*Note: I wrote the following in response to the general consensus one finds out there in cyberspace: Other People Hate Americans.
I found this out (well, all of us know it already, but more details were brought to home), when I was double checking certain slang terms or alternate words that the Brits use. (More specifically the English.) Of course this was all due to “research/fact checking” for the story I was writing. They say you’re supposed to write about what you know and the setting (that ghastly post-Communistic country I referred to before) is well known to me as are the particular quirks of the American main character, (Yes, yes, all right. It is me, but a much better me who didn’t screw up her life.) However, other things are somewhat out of my sphere of experiential knowledge. I don’t think it really counts to have read every Angela Thirkell, D.E. Stevenson, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Paddington…All right, all right. Stop sighing and rolling your eyes. I really wasn’t trying to show off.
ANYWAY the other main character is English. He just is. If you insist on asking me why, I would give you this vague “bleh” response about an alternative sort of person and wistful thinking that living with a slightly emotionally repressed person from a culture that has a distaste for dramatic scenes sounds…refreshing. Peaceful.
Since this person is so dear to me, it stung a little bit to read the nearly infinite amount of vitriol about all the annoying things we do, including talking too loudly, being nosey, being “too polite” (?) to customers and pronouncing all the rrrrrrrrrrrr’s in words, etc.
Yes, all right, it hurt my pathetic little feelings. There, I admitted it. Are you happy now? Like everything else that hurts or angers me, it festers for a little while and then my mind turns it into an analogy (well obviously), sort of like an oyster makes smooth layers over an uncomfortable grain of sand. Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to imply that my blather is as precious as a pearl. However, it does set it up in case you decide to make fun of me because then I can say, “Well, then I suppose I shouldn’t cast my pearls before swine, should I? And now I am going to take all of my toys and go home. So there.”
Speaking of pathetic feelings, that is a perfect segue into my piece…
The British Guide to Understanding the Western American
As you’ve often suspected, the key to unraveling our makeup (assuming you actually want to), is to know this: We have an incessant need to be liked. Yes, I admit it. It’s pathetic, but it’s there. Sure, in 1776 we told Mom to step off, declared, “I am SO outta here!” and stomped out the door. We’re rather proud that we made something of ourselves. We should be. It didn’t come easily. There were quite a few years of living in crappy apartments (yes, flats) and slurping Ramen Noodles, but we worked our way up the ladder to being a World Power with that good ol’ American grit and spirit. And yet…
Like every child we still keep sneaking looks over our shoulders hoping we will get a glimpse of Mom’s approval. We can’t help it. It would be so much simpler if our parental unit had been, say, France. I mean, who would care about rejection from those snooty snail-eating Frogs that produced the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and yet still can’t seem to discover the wonders of daily showering and deodorant? It would almost be too easy.
What stings is the rejection of our siblings. Now we realize Canada thinks he’s better than us. Really? Our little brother—that vinegar on chips eating squirt that says “eh?” almost as much as we say “like”—looks down on us? He probably just wants to rub it in our faces that Mom likes him better. Still, her favoritism may be because his departure wasn’t so “in your face.” He just quietly moved out and went away to college, (Yes, university. You know what we mean.)
But what really wounds us is Australia. “B-but you’re the same as us! You were also just boatloads of ‘dregs’ from other countries that conquered an untamed continent. You even have cowboys and speak with a drawl and everything! Fine then. Who cares what you think? You have animals that can’t make up their minds if they’re proper mammals or not. Besides, you celebrate Christmas in summer and that’s just stupid.”
To ourselves: “Dagnabbit! That was a lame comeback. We won’t think of a better one until 3 o’ clock in the morning. Screw it. We’re gonna go hang out with Mexico. He still thinks we’re cool. In fact, he wants to be just like us.”
Our desperate need for approval leads to our inability to fathom the British love for self-deprecating humor. Sure, we get it. Some of us even do it—but not for very long. We’re so busy protecting our fragile self-esteems that whenever anyone within earshot diss’es him/herself, we feel obligated to say something nice. (*Lying is honorable in this context.) So after a while of listening to you rip yourselves up one side and down the other, it gets a bit tiresome. To us, it sounds like fishing for compliments. You begin to resemble that insecure girlfriend that pesters her boyfriend incessantly for reassurances that he loves her, she doesn’t look fat in that outfit, if she should get in an accident and be horribly disfigured she would still be the most beautiful woman on Earth, etc.
What surprises us is your inability to believe that our friendliness is genuine. You’re so busy being cleverly ironic that when we say please and thank you and sir and ma’am you think we’re being snotty. Aw, shucks. Y’all are so cynical. We generally save our sarcasm as a defense mechanism for rejection so outwardly we look cool while our inner child curls up in the fetal position.
“Well that’s a pile of crap.”
“Hmm…I’m sorry. You seem to have mistaken me for someone who gives a rodent’s rear end what you think.”
“Way to go there, Sparky.”
“Yeah, well, if I wanted your opinion I’d have beaten it out of you.”
That’s how we are in the West, anyway. I suppose out East they are generally sarcastic and rude all the time. And when I say “East” I mean New York, Boston, Chicago, basically anything east of the Mississippi. (Skipping over that boring bit in the middle, of course. We always do. I mean, thanks for the breakfast cereal and all that, but actually visit those salt-of-the-earth people? Nooo.)
Not having lived in that urban blighted sector of my country I can’t really speak for those easterners. However, I’m going to go ahead and make a sweeping generalization about them anyway based on those that unfortunately find their way out here only to inflict their loud, rude and argumentative personalities upon us and to drone on and on about how everything back East is better.
Them: “Blah, blah, blah, pizza, blah, blah, blah, hotdogs, blah, blah, blah baseball.”
Us: “Really? Now that IS interesting. You know, out here we have these nifty things called airports. Perhaps I could point you in the way of the nearest one?”
Now THAT my friend, is Western sarcasm.