Archive for the ‘britain’ Category
Most Americans – me included before I moved here – have a difficult time reading British “class” through accent and its other accoutrements. Sure, there’s My Fair Lady cockneyism on the one side and chinless Royal Familyism on the other, we can detect that, but between lies just a fast undifferentiated middle. Which of course not how British people hear it, not in the least, as they sniff each other out with the subtle discernment of dogs testing each others’ asses.
But on the other hand: Americans are completely indiscernable to Brits as well. They can’t detect the subtle differences of speech and gesture that mark the well-born or earned-through from the other sorts, and all the complicating and obsfucating play that goes on in between. But whereas Americans default to “rich and polished” when they hear Brits, I think Americans are assigned a lower and more ambiguous place in the eyes of my hosts here. The best analogy I can come up with for where we are placed is the way that Dante handles the virtuous non-Christians in Inferno. Greek philosophers and the like aren’t mixed into the bottom, not quite, but they don’t quite merit the middle berthing either.
They are placed in Limbo, for lack of anywhere else to settle them – technically in the game but ultimately not really.
The last few lines of Anthony Lane’s review in this week’s New Yorker of the new Harry Potter and, weirdly, Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop:
Place Iannucci’s work beside the new Harry Potter film, and you get a perplexing report on the corroded state of the British imagination. The choice appears to be between a soaring escape into fantasy, where the actions of a teen-ager can be loaded with universal portent, and a descent into the rat-run of moral contamination, where the policies of a government are pushed through on a ruse. So much denial and self-hatred, for a small country, and behind them both the aggrieved memory of lost influence: what hope is there for the return of the steady, tolerant gaze?
Ouch. I mean, if we read recent American films as indices of national psycho-aesthetic pathologies, I’m sure we could come up an equally dismal either/or. Further, I’m not sure I agree with Lane’s choices for the two possibilities. The second one seems right, but I’d replace the “soaring escape into fantasy” bit with “nostalgic self-sifting and record collecting, where the remembered teenaged self and its tastes and traumas are forever loaded with universal portent…”
Ha ha ha ha ha! British people watch The Wire with the subtitles on. So funny. Sometimes they tell me this, when they’re brave and confident, sometimes I just overhear it. Ha! My wife and I can’t get over that. Silly British people! It’s juss Baldimore, sheeeeeet.
Tonight, though, we watched the first hour of the first episode of the Red Riding triology on Channel 4, which is based on a series of novels by David Peace. Was excellent! Best British TV we’ve seen! But, um, the Yorkshiremen, wtf? It’s like barely a discernable language they’re speaking sometimes. * I provided semi-simultaneous non-translations (based on information gleaned from a review I read yesterday) that went something like Um, he’s being sarcastic, um, about the fact that the other guy, um used to work in London and I think this is, like, somewhere else.
* I understand that if a proper English person said this it might be construed as offensive. I can’t be offensive in this way, as I am luckily an American, and we weren’t around when the fights started. Or we left just after… Bad scene…. Happened to ask my class today why sometimes “tea” is, like, tea and sometimes it’s dinner. People got a little upset, tensions unusual at my uni flared up momentarily. It was refreshing but also scary. Try asking that question, Americans, when you’re working a room of class and geographically mixed Brits. It’s interesting! Preview: posh ones categorically deny that tea every means anything other than tea and biscuits. Other ones will respond, “yeah that’s because your grandparents ate more than one meal a day.” Sheeeeeeet.
Lordy. Where I used to work (which, admittedly, was just about the northernmost research university in the US, ok maybe the northeast), we once suffered from a “weather event” so severe that it destroyed every tree in the area, knocking out all electricity in this mid-sized city (and with it, in most cases, my case, heat, as the controls are electrical) for two weeks. It was severe enough that the roads were impassable for three days, not because of snow but because of enormous trees sprawled everywhere from sidewalk to sidewalk. I spent the first two days clearing my driveway with a handsaw (two of them actually, as the first one broke halfway through), walking to the single little store that was still open and negotiating for odd-sized diapers (you don’t have any in 3? ok I guess size 6 will do… Have any packing tape to go with that?) and cans of beans, and then finally, as the tinge of hypothermia started to settle in, decamping to another city to stay in the Hilton…. After all this, the university was still open, and we were warned via email not to miss work at risk of loss of pay. So I dutifully drove in from a hundred miles away, stopping each leg to visit the increasingly frozen cats who were still at home….
Today, London is completely clusterfucked as there has been something like three inches of snow. No one at the university knows whether it is open or closed, the website says nothing, so despite the fact that the buses aren’t running and I had to walk a mile or so to the underground, I did, and I am here, typing this in my office. I will, apparently, give a lecture to a mostly empty room in half-an-hour, a lecture that I will likely have to give again next week or sometime soon as no one can quite get their act together in the administration and definitively close or open the place.
The kids here get weirdly chippy in the snow – throw snowballs at women and cars and, it seems me. Which is a mistake as they don’t realize I’m American, was a college baseball recruit (starting pitcher, fastball in the mid-eighties), and have a fucking mean streak, especially when I’ve trudged into work in to apparently no good end only to get hit in the back by a ball of ice. This happens in America, but differently – college students will do it, but not really throw at bystanders, and anyone who throws at bystanders is generally pretty badass. It’s the whole MAD doctrine, old pistol-packing sub-ambience, I’ve mentioned before on here. At any rate, I throw back, aiming to hurt mildly, slightly maim.
Ah, a glimmer of light amidst it all. Just ran into the only cynically-minded colleague I have here, who basically agreed that people here are annoying with this. Not sure why it bothers me so much, but it really does. Deep-threaded cultural stuff. Strange, strange thoughts, never before thoughts, of Valley Forge, the winter there, the cold and the typhoid, with the redcoats warmly bedded in Philadelphia…
Moving abroad is a psychologically interesting thing to do, I’ll tell you….
1. At an American public Christmas festival filled with children’s activites and rides, there will be too few (that is, no) stands selling alcoholic beverages. Why such a problem with drinking?
At a British public Christmas festival filled with children’s activites and rides, there will be too many (today at Hyde Park, one out of three) stands selling alcoholic beverages. Why such a problem with drinking?
2. Americans are baffled and intimidated by these:
Britons are baffled and intimidated by these:
3. On a crowded subway train at rush hour in New York, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person B thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. But person B keeps his mouth shut about it, because to talk shit would be – by social mandate – to force person A to talk shit back, and thus to invite serious escalation.
On a crowded Underground train at rush hour in London, person B steps on person A’s toe or bumps person B thoughtlessly with his heavy computer bag. Person B feels license to begin grumbling and vaguely talking shit about person A, since – by social mandate – the surrounding passengers will immediately blame person A if he responds in kind in his own defense, even if he is clearly the innocent party from the first.