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Ten things Americans don't know about England
1 • English people don't all know each other
England has a population of around 60 million people. If each English person met one other every hour, without sleeping, we would all live until we were 6,868 years old. Still, I heard many times how, when visiting America, English people would be asked if they knew some people in London (population 7 million = 801 years). This childlike optimism is charming, or 'quaint'. I put these stories down to urban myth until I visited Louisiana around 20 years ago.
I was invited to a chicken drop and introduced to everyone in the bar as 'Chris, from London'. It was easier to go along with this, rather than confusing the geographically challenged to the idea of Leigh-on-Sea, where I live, which is actually 40 miles away from London. This is almost one hour's journey. A long distance to the English, but just a couple of blocks to a Texan.
In the toilet, or confusingly, bathroom (where's the bath?), a tall guy in a Stetson hat came and stood at the next urinal.
"So, you're the guy from London, huh?" he asked in a deep, threatening tone. OK, I'm sorry about the War of Independence, and bothering y'all to help out in World War II, and anything else we might have done.
"Yeh," I gulped.
"I know a couple of people, live in Birm-ing-ham. You might know them."
Wow. It was all true. A cowboy in a Stetson, asking if I knew his friends who lived in a city of 5.3 million people (606 years). Unfortunately, my friend only knew their first names, and had no idea of their address, so it was a bit of a long shot. Still, no harm in asking.
2 • England is not London
"The guy from London, huh?" Well, it's an easy mistake to make. As the majority of Americans never leave the country, why bother learning about other places. And why should they ever leave? America seems to have everything you could want, and everyone speaks English, or their version of it, except for immigrants. It rankles with us English people, because we are just next to Europe, where there are many other countries, and many foreign languages, some of which we are taught about at school. But as everyone in the world speaks English, even if French people pretend they don't, so we don't learn them much
London is also the only English city which most Europeans could name. This is fair enough. Visitors fall into two groups – business and pleasure. If anyone's coming to England for business, it will be to London, and it's no surprise that the world's busiest airport, Heathrow, is conveniently situated just 15 laborious, frustrating, traffic-choked miles from the centre of the capital.
Tourists, having only heard of London, will also arrive in the capital. Thinking that London is like a village, they will attempt to visit every famous landmark in one day, from the Tower of London to Big Ben to Buckingham Palace, stopping only to pause at traditional English attractions such as Starbuck's, McDonald's and the Hard Rock Cafe.
The more adventurous will perhaps visit Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, or even Scotland.
3 • Britain is not England
"You British, or English, or Australian, or something?" asked the guy in the electrical store in Louisiana. Couldn't blame him, really. Probably the only English voice he had heard in his life was that of a British actor, or Dick Van Dyke.
All mothers are women, but not all women are mothers. Similarly, all English people are British, but not all British people are English. England is bordered by two smaller, less populated countries, Scotland and Wales.
People from these countries have an inferiority complex, which manifests itself as a real or contrived hatred of the English. But wouldn't you? After having your tribal traditions and land usurped over many centuries by the big bully next door, wouldn't you feel a little bitter? Plus, England always beats Scotland and Wales at football and cricket. Not always at rugby, though, because rugby is a violent game which needs no thought, just a readiness to gouge, kick, butt and punch opponents, under the watchful eye of a sympathetic referee, from an impartial country. Impartial country in theory, but not impartial in person. because wherever he is from it is bound to be a country where people also hate the English.
Recently, both Scotland and Wales were granted the right, by the English, to have their own national assemblies, with the power to pass legislation. However, all this is overseen by the English.
So, that's Britain. But what about Ireland? Northern Ireland is not part of Britain. It is part of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. Although it is part of an island called Ireland, it is not part of Ireland, or Southern Ireland, or Eire. This is the other part of the island called Ireland and is not part of the United Kingdom. People in some parts of Southern Ireland hate the English because they want Northern Ireland to be part of Southern Ireland, but the people of Northern Ireland mostly want to stay as they are, where they are. This problem, with typical Irish alacrity, has been going on for centuries.
Easy solution, you might think, to have Northern Ireland play Southern Ireland at rugby until there's one man standing. Trouble is, with typical Irish logic, both countries play for the combined Irish team.
