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.
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.