how the world sees america

If America Was a Person...

By author and blogger Danny Bernardi

As an Englishman living in Italy my perspective is slightly different. Most Italians and other non-English Europeans think that because England and America speak the same language and go to war together they are one in the same.

If America was a person what kind of person might it be? If I were to meet Andrew or Anna America in a pub I would expect to meet a person louder and perhaps larger than the average Brit. Such a person might be very keen to tell you all about themselves and their achievements. Andrew or Anna America would probably also want to impress upon you that he or she was deeply committed to their family and might even let slip that they undertook good works in the community.

In other words they would always be ‘on’. Brits are ‘off’, in social situations especially, and find it troubling to reveal too much about themselves upon first meeting. They are also a bit suspicious of anyone who needs to be ‘on’. In other words … if you are successful, happy and worthy then you probably shouldn’t need to go around telling people. Most Brits would also think that Andrew or Anna may not know how to laugh at themselves. Laughing at oneself is seen as being an extremely important quality. If Andrew or Anna could not manage a little self-deprecation then the average Brit would think this, ‘a very bad show’. Understatement is widely respected in the UK.

captain-america.jpg
Captain America is "On".
For example it is widely believed that the stiff upper lip i.e. getting on with things without making a fuss won us two world wars (we often conveniently forget the major role America played in WW2) and the soccer world cup back in 1966. An Englishman could have his arm hanging off after battle and would be more concerned not to make a fuss, ‘just a small flesh wound old boy! Nothing to worry about!’ I once spent a whole night sitting next to a guy at a dinner party who told me he was a humble medic who managed a bit of surgery every now and then when nobody else could be found to do the job. ‘I’m usually the last guy they call,’ he said whilst stretching for the cheese board. Turns out he was a top brain surgeon who had saved about four lives that week!

God Bless America and all who sail to her. If America were a person he/she would probably be no better or worse than anyone else…just different. Your environment moulds you and perhaps in a young nation, such as the USA, knowing who you are is more important, but you don’t need to impress us. We already are. We look with envy at what can be achieved by someone with a little hard work and a good idea in the USA.

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Comments (28)

Danny Bernardi:

why the blazes does everyone want me to wash their car? I'm as useless at washing cars as I am at writing incisive articles about ... well just about anything really. Hey ho ... passes the time.

Small Mexican Hat:

An interesting article, written by a British expat (is this the right person to write the article?) which to some extent reiterates the usual stereotypes about both Brits and Americans.

But stereotyping (or accentuation) are considered 'a basic human cognitive process that serves the important function for people of simplifying in meaningful ways the potentially limitless array of discernible stimuli in our environment' (Hogg & Vaughan, 2002 on Doise, 1978). So I guess it can be helpful for us to create these differences to make life easier and simpler for ourselves.

Can you come and wash our car too please?

Helen Coates:

Americans are very quick to tell you all about themselves and how much bigger and better all things american are. From a recent trip to America a friend and I met a group of young Americans who were very quick to tell us all about themselves however also very quick to assume a lot about us with no interest to hear the truth eg We all carry umbrellas everyday and drive vauxhalls and wear school uniform till we're 18!!! I think a lot of their naivety is due to America being such a vast country all there geography studies are based on their own country and have little time to find out about others.... yes we do have hot weather in England. This however should not be held against Mr and Mrs America as they are from experience kind and hospitable people who are genuine in their gestures of ' Have a nice Day ' athough a thought to bear in mind .....'it is better for other's to find out you won the nobel piece prize instead of wearing it round your neck '.

Tony Lambert :

What's your problem Norm? A little networking makes the world go round. Get a life and get yourself some cards printed for your next trip!

Norm Chambers:

Well,I think the stiff upper lip thing is old hat but I do agree about the 'being on' all the time thing. What can I say? I went to the States to see my sis who lives there and we went to a football game and I came away with four peoples' business cards. Say no more.

Danny Bernardi:

Hold the Line
Totally appreciate where you are coming from. England's class system is restrictive and petty. Glad your proud and confident about your childrens future. Wish I could be so optomistic. You are happy with your country and where you live. Most people in other countries, where there is less freedom, would envy your opportunitites, I'm sure -- including most Brits!

Hold the Line:

America as a person would remind me of the classic U.S. Marines saying: No better friend, no worse enemy.

My relatives traveled to the US centuries ago precisely because of the horrible conditions they endured in England and Scotland. They have since thrived beyond recognition, a living refutation of Britain's still-extant class system. I am proud to be an American and to live in a country where my children and my children's children will have their own shot at peace and prosperity.

