‘Your problem is you are trying to be friends with Americans’ said one of my ex-pat Brit friends last week at lunch. Originally from
, she has been here 6 years and only has one American friend. We spent the weekend with a couple from Halifax who also endorsed this sentiment and they have been in the states 15 years. I was discussing the fact that even though I feel I have met some nice people who I would call friends here I do not feel I am myself with them. I feel the friendships are at a surface level which I don’t know how to move beyond. There is still a formality about the friendships I have here. Ireland
friend said that will always be the case because there is a ‘disconnect’ between Americans and British. She thinks it is because they lack humour (or certainly the same sense of humour). This doesn’t quite explain it for me. American comedy is hilarious. Some Americans clearly have a great sense of humour. I have discovered ‘Two and a half Men’ since I got here and it is very funny. I have always been a fan of Southpark and now I live here that seems funnier. I have experienced for real the episode that shows the fear of ‘pink eye’. I didn’t quite get it in the Halifax but say ‘pink eye’ here and it throws everyone into a frenzied panic. Schools go on lockdown, crowds disperse, and mothers run inside with their children and take cover… Pink eye is conjunctivitis! UK
I think the 'disconnect' between Americans and Brits comes from two things – inextricably linked – and that is being religious – believing God has chosen a path for you and you are special. This also ties in with the old puritan work ethic – you get what you deserve! Doesn’t help the needy in times of economic downturn when the better off think they are privileged because they are special to God and the needy are somehow sinful! Combined with this attitude is the whole belief of ‘Manifest Destiny’. In 1845, an article in the New York Post told Americans:
‘It is our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty’.
It was to encourage people to leave the eastern coast, go west and take over
. This of course ignored the fact that America already had an indigenous population, whose belief that land could not be owned left them wide open to white greed and exploitation. This fundamental belief that being American is their god given right gives an assuredness and lack of reflection that I don’t like. I don’t mean individual confidence – they are as likely as anyone else to have self doubt and ask ‘does my fanny look big in this?’ – And lets face it America is the home of self help books, therapy and plastic surgery. It is more an innate attitude of ‘I am American, therefore I am!’ America
I think this can be illustrated by looking at Hilary Clinton (not for too long though – it may hurt your eyes). She is not liked. She is assured and hard nosed and confident. Everything you want from a man in politics but people don’t like to see it in women. People are unnerved by her self control. For example, she held it together when Bill put his cigar in the wrong ashtray. She may have been more popular if she had gone on Oprah and cried. To make herself look softer, in a recent interview with Harpers bazaar, she talked about handbags. It doesn’t really work. She will still be considered a hard-faced bitch – but now with a pink bag! Me – I think this perception of her embodies that American arrogance and assuredness that I see to lesser and greater degrees in some people around me.
Blair and Bush had a ‘special relationship’ and connected. This could be because they both lacked a sense of humour but George Bush was a walking comedy show! I think it is more likely that Blair had his own version of ‘Manifest Destiny’ in his head – he knew he was special and chosen. Combined with his religious self righteousness he fitted right in there with Americans.
When I speak here I make complete generalisations. Individual Americans can be self depreciating, humorous and reflective but as a national psyche I feel there is an assuredness, lack of reflection and an inability to laugh at themselves that is unnerving. It will be a surprise to no one but the Americans when
has finally bought China on the stock market. Maybe then they will truly reflect on being special and the concept of Manifest Destiny and the negative effects it can have on a Nation! Perhaps you have to be ‘great’ and then lose it all, like the Brits, in order to be reflective... Everyone needs special friends then! America