Saturday, December 20, 2008

So, so different

I’m currently reading “The Anglo Files” by Sarah Lyall. Its sub-titled “A Field Guide to the British” and I must admit its great fun to be reminded of the differences we English and Americans either don’t realize or have forgotten. The author grew up in New York and is a London correspondent for the New York Times.

As a WWII baby, I was brought up on ration books (many people forget that there were severe food shortages for quite a few years after the war was over, into the early fifties in fact), so I’ve always tried to be thrifty, kept a well-stocked pantry and realized that my mother was right about the differences between “need” and “want”. Even my mother-in-law, with whom I disagreed with just about everything, was wise enough to quote the old adage “there is no such thing as a bargain if you have no need for it”.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s annual budget speeches as Chancellor of the Exchequer were well punctuated with the wonderful word “prudent”. He was often mocked for the number of times he used this word when spelling out the nation’s economic situation. I think prudent is how many of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, will become before the current recession is over. I was amazed at Sarah’s revelation (to me anyway) that a nation that used to be well known for being thrifty had become “awash in debt, about £1.35 trillion of it by 2007 – giving it the highest ratio of debt to personal income in the developed world”! That’s about $2.1 trillion by today’s exchange rate. Staggering!

Okay, so the English have that in common with our American friends, but Sarah points out the huge differences between our two countries. You notice that when I refer to Great Britain I use “nation”, when referring to England I use “country” (most of my friends here are aware of my dislike of being called a “Brit”). She has really reminded me of these differences. It’s not just differences in vocabulary, or the so-called “politeness”. It goes much deeper than that and thank goodness it does.

Upon reading her comments on the Englishness of not turning on a lamp until we can hardly see to find the switch, had me laughing out loud – we still do it here and it often amuses us to see neighbors having lights on all day.

I can thoroughly recommend this book. Americans will be amazed at some of the author’s experiences and observations, the English may be horrified, but will ultimately recognize themselves and like me laugh about it. That’s another subject for a blog posting – our different senses of humor.

Photos by Ian Britton,

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