the UK are much more commonplace.  Money seems to trump all in the USA, maybe even religion.  It certainly runs the political system.

  1. As a Brit, you get told that we’re a class ridden society - and we certainly are compared to places like Germany, The Netherlands, Scandanavia, but in many ways the British class system is nothing compared to the US where there is a stronger sense of hierarchy, and social and economic status really is the be all and end all for most people.

  1. American politics.  Things are shifted so far to the right here compared to the UK, I still have trouble working out who’s who.  Often a ranting politician that I think is a rightwinger, turns out to be Democrat.  The loony, foaming at the mouth, religious nut, I discover later is a respected Republican Senator.

  1. The lack of infrastructure can be frustrating here, if you’re not used to it.  Outside of the big cities, there is very little public transport.  Whereas you will get shops and pubs in the suburbs of towns and in rural areas in the UK, there is very little of that in the USA.  Not only is it a convenience thing, but local shops, post offices, pubs are where a British community would meet and builds ties.  (It was interesting to read that this was one thing that Brits found difficult about moving to Australia in a BBC article that I read).

  1. As Fry points out, America is an enormous place with lots of semi-autonomous states that often have a strong sense of self-identity.  People often have more in common with and identify more with their state than the country as a whole.  (In the UK, of course, we have Scotland, Wales, England and Ulster, but it is different.)

  1. Americans really believe in things.  British people tend to be skeptical about pretty much everything.  We make good scientists but poor dreamers.

  1. The right to bear arms and the gun thing is difficult to understand as an outsider.  I am not particularly comfortable with all the violence that you get in America movie and drama either, although sometimes I think it just acts as a lazy plot device, it can seem to come uncomfortably close to romanticizing violence.  I am no pacifist, by the way, I just don’t think real violence is in any way romantic.

  1. As Fry says, the American ideas of “liberty” and “freedom” are very difficult for a Brit to understand.  For us, “liberty” and “freedom” are essentially concepts, which makes them essentially wooly.  That doesn’t mean that we see them as bad ideas, we just don’t understand them as being solid things.

Ironically, after a year of living in the USA, I quite often feel that I understand it less now than I did when I arrived.


The difference between the English and Americans