England according to an American / America according to an Anglophile
England according to an American
Please note that many of these are in jest, or at least are written with a love for all three countries I’ve lived in. There’s no need for the irate comments, emails or tweets I’ve received over the past few weeks (since this became popular on StumbleUpon again). Calm down, Internet peoples.
1) Everything in the UK can be accomplished via SMS, or text message. Government organisations don’t send you letters. They don’t even email. They bloody text you. It’s like this country is run by fifteen year olds, recently armed with pre-paid Nokia 5120s. It’s brilliant.
2) Brown sauce is, to the English, what yellow mustard is to Americans. Gratuitously added to everything and a complete mystery to most foreigners.
3) You’ll think you’ve settled in and have mastered the art of not saying bathroom, sidewalk, apartment or white-out, and then you’ll tell the woman at Farringdon station to put ten bucks on your Oyster card. She’ll look at you like you went to the bathroom on the sidewalk.
4) There is little more satisfying than a new £20 note. Something about the size of the note and the texture of the paper makes it blindingly obvious that it’s worth more than $20. Somehow, this isn’t so true for £10 and £5 notes. My favourites are the £20s. I would like to have lots and lots of them.
5) You really want to say quid, and when you do for the first time, you feel like a complete poseur. No one else notices.
6) No one in England can decide which side of the <s>sidewalk</s> pavement on which to walk. In America, we walked on the right. In New Zealand, we walked on the left. Here, it seems that a heavy European influence has confused everyone and everyone gets duly pissed off at those people not walking on the same side of the pavement as they are. I honestly don’t see what’s so difficult about the idea that one should walk on the same side of the pavement as one drives on the road.
7) When in Rome, jaywalk like the Romans. It’s illegal to jaywalk in Seattle, so I never did it, and I didn’t like it when other people did it, especially in front of my car. In London, jaywalking is a sport, based solely on survival of the fittest. You’re never going to get to cross the road if you wait for the lights to change, so you’d better be really good at running in your knee-high boots.
8 ) Anti-Americanism is far worse than I ever thought it was. I guess they don’t say it to you—Americans—but they say it to me. People here ‘hate Yanks’. I try to explain that there are 300 million people in the United States and that not all of them embody the negative national stereotype that seems to define the modern ‘Yank’. Some of my best friends are American. They’re great people. However, if I ever use an example of something specific to the United States, the opinion is met with disdain. I am considering replacing ‘America’ with any other country from now on, just to gauge the different reaction. For the love of Christ, England (and the rest of you): the United States isn’t a bad place and it isn’t filled with bad people. The ironic thing about this anti-Americanism is that it sometimes comes from people who also regard Americans as some of their best friends. This somewhat mirrors how Americans can see Brits as stuffy, humourless monarchists, yet simultaneously adore Eddie Izzard.
9) Just being away from the United States makes you skinnier. Saturated fat appears to have escaped into the air in America. Here, you can eat fish and chips and pies and drink London Pride for days on end and wander around in skinny jeans. I have no other explanation for this besides ‘magic’.
10) Remember all those contracts everyone made you sign for absolutely everything in the States? No, we don’t have those.
11) Remember cheques? No, we don’t have those either. Because it’s 2009. For God’s sake, America. Keep up.
12) How to break up a phone number is a political issue. Whereas in the States, we’re all basically agreed upon (206) 555-1234, there is serious debate here over where the brackets should go and where the breaks should be. I assume that you have to have been born British to understand why this is important.
13) In the country that brought us Top Gear, there is no need to own a car if you live in a city. In fact, owning a car here in central London would be a burden. Owning anything more than feet and an Oyster card is superfluous when you live within ten minutes of High Holborn and eight-hundred metres of two tube stations.
14) The fact that the BBC has no ads is great, save for one thing: the toilet. Sixty straight minutes of Top Gear means that they better have a D-list star in the reasonably priced car, because that’s the only time you’re going to be able to sneak away to the loo.
15) Chavs. What’s that all about?
16) Any question regarding human nature can be answered by either:
1. That’s blokes for you; or
2. That’s birds for you
Nothing more needs to be said following either of those two statements. Everyone drinks beer.
17) Even though you feel like a dick for doing so, you smile a little every time Kanye West sings ‘we the hottest in the world right now / just touched down in London town’.
18 ) This is considered fast food. See: England making you skinnier.
19) The English never tire of hearing Americans (and New Zealanders) talk about their ‘pants’.
20) The washing machine is in the kitchen. I’ve had a washing machine in my kitchen for six weeks now, so it no longer seems odd to me; however, upon arriving in this country, the idea of washing my clothes next to my dishes was very strange. The washing machine usually goes in the bathroom or in a room of its own in the U.S. Don’t try to debate the issue with people of either nationality: the argument is about as intelligent as the one about where breaks should come in phone numbers.