4 • Football is not soccer
Football is a game played with a ball. And feet. The ball cannot be handled, except by a privileged man on each team, known as The Goalkeeper. He is a special man, the only man on the pitch (the official name for the area of grass on which the footballers play), who is allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Apart from The Goalkeeper, none of the other players are allowed to touch the ball with their hands. They are only allowed to move the ball with their feet. Or chests, legs, heads, groin area. Any part of their body except their hands. Clear?
'Soccer' is a childish abbreviation of Association Football, which is how football became known, after the Football Association was formed in 1863.
Say English 'football' to an American, and they will reply: "Oh, you mean sooooccer."
No. Football is a game where the players use their feet in more ways than one, such as kicking the ball or accidentally kicking other players. Sometimes players on the opposing team. But only with their feet.
That is why it is often described in terpsichorean terms, now slow, now really fast, stop, spin it, arc it, dance past the leaden-footed defenders, curving a 40-yard pass which lands on a team-mate's toe, chess moves, thinking ahead, thinking at the moment.
In America, there is something called American Football, which is only played in America. If there was a World Cup of American Football, which country would win?
American Football, an ugly game played by players/actors wearing more safety equipment than any daredevil motorcyclist, is, to English observers, a product. If the advertising disappeared, who would bother with it? To call it football is like comparing the cheese in a cheeseburger to a slice of mature farmhouse English cheddar. More cheese later.
American Football, to the distant English observer, is a joke. The actors, sorry, players, run around for two minutes, at most, holding the ball with their hands, then all fall in a heap, similar to rugby. Then they have to stop for Bud Lite commercials. There is no beauty, just a four-hour rummage. No kicking the ball to each other. Hardly any kicking at all.
Many English football fans were pleased that the 1994 World Cup was staged in America. Maybe America, with its huge population, would really get into this sport and forsake the commercially-mental American Football. The whole world over would be together. But no. It's a simple game, football. There's too little to sell, only the big names. "Beck-ham and his popwife, huh?"
American sport is ridiculously insular, more insular than in a tiny island like Britain. It does not recognize the rest of the world. When the Olympics Games are show on TV in America, cameras focus only on the American competitors.
The World Series?The daft up-n-down of basketball – just be tall to succeed. Only in America.
5 • Not everything in England is soooo old
I hope you're not talking about my mum.
There are no man-made structures in America which date back more than 400 years. In England, there's so much ancient stuff everywhere, a 14th century building here, a Saxon burial site there, we're used to it.
But American history, to the European invaders' ancestors, started in 1620: before that, before Europeans took control, there was nothing. Indigenous, or Native, or whatever the current sheepish term is for the people who owned America pre-1620, would disagree. America has the same geological history as anywhere in Europe, or the rest of the planet. How can you own land? A piece of the Earth? But we all do, or we live on a piece of earth owned by somebody else. Australian Aborigines have the perfect answer, after thousands and thousands of years not going anywhere else, because they belong to the land.
We are all standing on bits of the planet which are old. The word 'old' has many meanings, but here we will use it as "before my grasp of my own history." Your dad is old. Your kids think you are old.
The first bit of Old was when the universe started; to an average American, history started when America began. Old was Past, and Present is when I became.
So how say England is old? Because of the stories, it's known history stretching back a couple of thousand years. And that's just humans.
So what do tourists do when faced with all this Old? Whip out the camera, of course, unless you are a Japanese tourist, because they never put their cameras away long enough to whip them out. Then on to the next bit of Old. No research, no story to follow, just open-mouthed wonder at the Oldness. There are books and books and books about each Old place in London, and, imagine, there are other buildings even older than the ones on the tourist list.
Right. That box is ticked. Instantly forgotten, until they get back home and invite the neighbours to see a slideshow projected from laptop to plasma TV. "Yup, that's some other place in London, England. It was soooo old."
Next it's Westminster Abbey, St Paul's cathedral and we'll finish at London's oldest branch of Starbuck's.
England has a massive history. So much has gone on in England that it's impossible to take it all in, so historians dedicate a lifetime to just one small area: the Elizabethans; crop rotation in the 1300s; the romantic poets of the Industrial Revolution. Just one of these niches would take a lifetime to impart to anybody else, so the historian would have to be granted another lifetime.
It's not a better or worse history than anywhere else, not longer than a lot of places, it just is what it is. Old doesn't necessarily mean of great interest. What's more interesting: the depressing, one-dimensional works of Victorian miseryguts Charles Dickens, or the internet?
