A nasty infestation of Brits

On my occasional trips back to the UK, there’s always one statement of presumed immutable fact that practically every person makes when they find that I live and work in New York. No, not “you must see movie stars on the streets everyday.” And not even “planes land in the river there, don’t they?” No, the one thing that appears to have become an indisputable truth is “oh they must love your English accent over there.”

Now, I wouldn’t say that I have the classic English tones of an upper class brat. I was brought up in the North-West after all, and the idea of saying something like “gr-arse” for that green stuff that you have a picnic on goes against everything I stand for. Nonetheless, nobody would ever have any trouble guessing where I was from. Well, apart from those Americans who have presumed I was Australian or Canadian, obviously.

But however English I may be (and to be honest, I’d rather be considered Welsh, but that’s another story), nobody really pays a tiny bit of attention to my accent anymore. Put simply, there are just too many Brits in New York. Once upon a time, on my first trips to the city to see The Matchmakers, my accent could turn heads, stop traffic and probably cure cancer. Now every fifth person you meet seems to be from ‘the old country’, and the novelty has definitely worn off for Brit-weary New Yorkers.

The general American attitude to Brits is not helped by the phenomenal success of our actors in blockbuster Hollywood movies. No gritty movie about disaster or the Holocaust is complete without Kate Winslet, and if you’re a producer in need a strong older woman to kick some scrawny American arseass, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you couldn’t get hold of the phone numbers for one of the damely duo, Dench or Mirren.

And then there’s the men. There is a requirement under American law that all action or superhero movies feature at least one British male, preferably in a lead role. If they can play the evil enemy, all the better. It’s a ruling that’s kept Jeremy Irons in Veuve Clicquot for many a year, I can tell you.

Like most women, it would appear, The Special One is particularly taken with swarthy British actors. She became particularly animated at Christmas during a discussion of the merits of Clive Owen, and had to be reminded of her own relationship status when bitterly rueing the fact that he appears to be “very married, sadly.”

And don’t even get me started on Daniel Craig. It’s one thing having a wife who has a soft spot for certain movie stars, but it’s a whole different story when you slowly realise that you are only your life partner’s second favourite person to come from your own home city.

Such is the omnipresence of British actors in movies these days that Americans have started claiming the British as their own. It’s a time honoured process that began with Cary Grant, and continues to this day. Even in my own house.

While watching The Dark Knight this weekend, The Special One and The Young Ones refused to believe that Christian Bale was British, necessitating much grumbling on my part and an eventual trip to Bale’s Wikipedia page.

Turns out that the crowd-sourced opinion of Wikipedia is that Christian Bale is a “Welsh-born English actor.” We Brits may be everywhere these days, our accents may count for little, and even our love of fish and chips doesn’t mark us out as special. But never let it be said that Americans are any closer to understanding a single thing about our geography, alright?

11 thoughts on “A nasty infestation of Brits

  1. Silverback

    As most non American snowbirds here (Florida) come from Canada, I’m with you on being ‘accused’ of being from that part of The Empire. Or Australia.

    But thankfully my UK accent still gets me noticed here in mostly Brit-free mid Florida and I’m sure gets me help with store refunds and exchanges and even extra meal portions (as if those are needed). Even twice getting out of speeding tickets.

    Now if only I could convince US friends that Hugh Laurie is NOT American I’d be stress free.

  2. Expat Mum

    Funny I was just thinking of this the other day. I used to be very self-conscious about the accent (also not RP) and tried to get in and out of shops without saying a word. I’m not sure whether Americans are more used to hearing Brits here (and there are quite a few in Chicago), or whether I just forget about it. The one thing that does piss me off though, is when people I hardly know start talking with a fake, (and really bad) English accent to me. I mean, how rude is that?

  3. IanB

    I may have the significant advantage here: Omaha appears to have no Brits in it…at all. In fact a brief foray into the Kansas City homeland of potential in-laws also proved to be relatively Brit free.

    Nebraskans appear to think a) I landed from outer space b) it’s OK to stare at me in Wal Mart and go all gooey-eyed, which, on reflection I did enjoy and c) did not once confuse me with Australians, unlike Parisians who I suspect do it just to wind up the British. Most mid-Westerners I met appeared to think I am The Queen’s personal emissary with an inexhaustible encyclopaedic knowledge of history and etiquette. Of particular interest in one question was “is it true that you’re not allowed to spit any of your food out whilst your eating in the presence of The Queen unless it is a shotgun pellet?”

    So far I have received free sausages, unwarranted adulation of Company VPs and unexpected urgent need-to-speak-now phone calls to provide background information and verification of historical facts surrounding the film “The Duchess”.

    With my father being a Geordie, my mother from Kent, a childhood upbringing in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire plus 15 years of living in Milton Keynes I do have a fairly universally American-friendly classic British accent. Oh, and unlike my fa-thur I say “gr-arse” when I see his “gras”. 🙂

  4. carrie

    Wouldn’t have that problem out West here… we don’t have enough if you ask me. I go years without hearing an accent other than my co-workers from the south on conference calls each day. 🙁

    I did notice during the last couple years of awards shows that pretty much everyone who was winning was a Brit. Then I started to realise that there were quite a few British actors playing American parts in American shows… Hugh Laurie, Anna Friel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Damian Lewis and on and on… And the surprising thing? They do an American accent much better than plenty of Americans 😉

    Interesting article on the topic… http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/05/arts/television/05acto.html

  5. Winifred

    I think they’ve been watching Love Actually and believing Kris Marshall!

    I’ve been wondering what Americans think of all these British actors’ accents. There’s certainly an invasion. In the past they’d never have them in films and TV.

    Have to say I can’t take Hugh Laurie seriously in House, I’ve watched Jeeves and Wooster too much recently. He’s much more believable as the upper class idiot Wooster.

  6. Sven

    You think you have it bad? I’ve met fewer Australians since liviing in Australia than I did in England. I could open a British consulate in my lounge. No one is interested in the Brits less than the aussies, as we’re a regular pandemic down here.

  7. Alasdair

    Sven – I thought the Bruces called the large numbers of sassenachs down-under a “Pomdemic” or a “Pomination” or something like that …

  8. Brit' Gal Sarah

    First of all I am so with the special one on Daniel – sorry! You need to be me for a week or two, then you’d see the reverse effect in the middle of nowhere. The local radio station has even named me ‘The Duchess’ and everytime I call in to win something they aanounce me and then impersonate me – so unfunny!

    Be glad for anonimity (spelling?)

  9. Sven

    Alasdair, I haven’t heard that yet. Mainly they just whinge about “immigrants” in general. Warms the soul, doesn’t it?

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