It’s Time We Let Americans Teach Us Politeness
Over the last few years it’s been hard not to notice a distinct cooling of Britain’s perceived ‘special relationship’ with America. With different parties in power and discomfort over war policies, the gentle ribbing that always existed between the two birth-cousins has taken a sharper new edge; in the press and popular culture Britain and Europe have been blaming America for the world’s ills, from obesity to cultural and military interference.
I was thinking about this the other evening, first watching a play in which an English audience booed an actor for playing an American businessman, then watching a new movie (‘A Most Wanted Man’) in which US political duplicity is proven to be the plot’s underlying evil. Even the Man Booker Prize has been getting stick for allowing Americans into its competition. When did Americans suddenly take the place of the French?
There aren’t many countries where an archetype still stands in for its nation’s stereotypical traits (although there are an awful lot of British villains in Hollywood movies). Generally, though, we don’t look at a German and think of war, so why does the American have to carry the weight of a nation on his/her shoulders?
As in all forms of racism, personal experience doesn’t bear out the archetype. Having spent years being fascinated by (and living in) the world just across the Atlantic, I’ve found my friends there to be bright, energising, kind and incredibly polite in a way that we’ve almost completely forgotten.
The Daily Telegraph pointed out that even when they’re rude, Americans take the edge off their rudeness with polite words, directly and clearly delivered. Much is made of English politeness, but much of that comes with a sharpened edge. Who said that the best form of English insult was the one where you walk away thinking you’ve been complimented?
I rarely trim out comments from this site because then it wouldn’t be a democracy. Besides, I’m a grown-up; a bit of criticism sharpens ones reply skills and s good for the soul, although I’d hate to be young and lacking confidence again – I’m not sure I’d survive in today’s harsh new judgemental all-connectedness.
Actually, much of the most positive, thought-provoking and just plain polite comment I get about writing is from readers in the US. I really wish some of their habits would rub off on us. The educated American does not look down with a sneer and nitpick – something many over-entitled English folk are prone to doing. With the prospect of another Tory term looming due to lack of Labour leadership, the arrogance of the privileged grows stronger.
Besides, as the wheel turns and empires rise and fall, new villains appear all the time, and there can be no more sweeping generalities. Onward to thoughtful democracy and free speech.