In Louisiana, I was shown a building which had stood since, wait for it ... 1810. In English terms, this would equate to around a thousand years, so in that respect, it's quite impressive. An Englishman would not be impressed. His own house could well be older. This demonstrates American pride in its own foundation, because its history is condensed and magnified at the same time.
6 • Not everything in England is small
England has some of the biggest things in the world. For instance, the world's longest pleasure pier is at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, a massive one-and-three-quarter miles long. Yes, impressive, isn't it? England also has the highest, that is biggest, unmarried teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. And Mini Minors are the only Minis, therefore no other Mini can be larger, so English Minis must be the biggest Minis in the world.
I met an American who thought Minis were a joke. She didn't laugh, like they were a pathetic joke, but really thought that they were from a cartoon, or a kids' TV show. "They're so small," she laughed, but in a kind way, seeing her first one. We don't need 12-foot fins on the back, I argued. What's wrong with only utility chrome? If you need, really need, a boot (trunk) that you can fit your house into, buy a lorry (truck).
Is big better? If so, why? A bigger beer belly? A bigger tumour? A bigger sense of self-importance?
7 • Not everyone in England wears a bowler hat
You must be joking. The wearing of bowler hats was officially banned by the British government in 1967. Prime Minister Harold Wilson, in an ill-judged attempt to win the hearts and minds of the young people of Britain, awarded medals to the Beatles, while realising that swinging Carnaby Street was where it was at.
The country's fuddy-duddy image was to be replaced by something more modern. The perceived height of fuddy-duddiness at the time was that of the pin-striped, brolly-(umbrella) carrying, bowler-hatted City gent, briefcase in one hand with a folded copy of The Times under his arm. The white heat of technology was melting the dry timbers of outdated thinking, but thinking wasn't everyone's cup of tea. After all, the nation's biggest selling newspaper has pictures of girls' tits (hooters) in it.
No, the government realised, a visual statement would have much, much more impact than a convincing argument regarding the huge benefits of modernity. The Prime Minister set up a think-tank to investigate the best possible appointees to a committee to oversee the bodies of consultants who, in turn, would delegate to some of the finest brains in the Civil Service the task of delivering the best possible visual message.
After many months of meetings, during which some new-fangled 'brainstorming' sessions were rumoured to have taken place, the way forward was signposted.
Taking its cue from the Women's Lib movement's successful Ban The Bra campaign, Wilson's government announced the Burn The Bowler initiative. Of course, hat-related acts of arson could not be condoned by leading political figures, so undercover government agents infiltrated bars in the City of London, recruiting anyone who they suspected to rebel against aspects of fuddy-duddiness. Other agents, under cover of darkness, left Burn The Bowler graffiti around the capital.
Sadly, the campaign inspired previously unconscious pyromaniac thoughts in many commuters. Trains to and from Waterloo, Charing Cross and Liverpool Street were beset by hold-ups as arsonists poured petrol into the brims of any bowler hats worn by City gents and ignited them. Chaos ensued across the national rail network, but things began to return to normal in May 1968, when the last bowler hat was ceremoniously burned on stage by Mick Jagger at a free concert by the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, London. Jagger then released some dead butterflies from a box, as a mark of respect.
8 • England is not cold all the time
England is cold some of the time, but so was your junior school teacher. He or she, let's say she, because most junior school teachers are female, because small children are more comfortable with a sort of surrogate mum [mom]. rather than a bloke [guy] who could well be a disgusting pervert, as is any bloke [guy] who talks to children these days, even if he is their father. Family members are the worst. Statistically.
Everywhere is cold some of the time. To say that England is always cold, or it always rains, is like saying that all presidents of America are inbred Texan retards who are unable to speak English [American English], or read a speech written in really large letters from a choice of three autocues.
When we say 'Cold', or 'Old', these are comparative terms. Like fat. A fat person, say one who only eats food which is cooked by somebody else, by business necessity made from cheaper ingredients supplemented with salt, sugar and processed godknowswhat, is no fatter than the next fat person on the same diet. However, if one of these two grotesque ugly overweight people decides to walk to the fast death, sorry, fast food place two doors away, instead of telephoning their usual order of greaseburger with added grease topping and Freedom Grease Fries to be delivered, this person may actually lose some calories. Before ingesting many, many more.