21) Jeep Cherokees are the largest cars on the road. The smallest cars on the road are smaller than American motorcycles.
22) As appears to be the case across Europe, asking for water in a restaurant is not enough. You must specify whether you want bottled or tap water. Despite London water tasting like liquid magic, somehow asking for tap water sounds like you’re going to get something warm that smells of chlorine.
23) After six years in the United States, I still feel the need to affect an American accent when on the phone to strangers, or whilst ordering things in a loud restaurant or bar. The latter situation came about after years of being misunderstood when I ordered a drink of ‘wortah’. The former has me rolling my ‘r’s on the phone, sounding like a cross between Madonna and Anna Paquin.
24) Mobile. Fucking. Broadband.
25) People in the UK who don’t live in Seattle think that the skyline from Frasier is real.
26) Despite a close proximity to Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is far less annoying in England because everybody doesn’t think they’re Irish.
27) Both here and in America, things go tits up and it’s bad. However, in the UK, things are the tits and it’s good.
America according to an Anglophile
There comes a point after making any irreversible life decision – usually a couple of weeks in – where one of two things hits you. Either a feeling of euphoric disbelief that you didn’t made the decision sooner, or a gutting realisation that you’ve made such a gargantuan error that no number of mitigating factors will ever douse the flames of regret tearing through your brain. You’re on a road to either heaven or hell, but either way there’s no turning back.
My own moment of realisation came this past Sunday, at a little under 90mph, with Rob Dougan’s Clubbed To Death cranked up to 11, just after Scott and I had pulled on to the Pacific Coast Highway in our (borrowed) convertible Porsche Boxster. We’d just had brunch at Buck’s in Woodside and were heading down the coast for no reason apart from to enjoy the clear skies and the view. Glancing down at the date on my phone, it suddenly occurred to me that a year ago – very nearly to the day – I was on this exact same road, driving an equally convertible 1971 Dodge Challenger from LA to San Diego for ETech. And I couldn’t believe it had taken me 12 whole months to decide to move here.
Back in January, I wrote about my sadness at leaving America – and San Francisco in particular – just as Barack Obama was elected president and America entered its biggest period of uncertainty since Khrushchev asked Castro what the parking was like in downtown San Cristóbal. A few weeks later my agent (a thing it’s impossible to have without sounding like a wanker) called to say that the deal for my next book had finally been agreed – a development which meant I’d have to stop gallivanting around the world for a while and settle in one place to get some serious writing done. From that point, the decision stopped being a decision at all – and from phone call to interview at Grosvenor Square to visa to arriving at SFO last Monday with my trusty suitcase on wheels, my journey took less than a fortnight.
I realise of course the news that I’ll be based here for the foreseeable future will come as a huge disappointment to those who were looking forward to an update on Iceland’s ant population. To those who are actually interested in technology, though, it should hopefully be good news. San Francisco is a technophile’s waking wet dream; a 24-hour nocturnal emission of innovation and electronic enthusiasm. And to a transplanted Brit, the sense of wonder is even greater when you realise that the cool services and products you’ve only read about on Techcrunch or Twitter – the Hulu, the Kindle 2, the Tesla Roadster – are actually available here. It’s like suddenly getting a visa to live in Minority Report or Back to the Future II. Except for the hoverboards. There are still no fucking hoverboards.
But relocating the column here for a while also poses a risk. A risk that I’ll spend the rest of the year playing the “stranger in a strange land / innocent abroad / legal alien” card, totally ignoring new developments in technology and instead centring each column on a trite but mildly jolly UK vs US observation, like some kind of wide-eyed, less jocular techno Bill Bryson. A hideous prospect, I’m sure you’ll agree, and one I’m keen to avoid.
So, instead, I’ve decided to get it all out of my system in one go – to list all 41 trite observations, one for each remaining week of the year, in a single column. A column which, having been written, I hope we can all take as read.
Ready? Here goes…
“One of the things I’ve noticed since I arrived in America is…”
1) At some point in the country’s linguistic development they apparently decided that herbs should be pronounced as “erbs” and fillet as “fill-ay”, like French people do. To compensate for this, they call a cafetiere a “French press” and a croissant a “crescent roll”.
2) There is nothing funnier than watching an American order a Cockburn’s after dinner.
3) Turns out Hulu in this country isn’t just an error message, but actually a really cool and easy way to watch TV shows and films for free.
4) Unfortunately, like American network TV, Hulu is interrupted by adverts every 10 nano seconds. I miss iPlayer.
5) Each hour of American television can be broken down as follows: 10 minutes of commercials for junk food, 10 minutes of commercials for prescription medication (which can be further broken down into one minute of benefits, nine of side-effects), 10 minutes of commercials for lawyers who can help you claw back money to pay for more junk food and medication, 13 minutes of an announcer telling you what you are currently watching, 13 minutes of an announcer telling you what’s “up next”, two minutes of cop show re-runs, two minutes of a family-based cartoon series.
