- -  Day # 161  + +

EU > United Kingdom > London

UK vs US

London, UK (View on map)

They both live in a country that dominated the globe during several extended periods in history and yet, they do not have as much in common as people from the European mainland may expect: similarities between the United Kingdom and the United States are mostly limited to the English language and the way both countries are fanatic about spreading peace and democracy as guarantees for freedom. What do the British think about their North-Atlantic partners? Here`s a quick mix of some people`s opinions, just to prove that putting British and Americans on one pile does not do justice to either side.

Nick (27):

..sees major differences between US and UK humour
Unlike many of their fellow Europeans, an English person will straightaway recognise Americans by their accent. And not only do British English and American English sound different, many words also have different spellings and different words. An American `sweater` would be a `jumper` in English, a `parking lot` a `car park`. `Garbage` in American translates to `rubbish` in English and American `pants` become `trousers`. Cornelia (19) and Laura (19) tell me that they find it quite annoying when they are mistaken for Americans by fellow Europeans. `Britain is closer to Europe, both geographically and in the way of thinking`, Cornelia says.

The British TV audience has ample choice in what to watch. Many programs are imported from the United States, but very few people tune in to pure American channels like Fox, CBS, CNN or NBC. For serious matters, British people take BBC as a reference, even when it comes to typical American subjects like the upcoming presidential elections.

When talking about amusement and comedy, British TV programs differ substantially from American ones. Nick (27, photo) explains that the British like to think that their sarcastic sense of humour is very country-specific, and that everybody non-British has difficulties understanding the self-derogatory jokes: `In British comedy, the main character is actually a loser or a mean person with a soft spot. The stereotypical American main character in series is very likeable, loveable and admirable.`

Nick thinks that, generally speaking, British and American people have a very limited common exposure to TV programs. `Friends, South Park and Oprah Winfrey obviously make it across the ocean, but most programs have local equivalents, just like in most other European countries. Also bear in mind that the offer is very scattered, both in the UK and the US. There are so many different channels, local channels, specific interest channels, which all make it more and more unlikely that people see the same programs, or see the same programs at the same time. Music would be the best example of something that we are both exposed to in the same way. Most of the music that`s popular in the UK actually comes from the US.`

Media is not the only domain which is quite different in the UK and the US. Sports are also different and even the way people think about sports. Chris (23) tells me how football, rugby and cricket are popular in the UK, while the Americans are bigger fans of American football, basketball and baseball. `Americans are on average much more fanatic about sports, and about the competitive element of it`, Chris says.

Robert (27) also thinks that competitiveness is an important part of American culture, but to him personally, it`s also the biggest annoyance. `When I think about the US, I think about what I call materialistic nihilance, people valuing money, possessions and success more than genuine ideas or a sense of belonging. They may seem more religious than the British are, but religion in America is more likely to be disconnected from genuine spirituality. Instead, religion in the United States oftentimes resembles a well-prepared business case, which provides a sense of belonging and a way for people to shape their identity. In much the same way, it is abused by conservative politicians and pumped into society through the educational system.`

`We used to think of the United States as the country of freedom and opportunities. In the 1960s and once again in the 1980s, we looked at the US as the example, as a point of reference in terms of culture and society. But looking at today`s America, I see a country that is narrow-minded, struggles with problems like obesity and crime; a country where people prefer to sue each other rather than use their common sense. It makes me sad to see that the UK is also heading that way.`

Julia (28) and Leila (22) think that American citizens can live with the continuous pressure of politics. `They are also much more involved. Just look at the elections, and how much response each candidate`s campaign is bringing about. You wouldn`t see that in the UK, where people are lazy about politics. We often don`t have enough of an opinion of our own.`

Flying across
Jenny (28), originally from Sweden, works as a flight attendant with Virgin Atlantic. She regularly crosses from one country to the other and meets a lot of Americans and British through her job. She says: `On average, American people tend to be more outgoing, while British people are usually more reserves. Americans expect better service, and will clearly tell you when they are satisfied and when they are not. They are used to paying tips for good service and although we don`t encourage them to do that, they do expect the customer-friendly approach they would otherwise reward with a tip.`

`Americans are often portrayed as less intelligent because they can`t locate the different countries in Europe. But ask anybody British to point out the 50 states of the US, and they won`t be able either. They have no hooliganism, life is less expensive and they don`t have the same kind of paparazzi press like the United Kingdom has. American media need to be much more aware of what they say, because if they can`t prove what they wrote, they may be sued. In England, gossip magazines and even newspaper right just about whatever they think their readers will eat.`

Fortunately for both British and American people, traveling back and forth between the countries is relatively easy. Getting a working permit is more difficult, so many people are obliged to shape their opinions on the basis of TV programs and news coverage. But already that is largely sufficient for British people that they don`t consider themselves very similar to Americans.

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