So one fat person is not as fat as the other fat person. Similarly, a less fat, or obese person is not as revoltingly wobbly as the first two blubberyards whom we met previously. But still fat. However, a fourth person, who weighs 37 stone [518 pounds] can reasonably be called a disgusting fat pig by the pair of comparatively slim people who we first met, and by the next, slightly less but still unbelievably fat, obese person.
So. England is cold all the time, if you live in Abu Dhabi, or Death Valley, America, or in a funny world in your own head (you are actually in a secure institution, but don't let this rubbish spoil your fun). England is warm all the time if you live on one of the poles, or indeed if you are one of the Poles.
You could be forgiven for thinking that England was a rainy country where everyone wore wellington boots, if you lived in one of the great deserts of the world. You might feel some resentment if you had been praying or dancing for rain, or singing that great Temptations song, I Wish it Would Rain, sitting in an arid wilderness, watching Last of the Summer Wine [English television programme about people who live somewhere in England where it always rains]. Yes, it rains more in England than any desert.
People who live in rain forests sheltering under those huge leaves, watching repeats [re-runs] of Last of the Summer Wine [they are all repeats/re-runs] laugh bitterly and turn to each other: "Rain? Call that rain? You're 'avin' a laugh [I think you're joking, buddy].
England is cold. England is rainy. Sometimes. If you don't like cold or rain, I can recommend Mars.
9 • Not all English guys are fags
Fag, in English, means the last part of a cigarette. OK, I'm being pedantic. What you mean is that every man in England is a homosexual, with no interest in women. Well, I must tell the truth. For the last 2,000 years, English women have been artificially inseminated by various methods using sheep's bladders, oxtail semen collectors, walrus gumboots and squirrels' nutkins. No proper English bloke [guy] would sully his hands on a disgusting woman. Oh! The very thought, dahling.
All English men are all homosexual. And so are their mothers. None of them have any interest in women. A few are inclined to some manly pursuits, such as knitting or iron foundry work, but the majority choose to spend their time making pornographic videos for the internet. This has been well documented for the last 2,000 years.
This tradition carried on very pleasantly until around 1620, when a young English man named Colin Colombus became bored of the constant ache in his back passage, and curious about the dumpling shapes in the front of girls' dresses, sailed away in search of a better life.
Arriving in what is now known as America, although Colin Colombus wanted to call it Bigcuddlytit [hooter] land, the brave mariner went forth and sowed his seed with the native maidens, while sowing nasty tales of perversion back in England.
Sadly for the English, Colin had left the country for good. London, England was destined to be gay for good. Although all the gays moved to Brighton, except for those banished to the Houses of Parliament [Congress]. And the tradition of English fagism continues to this day.
The authors hope that this has explained why every single man in a country of 60 million people is homosexual.
10 • England is not quaint
Quaint. There is no such word. Well, it is a word, but one of those annoying nebulous words which people utter without thinking. Like 'nice'. Or 'charmed', when two strangers are introduced. How do you know they are charming if you've only just met them? They could appear charming and then turn out like all the rest of those selfish pigs.
Whenever I hear 'quaint' (which no English people ever say) it makes me think of an idyllic scene in the English countryside. And there's enough of it. Tea is always involved. The quaint Beatrix Potter Visitor Centre Tea Rooms, the quaint English Fag Museum Tea Rooms, Brighton, the quaint Bowler Hat Pyromemorial Centre Hot Tea Annexe. Do you see? England is surrounded by water, except for the bits where it is surrounded by Scotland or Wales, but it is flooded in tea.
This (No I won't say 'quintessenially', it's so over-used. What about typical? Quasitypical. Genre-defining? All-encompassing? Wet? Sod it.) quintessentially English drink is not even English. It might come from China or India or Ceylon which is now called Sri Lanka which is now called 'where we fled from' by some former residents. But it's not from England.
There is nothing more 'English' than a cup of tea. However, there is no such thing as a cup of tea. It's always a 'nice' cup of tea. If you are reading this from one of England's former colonies and are planning to visit England, be sure to put the phrase 'nice cup of tea' into your digitranslate-o-book.
If somebody asks you if you would like a cup of tea, leave the room as soon as possible. If somebody asks you if you would like a nice cup of tea, stay put and look forward to a nice cup of tea. Half-way through the nice cup of tea, you will appreciate the inclusion of the adjective.
And that's what England isn't. Not all of the above.
If you want to know what England is, read JB Priestley's English Journey. Although it was written 76 years ago, this is a record of what England will always be.
If you want to know more about England, come and visit. But avoid London.