Nick:

I also don't recognise the stiff upper lip thing any more. We need to move on from the 1950s stereotypes. Not sure either that it's possible to encapsulate the U.S. in one person. The beauty of the U.S. is that its states, cities and people are so varied.

nicoletta:

I find this article really interesting.Although I am an italian girl,I am convinced that America and England have in common the language only,they are differnt in culture,in history and in their attitude towards every day life.I know that Stereotypes aren't positive but we can't avoid them,in my opinion the most important thing is not to be dominated by stereotypes in order to be able to change our opinion (if necessary).

Nicoletta.

nicoletta:

I find this article really interesting.Although I am an italian girl,I am convinced that America and England have in common the language only,they are differnt in culture,in history and in their attitude towards every day life.I know that Stereotypes aren't positive but we can't avoid them,in my opinion the most important thing is not to be dominated by stereotypes in order to be able to change our opinion (if necessary).

Nicoletta.

nicoletta:

I find this article really interesting.Although I am an italian girl,I am convinced that America and England have in common the language only,they are differnt in culture,in history and in their attitude towards every day life.I know that Stereotypes aren't positive but we can't avoid them,in my opinion the most important thing is not to be dominated by stereotypes in order to be able to change our opinion (if necessary).

Nicoletta.

Jeffrey Segall:

Dear Danny,

I found your article very interesting indeed - however - I have a VERY DIRTY car sitting on my drive which needs cleaning - so can I expect you at 10.00 next Sunday?

Jeffrey Segall:

Dear Danny,

I found your article very interesting indeed - however - I have a VERY DIRTY car sitting on my drive which needs cleaning - so can I expect you at 10.00 next Sunday?

Jeffrey Segall:

Dear Danny,

I found your article very interesting indeed - however - I have a VERY DIRTY car sitting on my drive which needs cleaning - so can I expect you at 10.00 next Sunday?

Jeffrey Segall:

Dear Danny,

I found your article very interesting indeed - however - I have a VERY DIRTY car sitting on my drive which needs cleaning - so can I expect you at 10.00 nexst Sunday?

Rick Bond:

I'm afraid I found this article superficial, stereotyping, glib and ultimately dull.

Rick Bond:

I'm afraid I found this article superficial, stereotyping, glib and ultimately dull.

Roy Cane:

Is the 'measure' of the man or woman in the stereotype?

Andrew and Anna and Janet and John have indeed a long way to go if all we can see is Gascoigne's lip and WW2

It's an interesting article. Stereotypes are so broadly drawn that the spaces between them, the gaps, the real space where the real of Birmingham and New York live, can be seen clearly if you look with fresh eyes.

Perhaps we need a fresh pair of eyes. Perhaps the eyes of Rip Van Winkle. They are a bit bleary and sleepy and missing details. These eyes may be able to see beyond this first obviosly shy and rather uneasy meeting between Andrew and Anna, Janet and John.


Many thanks
Roy

Bobby Tofu:

Can't see me getting the spoiler for a while Danny the way my scrumpy habit is going; it's taken me 3 years to save for the electric indicators conversion kit. But for the cider !

Bobby Tofu

Danny Bernardi:

Bobby thanks for your comments. Hope you got your spoiler old boy! If not I know a man who can do you a deal ...

Bobby Tofu:

I can relate to the "on" and "off" cultural difference. I once spent a lovely evening chatting, drinking and laughing (without limitation and for the avoidance of doubt in no particular order) with my friend's American father and mother at a barbecue in the summer sun in the UK. I was rather annoyed with my own British view of what could be classed as a very "on" well wish when I was saying my goodbyes at the end of the evening to my friend's mother who said: "now you have a nice life"; my initial thought was "well I will be the measure of whether I have a nice life or not thank you very much" which was soon overrided by thoughts of how sweet this was summing up what I should be pursuing in life rather than striving for material things like a new spoiler for my Hillman Imp. Simple - your life just needs to be a nice one. Vive la difference.

Love Bobby Tofu

Andreea Gabriela Neagu:

This was interesting article ... as a Rumanian woman living in Italy it seems that the British government has to do whatever the American government tells them to beause of the help they gave in WW2. It is interesting to read that the English see themselves differently but I dont understand the 'stiff upper lip' at all, although I have noticed the English are more reserved on first meeting until you get to know them.

Daniel Stuart:

The English stiff upper lip died with Paul Gascoigne's famous lip wobble and tears after his booking in the 1990 World Cup semi-final.

As an Englishman, I'd rather only be given personal information when I ask for it and not have it imposed on me. The Americans' willingness to share their life and details behind it without a contract of intimacy can appear jejune at best, and be annoying at worst. There's an implicit presumption of interest to others in their life on an American's part that sometimes seems rude.

bounder:

I'd have agreed with you, years ago. Younger Brits don't think this way at all, they're more likely to be 'ON" (though less of the 'good works') and be ready to snap at a perceived slight.

I don't remember the last time I saw someone under 35 keep a stiff upper lip.

