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Generally speaking, Americans don’t think about the British very often. Before I started working for a UK company, I didn’t either. Since then (and many trips to the UK in between), I’ve obviously given this question a great deal more thought than I had before.
The UK itself can seem very dreary to American visitors, even those (like myself) who hail from cool, damp climates in America. The famous lack of sunshine is only part of the equation – it’s also the unremarkable nature of large UK cities and suburbs. It’s only when you get out of these places that you start seeing a more interesting (from a visitor’s perspective) side of the UK
The British themselves defy many of the stereotypes that exist of them in the United States. The real British are much friendlier and outgoing (sometimes, too outgoing) than is typically portrayed in television shows and movies over here. Sometimes, however, they confirm some of the stereotypes as well, but that’s a different discussion …
Americans have a very limited idea of “normal” British life. As noted above, Americans who haven’t been to the UK have an image of British life that is largely fed by what they see in movies and TV, and focuses on the British aristocracy. Yet, as you can imagine, the overwhelming majority of Britons do not live in castles, have servants, or vast collections of priceless antique furniture. So imagine the surprise when Americans see that the UK has the same collection of unremarkable suburbs, large chain stores, clogged roads, etc. that they’re used to seeing in the United States, and not an Aston Martin or Rolls Royce anywhere in sight.
British humor is a mixed bag. Candidly? The British aren’t nearly as funny as they always think they are. They often tend to mistake a lack of laughter as the audience not being sophisticated or sharp enough to understand. Oh, we understand – you’re just not always funny. Conversely, there are genuinely funny people in the UK, my own favorite being Mitchell and Webb.
The UK’s galaxy of accents can be daunting for American visitors, and it will be some time before Americans can learn which accent comes from which part of the UK (except when it’s obvious – looking at you, Scotland). Many Americans have been conditioned from birth to impart a layer of sophistication on British accents because, as noted earlier, the majority of our exposure to British culture in the US is primarily from the aristocratic classes. Spending enough time in the UK will quickly inure Americans to the charms of the British accent. It just becomes something you get used to – there are pleasant sounding accents, and some truly grating ones, just like you’ll find anywhere else in the Anglosphere.
Class divisions are much sharper than in the United States. Especially in business, there is still an emphasis on having gone to the “right” school, having the “right” accent (or more properly, not having the wrong accent). I’ve been told this is less acute than it used to be, but even this more egalitarian UK feels much more class focused than in the United States, which has some sharp class lines itself.
British stereotypes about Americans are often fairly well ingrained. We obviously appreciate that the US and UK are different countries, but sometimes the British think they’re the absolutely first person to lecture Americans about how “real English” is from the UK, and what barbaric savages we are, with our right to own guns, and capital punishment, etc. It gets old pretty quickly, and as visitors, we are largely obliged to sit through these lectures and just smile and nod.
Orderliness is a mixed blessing as well. By and large, Britons have adapted very well to living in a place with such a high population density. There is a very good mix of respecting people’s privacy and “personal space” in public while being friendly and engaging in work and private settings that I wish we had more of in the United States. On the other hand, it can occasionally be maddening dealing with what (to Americans) is an incredible amount of bureaucratic red tape, and waiting (excuse me, “queuing”) to get fairly mundane things done.
There is a different sense of what “achievement” means in the UK. There is a real, sometimes healthy/sometimes unhealthy tendency to deflect praise, even where praise was due. There is sometimes an aversion to being the center of attention in a workplace setting that feels odd to Americans. It’s not that the British frown on being in the spotlight, but rather that working hard for personal recognition is vulgar and distasteful.
The music is also a mixed bag for American visitors. We just didn’t get their fascination with Oasis, the Bargain Basement Beatles, and we don’t get their fascination with what – to us – is a mish-mash of samey sounding pop music and some of the worst rap music on earth. On the other hand, some of the best rock bands in the world obviously came from the UK
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