Monday, July 12, 2010

Anthropological Observations

Once again I've found it difficult to make time for blogging. My apologies, faithful readers.

This is my 6th or 7th time in England and I think I'm finally able to pinpoint some differences between this country and my native one. After returning home from my summer here in 2007 I was at a loss for words when people asked me how things across the pond compare to things at home. To be honest, I didn't think things were that different with the exception of English people being decidedly more laid back about certain things and stores closing at 5pm everyday. I have always, always appreciated the ever-present option of going to the pub and I take advantage of it when I can. (This may be indicative of a personal problem but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?) The drinking culture is obviously different over here, a big part of that to do with the legal drinking age being 18, not 21. While 18 year olds can legally go out to clubs and have a few pints with lunch or dinner down at the pub, we Americans take the much more tactful approach to drinking: Take eight shots of vodka and go out and see what happens. (Note: Good things rarely happen to an 18 year old after eight shots of vodka.) Everyone here in England asks about the famous "red cups" they've seen in movies like "American Pie," and let's face it, we Americans know that a party ain't a party 'til you've got your Solo cup. College students in America are beer pong experts by the end of their first semester and are well versed in Flip Cup, Quarters and Kings/Circle of Death, among other culturally relevant drinking games well before their 21st birthdays. Funny, aren't we?

The best part of drinking in England is the number of late night Kabab shops where you can get a burger and some nice thick-cut chips after a night of drinking and dancing. Oooh - I'm sorry, England, I've just remembered that in America you can get Taco Bell at almost any hour of the night, provided you have a DD. Sorry - that one goes to America.

But England comes back swinging! The most endearing quality of every single Brit, and I feel confident making such a sweeping statement because I swear they ALL have this in common, is the seemingly endless list of idioms every one of them knows and uses constantly. I love it! I just don't have the memory for it; I can never think in time to say something is as "cheap as chips" or that I did "sod all" today. I can't even think of them now when I'm trying to. I'm rubbish - there you go.

And one final observation of the Yank vs the Brit: Americans are insanely nice and happy all the time. We all have very good manners when meeting new people; we shake hands and say "nice to meet you," and then we usually ask our new acquaintance about himself to find anything we may have in common and that might be a jumping off point for conversation. Even the tone of voice we use, or at least for girls, is different. We speak in a considerably higher pitch that doesn't sound like our real voice. Why this is I have no idea. In England when two people are introduced they will just say "alright?" "alright." and that's that. They take less of an initiative to speak to people they don't know. In fact, they don't do it. Often times Americans seem "fake" and insincere to the English when they are so high-pitchedly asked for detailed descriptions of their personal lives by a complete stranger. People really start to notice I'm American when I make conversation with strangers in the chip shop or out in a bar at night. But I'm completely genuine in my gregariousness and I'm not ashamed. Having spent so much time over here I have developed an understanding of English culture and I can communicate with them comfortably like I can with my American friends. I know, I know, they're not animals in the zoo. But in my experience I've learned that the longer one spends in another culture the easier it is to relate to the people there and to form deeper relationships. But as is human nature (with the possible exception of the French), after a while the two cultures begin to understand each other. By this I mean that the American's voice returns to normal and she tries to seem less excited about every single thing that happens and the Brit starts to consider the possibility that when one person is nice to another, she might actually not be taking the piss and it could be genuine.