Ciaran:

Danny - I think you're right about how the English see the stereotypical American. We perceive them to be brasher etc. Do most Italians really not see a difference between England and America? That's a worrying thought...

Jackson Street:

If America was a person…he would be Rip Van Winkle. Whilst this all American story was written by the USA’s all American author Washington Irving, he actually wrote it while living in the city of Birmingham in central England when he was staying with relatives. Irving possibly woke up one day, walked through the ‘sleepy hollow’ near the town centre (now known as Holloway Circus) and probably forgot he was no longer in his homeland. It is not hard to imagine.

What would Washington Irving find now if he woke up in this industrial English city that gave birth to the steam engine, Ozzy Osborne and half of Led Zeppelin? Well he would find a Chinese Pagoda in his sleepy hollow, surrounded by American style skyscrapers, and pedestrians whose ancestors were from all corners of the British Empire. He could walk up Irving Street, named in his honour, and wander around a city centre to find churches, mosques, synagogues, Hindu and Sikh temples, and a centre of all American Scientology. He would also hear the sounds of familiar classical music alongside American Jazz, hip hop, and rock. And if he wandered around and spoke to school children he would be told how they had played ‘Trick or treat’ and had to do ‘Show and Tell’ at school.

In other words he would find a city as ethnically and culturally diverse as today’s New York City or Los Angeles, and he would not know the difference. I personally know Brits that talk about themselves endlessly and I also know Americans living in Britain who are modest. In fact I worked with one who didn’t tell me he owned his own oil well until I had known him for several months!

It is very easy for both Americans and British to point out differences, but there are far more similarities. In fact we are as alike as Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas. Great Britain had its glory days and spread civilisation through its Empire, while its younger rebellious offspring had its fun with the Wild West and the gold rush. Now, Britain is old and humble, and fully realises that what we thought of as parental benevolence was not met with the gratitude we thought it should be. Now, our rebellious offspring has taken our place. However, as the Douglas family are aware, offspring get old too. And Britain’s offspring has now to come to terms with what they think is the world’s ingratitude.

Well…I am grateful. Just like an elderly father helped by his children. But I don’t have to approve everything my children do. And in the final analysis in this uncertain world, both countries need each other more than they both realise. Hard work and good ideas are not the preserve of people that speak English.

By the way…Winston Churchill’s mother was an American.

Jackson Street:

If America was a person…he would be Rip Van Winkle. Whilst this all American story was written by the USA’s all American author Washington Irving, he actually wrote it while living in the city of Birmingham in central England when he was staying with relatives. Irving possibly woke up one day, walked through the ‘sleepy hollow’ near the town centre (now known as Holloway Circus) and probably forgot he was no longer in his homeland. It is not hard to imagine.

What would Washington Irving find now if he woke up in this industrial English city that gave birth to the steam engine, Ozzy Osborne and half of Led Zeppelin? Well he would find a Chinese Pagoda in his sleepy hollow, surrounded by American style skyscrapers, and pedestrians whose ancestors were from all corners of the British Empire. He could walk up Irving Street, named in his honour, and wander around a city centre to find churches, mosques, synagogues, Hindu and Sikh temples, and a centre of all American Scientology. He would also hear the sounds of familiar classical music alongside American Jazz, hip hop, and rock. And if he wandered around and spoke to school children he would be told how they had played ‘Trick or treat’ and had to do ‘Show and Tell’ at school.

In other words he would find a city as ethnically and culturally diverse as today’s New York City or Los Angeles, and he would not know the difference. I personally know Brits that talk about themselves endlessly and I also know Americans living in Britain who are modest. In fact I worked with one who didn’t tell me he owned his own oil well until I had known him for several months!

It is very easy for both Americans and British to point out differences, but there are far more similarities. In fact we are as alike as Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas. Great Britain had its glory days and spread civilisation through its Empire, while its younger rebellious offspring had its fun with the Wild West and the gold rush. Now, Britain is old and humble, and fully realises that what we thought of as parental benevolence was not met with the gratitude we thought it should be. Now, our rebellious offspring has taken our place. However, as the Douglas family are aware, offspring get old too. And Britain’s offspring has now to come to terms with what they think is the world’s ingratitude.

Well…I am grateful. Just like an elderly father helped by his children. But I don’t have to approve everything my children do. And in the final analysis in this uncertain world, both countries need each other more than they both realise. Hard work and good ideas are not the preserve of people that speak English.

By the way…Winston Churchill’s mother was an American.

Jules Beverley:

As the child of an American mother I can see where you are coming from but obviously it is important to say that not everyone is the same in the UK or USA so one has to be careful with regards to stereotyping etc. A good book to read is Watching the English by KAte Fox it picks up on a lot of the points made here in more detail.

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