how the world sees america

Beauty Contestants Love U.S.

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Morecambe - I'm backstage at the Morecambe beauty pageant with a video camera and twenty contestants milling about. Perfect time to talk America. And what I hear is, in short, "We love you!"

The seaside town of Morecambe tries hard to please visitors. It's full of people who've spent their lives working in the city's hospitality industry as arcade managers, ice-cream vendors, hotel receptionists, cashiers, waiters and performers. But since the 1960s, passenger airplanes and package vacations have taken Britons elsewhere, leaving Morecambe’s promenade a litter of abandoned carousels and video game parlors.

They're seeking to awaken their slumbering town, and they turn to America's tourism industry and its tourists for insights. "Americans," I'm told, "are enthusiastic for life, "do things bigger and better" and, of course, they give "loads of tips."

In the past four years, the city council and local businessmen have renewed efforts to reinvigorate Morecambe, putting on plays, music concerts, and beauty pageants like this one. I was invited by a man named Pepe, the night's MC dressed in Union Jack pants and a top hat. We met over a meat pie at Rita's Cafe, and he welcomed me with a bellow.

Pepe is an entertainer. He embraces “America’s enthusiasm” and strives to enliven his town on stage through sheer strength of personality -- big and boisterous.

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Old fun on Morcambe Bay.
The beauty contestants echo Pepe, describing "outrageous" Americans who live large, are "really outgoing" and "friendly with everyone." The beauty queen of the night describes her sweet Texan ex-boyfriend. Another girl reminisces over how well Americans tipped her as a bartender. She then shared her dreams of West Coast fashion glory. A number of others chatted about wonderful vacations in Florida.

As I reflect on the day, I realize that I saw American hospitality through two lenses at Morecambe -- two parts that fit together, but will be posted one at a time. This video clip attempts to give you a sense of how performers up on stage, behind cashier registers, or serving drinks currently attempt to embrace the peppy, "less reserved" characteristics of Americans -- those attributes Pepe (appropriately named) emulates.

The other lens reveals the care with which Americans serve others. Another woman I met today named Mary Lucas who spent a decade performing in the traveling circus dancing on the head of a testy elephant recounted her second wedding in San Francisco, offering a compelling anecdote about attentive American service that became, ultimately, a tad too generous....

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Comments (28)

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Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Lottie, Glad you're here. Absolutely true. I thought your comments on America and Bush were great, and strong critiques. I think we should do a Part II for this. I'd love to go more in-depth on the other side. And I'd love for you to use this comment thread to write a bit more about what the video didn't cover! Thanks again.

Lottie:

Hi Amar, its Lottie, I was the girl that Pepe introduced you to in the cafe! Love the video - shame you didnt show mine though, then that would show Jonny UK that not all the girls felt obliged to say nice things just because of the you were American x

Amar C. Bakshi:

Anthony, Pepe, so glad to see you guys here on the site. Thanks Anthony for sharing some of your personal memories. Do keep in touch here and please do bring any Miss Morecambe contestants on board as well. I'm sure readers, including myself, would be interested in hearing their thoughts on this topic.

Anthony:

I'm the director of Margee and one of the people organising the contest.

Your readers might be interested to know that Morecambe was where beauty contests started here in the UK with what was to become the Miss Great Britain contest in 1945. We were allies with the USA during the war back then and still allies today, so I guess we can say the relationship is enduring. I was born in 1945 so I'm personally grateful to the USA for being on our side so that I grew up speaking English ! And of course for creating a lot of this knew technology that makes all this possible.

Hope any time you are in Lancaster again you will drop in and see us at Margee. And any of your female compatriots will be welcome too - we are a ladies fashion shop for those who don't know !

pepe:

hello amar and state side really glad the yanks are loving the video and sunny morecambe ,washington post get me on the jay leno or dave letterman show for more uk banter and talk of morecambe .usa the mc mad brit is on his way !!!!! johnny dj pep xxx .....pepdj@hotmail.com

Amar C. Bakshi:

John, This is part of a much longer project, and was the post from a single day. I do not intend to generalize the whole of the UK from a single pageant! But I do think some interesting things can come of considering the situation and the choice of words. Click around the other posts. I won't even hazard broader generalizations until my near-month in this country is up. And even then, I'd be very careful to speak for all UK citizens!

John West:

This article is totally ridiculous and a disgrace to the Washington Post. I hardly believe that asking 20 girls (out of millions in the UK) the very general question 'so what do you think about America?' and getting half hearted responses on having a nice Texan lover, or gettin a tip (which happens on a regular basis, not just from Americans)screams 'I love America' does it?!!
Besides this, beauty pagent contestents were asked their opinion ON THEIR PAGENT DAY! How is it supposed to be in anyway representative of what people actually think.. beauty pagent contestants are trained to control their tongue and not offend anyone, or else how would they be a good representative for their area?


Amar C. Bakshi:

Jonny, Not rude at all. I think part of this post was about the somewhat superficial, the glitz and glamor as seen on the surface level by this community. I'm talking to many people, some in greater depth than others. This was a fly by the seat of my pants sort of thing, only a few minutes with each contestant in a rather artificial situation. But other posts, like the one that'll be up any minute, has some more personal story to it. Thanks for the comment. Stay tuned.

JRLR:

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Amar, I suggest you get a bird of prey.

Anonymous:

What you saw was essentially the British version of Vegas, on typically short budget alloted to UK!

Jonny, UK:

I'll be honest, I found this a bit patronising. The British are in general polite and if asked "What do you think of America?" by an American, will normally not launch into a four-letter tirade. Just as the many fine Americans I've met would be polite if quizzed about their attitude to the UK by a British reporter poking a video camera at them. Or indeed a French/German/Italian/Pole whoever if interviewed in similar fashion.

I think you need to dig a little deeper, Amar. Not to say that the results would be any different (many UK citizens have very fond memories of holidays/work in the US), just that this seems a little superficial for my tastes.

Anyway, sorry, did that sound rude? Didn't mean to offend, old bean...

DavidP UK:

Re: Sarah NYC

Perhaps it's partly because London is so close that America seems more glamorous? It's a world they only see in big-budget TV shows and films. For me London is just half an hour away by train so it doesn't seem half as exotic or strange as New York did when I was there last year. Initally at least anyway.

My friend who lives in New York says how much it's changed in the last decade since she moved there, but I was still surprised at just how genuinely friendly Manhattan was.

Robert James:

Our poor English cousins are a shadow of the sophistication and glamor that the rest of the world can muster. Cringe! Cringe!

However, go to missearth.com.au, register, log in and have a look this site.

Amar C. Bakshi:

JRLR and Hirsh, be gracious, please. Rest assured, it's 8am here and I spent much of the night chasing a mouse around my room trying to get it out. It apparently doesn't like the Lancaster rains either.

Hirsh:

Amar, I agree with JRLR. This is completely unjustifiable. I do enjoy the MC with the middle name after JFK, though...that's a new one.

JRLR:

"I'm backstage at the Morecambe beauty pageant with a video camera and twenty contestants milling about. Perfect time to talk America. And what I hear is, in short, "We love you!""

Amar, that's not fair.

Jo, VA:

I have fond memories of going to Morecambe as a child to visit Granny. Wonderful beach, very cold water. It's a bit surreal to see it the subject of this article.

sarah nyc:

I'm interested in the fact that these girls in a pretty rural part of england it seems still see America has so filled with glamor when London is pretty near by. Nice to know we still have that going for us.

Jacob, LA:

I love that video! Please show us more of Morecam!

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