So THAT’S what you think about Britain?

Being British in America can sometimes be akin to life as a happy-go-lucky labradoodle – everybody thinks you’re very sweet, but they don’t really understand you, and they’re often shocked to find out that you really do exist.

The problem is that as soon as you tell someone that you’re British, people jump to certain assumptions. As far as some Americans are concerned, everybody has met the Queen, and quite possibly have had tea with her. I know I still miss my weekly cup of darjeeling and occasional chocolate hobnob with Her Majesty, as do most expats I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve also met Harry Potter, David Beckham, or that kid from the Twilight movies.

For clarity’s sake, fish and chips is not the only food we Brits eat, contrary to popular opinion. We also eat black pudding on Tuesdays, and tripe on the second Sunday of every month.

And yes, absolutely every single one of us is stark raving posh. Whether we’re from a dilapidated estate in Newcastle, or a country pile in the home counties, each and every one of us was born with a plum and/or silver spoon in our mouth, and is the heir to a fortune built off the exploitation of children in the (former) colonies. Quite.

Of course, my insistence that “we’re just like you, you know” generally falls on deaf ears. And mostly that’s probably down to language. A lot of that might be our own fault. After all, if – as I did this weekend – you use the phrase “I’ve been running around like a blue arsed fly,” you’ve got to expect that people are going to regard you as being a bit different.

That said, Americans (whether cosmopolitan New Yorkers or sheltered West Virginians) love to perpetuate a stereotype as much as the next man, and never more so than when it comes to the British.

Last week, Metro newspaper published an article entitled “Be prepared for a second Brit invasion” regarding a marketing accord between London and New York, to drive locals in each city to visit the other one. Helpfully, Metro offered five “terms to know” for anyone hoping to either go to London, or understand the hordes of Brits apparently about to descend on New York. For your delight and edification, I list them below:

1. “Footie: Means football, as in “I’m off to watch the footie.”
If you’re a football fan, you should know that the first rule of being a football fan is “never refer to it as footie”. It’s marginally more acceptable than soccer, but only in the way that maiming is more socially acceptable than murder.

2. “Bladdered: Means drunk. ‘I am so bladdered, I couldn’t gargle another pint.'”
Words fail me. I have never once in 35 years heard someone use the phrase “gargle a pint”. Even Dick van Dyke would have rejected it as too unbelievable. The irony, of course, is that most American beer tastes worse than mouthwash.

3. “Meat and two veg: Slang for male genitalia.”
Now, I’m no expert, but I struggle to be able to think of a situation in which an American in London (or a New Yorker talking to a Brit over here) is going to need this phrase. Anyone believing that “fancy a sample of my meat and two veg” is part of the essential lexicon of love, with the ability to win the heart of a passing Brit faster than any Shakespearean sonnet, should probably think again.

4. “Trainspotter: A dork. The kind of guy who keeps a log book of train schedules. The British love their trains.”
Show me someone who believes that the British love their trains, and I will show you someone who has not been to Britain. The sad thing being that American trains make their British equivalent look world-class.

5. “Brad Pitt: rhyming slang for defecation.”
Maybe I missed a meeting, but last time I looked, rhyming slang for ‘defecation’ was Eartha Kitt. That’s showbusiness for you. And there was me thinking that Brad Pitt was rhyming slang for “actor with marginally less talent than he thinks, with a penchant for screwing leading ladies’.

So, if this Metro piece is to be believed, Brits spend all their time drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Or trains. Thanks for the resounding vote of confidence in our collective personality, guys!

Still, at least we don’t believe that universal healthcare means an inevitable march towards Hitler death camps, eh?

11 thoughts on “So THAT’S what you think about Britain?

  1. EiNY

    I agree wholeheartedly with all points, except 4.

    I know British people whinge about trains. But, let’s face it, British people whinge about everything: the food, the weather, politicians, the NHS (when they’re not defending it), the local team, etc.

    But really that’s just the British way of showing affection (for everything except the weather, which they do really hate).

    Let’s not forget, trainspotting is a uniquely British past-time. I remember trying to explain it a number of times when I lived in Russia and it always elicited a blank stare. (The film “Trainspotting,” by the way, was translated as “On the Needle” for Russian moviegoers.)

    A recently deceased member of our family was an avid trainspotter. He had hundreds of hours of videotape of trains, thousands of books, magazines and timetables, and no less than two large model railways.

    We gave the world Hornby!

    I rest my case.

  2. Expat Mum

    They’ve been watching Top Gear haven’t they? My 6 year old referred to his bits as “Gentleman Vegetables” the other day and when asked where he’d heard that, he blamed Hammond.

  3. IanB

    I called Lisa a “ratbag” once during a (light-hearted) exchange along the lines of “I was busy, you ratbag”.

    Halfway through my following sentence she suddenly said: “hang on a minute, did you just call me a ratbag?” 😀

    I also had the weird experience of my future-sister-in-law saying to me, in her broad Illinois accent: “hello love how are you”. Apparently she was ‘doing her Austin Powers accent’.

    Feel free to try “what a total spanner” on the New York populace – I suspect it may provoke as many quizzical looks as my more recent use of my father’s favourite phrase:- “he walks like the hairs on his arse are tied together”. 🙂

  4. Brooklyn

    “So, if this Metro piece is to be believed, Brits spend all their time drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Or trains.”

    The stereotype described above for male Brits (the football is the giveaway) cannot be viewed as a special insult to the “Brit” in Brit males.

    Except for the trains, the term (not the act) “shagging,” and the definition of “football,” isn’t that the stereotype of male Yanks?

    For that matter, aside from the trains and substituting “driking [wine]” for the “drinking [beer]” for Brits and Yanks, isn’t that stereotype of Italian males?

    (I think I see a pattern here.)

  5. Dylan

    To be fair, Brooklyn, I would like to think that – even as a British male – there is more to me than drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Much as I enjoy all of these activities, obviously.

  6. Brooklyn

    Actually, I do not like sports and don’t view drinking as a recreation in and of itself. This of course leaves more time for better uses of my time, namely, more intensive shagging, relaxed shitting, and, in lieu of watching sports, watching movies that “blow things up real good”(“Crank 2” anyone?).

    But my point was not that the description you objected to was accuate as to each and every Brit (including you), Yank (including me), Italian, Russian, Uzbek, Bolivian, etc. male, but that the stereotype of Brit males you descirbe is not a stereotype of Brit males as Brits, but a stereotype of males generally.

  7. Iota

    Last time I was having tea with the Queen, she kept insisting I had another cup, until I finally had to tell her

    “Ma’am I’m so bladdered, I couldn’t gargle another mouthful of the old bone china”.

    She seemed to understand, but then, she’s not American.

  8. NFAH

    Really, it’s just embarrassing whenever either culture tries to publish a short guide to the other. Better for people to just go out and figure it out for themselves.

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