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British Stereotypes In America Essay, Research Paper

“British Stereotypes in America”

Let’s face it, in The United States, we do not understand cricket, we do not understand tea, and we certainly do not understand hidden emotions. Of course there is more to Britain than these cultural icons, just like America is not just made of cowboys from “Dallas” and loud egotistic tourists. However in the year 2000, there are still several myths surrounding the British culture that are very much alive today. Many people in the U.S. and I am sure many other countries tend to think of Britain as a land full of rose gardens, cricket, Oxford, and people drinking tea with their little pinky in the air with the Queen. Myths and legends stem from reality distorted, this in turn continues to affect the real image portrayed by a country.

One famous characteristic that the British I am sure would like to rid themselves of is horrible bland food. It is a common misconception in American that everything that moves or doesn’t is boiled, and stuffed into some sort of animal organ. I believe this originates from the fact that these people have experienced so much grief in the forms of World Wars, which they learned to swallow it and not complain. There could be another explanation though; they might actually like it. Americans definitely have different tastes and this creates one of our cultural differences that we like to torment the British for. Serves them right for trying to not give us our independence, how dare them “let’s make fun of their food”. With the addition of “Two Fat Ladies” and the “Ainsley Harriott Show” (British cooking shows) in America, hopefully some of these misconceptions will change.

The British are also perceived as being a docile, non-violent country. This comes from years of conditioning of learned techniques that have developed this casual attitude.

“…historically the English have in fact been a fairly violent lot. However, for at least two centuries, the ability to control aggressions has been a source of pride to the British”(p.90, Snowden). Americans would say, “no dogs allowed” whereas the British would say, “we regret that in the interests of hygiene dogs are not allowed on the premises”. For years it has been the parents’ job to punish children into submission to rid them of their “badness”. Look at Britain’s harsh boarding schools in comparison to the United States’ public schools. It has also been said that the British are wonderful sportsmen because they do not mind losing. I am sure they do a great deal, they just do not throw tantrums or punches like Americans do. That in itself is a stereotype. Americans take glory in winning and are poor losers, whereas the English are good losers and are modest when they win.

Yet another common stereotype give to the British is that they are a frigid, sexless, and unexciting people. This is far from the truth however according to a study done in 1998 by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York of 53 countries in the world. It showed that Britain had the largest population of un-wed women under age nineteen that are sexually active. It has been conceived over the years as George Mikes says, “Continental people have sex lives. The English have hot water bottles”. The results of the study stem from the enormous youth culture alive in Britain that most people do not think of when they picture Great Britain. Americans still believe that the British are stuck in the Victorian Age simply because the English are very apt at hiding their emotions behind a “stiff upper lip”. Why are the British, especially the English considered unable to show their emotions? I believe it goes back once again to World War II. It was a reaction to tough times and defeat, a way for the nation not to panic when things went wrong. “…the capacity to turn a calm and confident face to even the most hazardous circumstances, was clearly something the British cultivated and were proud of during the darkest days of World War II”(p.84, Snowman). Heroes that kept their nerve go back to the days of the chivalrous knight in armor that charged unflinchingly at an opponent. The terms unflappable, private, elite, non-intrusive, and indifferent are used to describe the British because they themselves at one time wished to project that image to the outside world.

Voltaire states that a “prejudice is an opinion without judgement. Thus all over the world do people inspire children with all the opinions they desire, before the children can judge.” People hear things from others, but they do not receive first hand experiences that travel offers. Often this is because of cost, lack of interest, and fear. Ours is a society where the children grow up with their parents telling them that there is an Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and a God. When they are told that British people are stiff, horribly snobbish people, why should the children not believe it? “If your nurse has told you that Cerces rules over the crops, or that Vishnu and Xaca made themselves men several times, or that Sammonocodom came to cut down a forest, or that Odin awaits you in his hall near Jutland, or that Mohammed or somebody else made a journey into the sky; if lastly your tutor comes to drive into your brain what your nurse has imprinted on it, you keep it for life”(Voltaire).

In a clinical test in 1962 on stereotypes in the “British-Journal-of-Psychology” it was discovered that the factors of insufficient intelligence, neuroticism, and social anxiety cause the effect of stereotyping. It is a natural process for humans to make themselves important by putting down another individual or group. The whole infrastructure of Britain is made of groups who take joy in looking down on one another; a classical example of this is the class system. David Frost and Antony Jay speak of the common English man and how his life is pushed around. “There has never been so much running of things, so much governing; or in his case, being governed. Not just by the firm he works for, with all its labor policies and inspectors and supervisors and personnel officers and foremen and managers and union officials and shop stewards…there are also rent collectors and insurance men and installment collectors and council inspectors and health visitors and welfare officers and a host of other people, all of whom represent authority in one form or another; all of whom can make him do this, or stop doing that, or ask him for information about the other. … He finds that he has practically no control over his own environment. He exists in order to be governed”(p.56, The English). America has it much the same and with all of this social anxiety it is no wonder the typical person finds foreigners an easy target to criticize.

British people have been taught to do exactly what they are told and not to ask questions. Perhaps this is why the United States has such a good relationship with them, Americans like to tell someone to do a thing with no questions asked; it seems to work. For years these myths about the British culture have existed and no one should expect them to disappear overnight. Hopefully with the continued exchange between our cultures the people will find the truth. Someday Americans might be able to understand that cricket is just as fun as baseball, that tea is just as good as coffee, and that some reserve and politeness can be a good thing.

Frost, David, and Jay, Antony . The English .

New York : Stein and Day, 1968.

Snowman, Daniel . Britain and America .

New York: University Press, 1977 .

Cooper, Glenda . “British teenagers lead the world in the sexual activity- why?” The

Independent (London) 16 May 1998: 23

“As others see us.” The Times (London).

24 Nov. 1999: Features

Alexander, Douglas . “Old national stereotypes should be cast aside” The Herald (Glasgow)

17 Jan. 2000: 13

Yardley, Jonathan . “Chancellor’s Great New York Adventure” The Washington Post

20 Jan, 2000: CO2

Farrell, Nicholas . “Cor Blimey! We’re a Bunch of Smelly Thugs” The Times (London)

7 Apr., 2000: Features

Belcher, Walt . “British Chef Intends to End Stereotypes” The Tampa Tribune

10 Jan., 2000: 3


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