6) The exception to the above is HBO which is 60 full minutes of promotion for their upcoming Will Farrell live special.
7) Seeing BBC.co.uk with ads is like seeing your dad giving Satan a reacharound.
8) Opening a bank account in this country – even if you’re not a citizen – is a joy. Ten minutes, two forms of ID, in and out. And when you walk through the door, a nice lady says hello to you. This is very unsettling.
9) They also set up internet banking and your ATM Pin while you wait. To a former Barclays customer, this is like witnessing magic.
10) If anyone’s looking for all the chrome, it’s on the fire engines.
11) Apparently there is a newspaper in the world called “The London Times”.
12) And tea can be served with cream.
13) Tea served with cream tastes like a baby has been sick in it.
14) A few days after I arrived I found myself having dinner with both Michael Arrington and Loic LeMeur. At any given San Francisco event, there’s an 90% chance you’ll run into someone you felt quite comfortable mocking from the safety of London.
15) Fortunately, Americans do have a sense of humour.
16) Except when it comes to sarcasm which must always be followed by the words “I’m kidding”.
17) Perhaps in response to the fact that I keep giving cab drivers $50 bills instead of $5s, the US treasury has slowly started to add tiny flashes of colour to distinguish between different denominations of bill. At the current rate, money will be full colour by 2096, like the world’s longest remake of Pleasantville.
18) For some reason, when San Francisco shopkeepers or bartenders hear a British accent, they feel the need to use the word “cheers” instead of “thanks”. This sounds as weird as a Brit using “bucks” as slang for dollars or an Australian speaking French.
19) Cab drivers in San Francisco have no idea where anything is. If you asked one to drive you to one end of the road and back again, you’d still have to tell him the cross-street.
20) But even if you made that journey back and forth ’til the end of time, it would only cost you less than taking a black cab down Oxford Street.
21) Even using a British debit card, and with the pound in the toilet, you can still fill up a Porsche Boxster and have change from 30 quid.
22) Over here the pound is actually “using the restroom”.
23) American service is astonishing. You could give a labrador puppy a handjob with a Prozac glove and it still wouldn’t be as pleased to see you as the staff of the Leland Tea shop on Bush Street.
24) There are more than 80,000 kinds of American toast, 700 ways to cook an American egg but only one way to make American bacon. And it isn’t pretty.
25) In restaurants, it is impossible to finish a glass of water before it’s refilled. The state of California is permanently in the grip of a water shortage. No one seems to have connected these facts.
26) Free universal healthcare is tantamount to Communism. Free soft drink refills are a basic human right.
27) Newcastle Brown Ale is a delicacy.
28) The announcement this week that the Guardian is opening up all of its content back to 1999 to developers, while American newspapers openly discuss circling the pay-per-view wagons, makes me proud that I write for a newspaper owed by a charitable trust in a “socialist” country.
29) The ability to receive Twitter updates by text message has finally introduced America to the magic of SMS – a technology the rest of the world took for granted by 1998.
30) Adoption of new technology here is highly selective. Minicab drivers have Priuses, hookers accept PayPal but the idea of a three-pin plug is only just beginning to catch on.
31) The Onion newspaper’s headlines are brilliantly satirical, but the body of its editorial often stretches the joke into unfunniness. The Fox News Channel does the exact opposite. Both are still wonderful.
32) You must immediately look up the “ShamWow” commercial on Youtube. You’re welcome.
33) The Kindle 2 knocks the Sony Reader into a cocked hat. Unfortunately, thanks to the ridiculous anachronism that is territorial publishing rights, the rest of the world will just have to take my word for that.
34) Ask someone in Cupertino to name a British rock star and chances are they’ll say Jonathan Ive.
35) Almost no one here has heard of Father Ted, Jonathan Creek, Yes Minister or Blackadder. And yet they can all hum the Benny Hill theme tune.
36) Russell Brand and “bell-end”: over here, it turns out neither are synonyms for a bit of a cock.
37) Thanks to the movie, when you mention David Frost to an American, they picture Tony Blair doing an impression of Austin Powers.
38) If you want to stun an American, forget about using a tazer – just ask “who the fuck is Mr Rogers?”
39) Julie Myerson, European football, Palestinians: just three of the things the media here doesn’t give a toss about.
40) Over here, Wolfram Alpha will be considered a British success story like Bebo, Last.fm and WWII are. Which is to say that the Americans will claim that, without them, it would all be coded in German.
41) “Double the tax” sounds simple but only natural born Americans will ever understand the rules of tipping. See also: American football.
“…I mean what’s that about?”
There! All done! Now I can get on with the important business of making enemies of Valley entrepreneurs and getting drunk at American tech events, starting next week with South By South West in Austin, unfettered by the need to mention any of the above ever again.
Well, except for the ‘erbs thing.
I mean, seriously.