Ten things we can learn about life from American sitcoms

Though my first visit to the United States wasn’t until I’d reached my 20s, I think it’s fair to say that I thought I knew a fair amount about the country through the years of watching American TV. From Newhart to Chips, US telly played an unquestionable (although on some level, highly questionable) role in my cultural upbringing.

More than anything, it was US sitcoms that I loved. Whether it was Willis in Diff’rent Strokes, Balki in Perfect Strangers, or Becky in Roseanne, I took deep into my life the characters that appeared on my screen every week. And to be fair, I think that they – and many others – taught me some valuable lessons and principles about life in America:

If you spend a substantial period of your life in the same bar, there is the distinct likelihood that everybody will know your name (Shelley Long is the exception that now proves this rule). Unfortunately, such heavy drinking may mean that you are no longer capable of remembering your own name.

The Golden Girls
If one of your best friends throws a party, you should not spend time carefully planning what to buy as a present. As long as the host sees that the biggest gift comes from you (and you attach a card with a casual inanity such as “thank you for being a friend”) you should be fine. Oh, and old ladies can be sexually active too, apparently.

Being a neurotic obsessive who is incapable of commitment doesn’t stop you from pulling women if you are a popular comedian. Being a short lackey in the employ of a baseball team is slightly more limiting.

Close pals do not need to worry about calling each other to check if it’s OK for them to turn up at an acquaintance’s house. They just roll up and let themselves in. Despite all the frequent comings and goings, and the constant crossing of the corridor between your apartments, you will never once be accused of being free loving swingers by your neighbours. Not to your face, at least.

The Cosby Show
If you’re a successful doctor and you’re married to a successful lawyer, and you live in New York City, you will still not earn enough money to live somewhere where two of your kids don’t have to share a room.

Happy Days
If you can make a jukebox play merely by hitting it, you are guaranteed sex. Even if your real name is Arthur.

Will & Grace
Having an incredibly irritating voice should never be seen as a barrier to success if you’re an actress (cf ‘The Nanny’).

Fathers can be the most down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness people, and their sons can still turn out like unconscionable pricks. If Fraiser had been my son, I’d have known exactly what to do with that tossed salad and scrambled eggs, and I can absolutely promise you that it would have taken at least ten years of extensive psychotherapy for him to erase the memory.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
If you were born and raised on the streets of West Philadelphia, and a couple of guys (who were up to no good) started making trouble in your neighbourhood, your mother’s idea of punishment will be to send you to live in one of the most expensive areas of the United States. Not only that, despite Los Angeles being 2,712 miles away, she’ll send you from the ghetto in a taxi. Approximate cost – $7,250.

Mork & Mindy
Moving to New York from London is broadly similar to landing on Earth in an egg-shaped spacecraft from the planet Ork. Sadly, greeting staff in New York delis with the words “Na-Nu Na-Nu” does not go down well. And I should know. Shazbot.

4 thoughts on “Ten things we can learn about life from American sitcoms

  1. Cocktails

    What I learnt from American sitcoms is that all American boys are cute. Ricky Schroder, Jason Bateman, Michael J. Fox, Fred Savage, Kirk Cameron, Will Smith, Scott Baio… sigh…

    Sadly, a subsequent visit to the States proved to be a bit of a let down in this area.

  2. Brooklyn

    You could do a whole column on lessons about NYC from sitcoms. Here are just a few:

    1. Young people with marginal incomes can afford spacious apartments, including amenities like a skylight and terrace. (Seinfeld being a notable exception.)

    2. You can always get a parking spot right in front of your destination without having to cruise.

    3. The subway is used rarely.

    4. Every cop and prosecuting attorney can spend as much time as he or she wants on one case until it is solved or a final judgment is rendered.

  3. that Girl39

    I’d be interested to hear your take on Gossip Girl, Dirty Sexy Money and Lipstick Jungle! Please don’t tell me they’re not real…..

  4. Expat Mum

    Funny – I used to wonder exactly that about Frasier. They never did explain what happened in their childhood to make them as pretentious as they were. Perhaps they were adopted and only found the dad in thir late twenties?

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