I consider myself somewhat of an expert on being American. Case in point: I’ve bet on a race between a pig, a goat and a duck at the Washington State Fair.* I learned what an interjection was from Schoolhouse Rock. And I once pulled in $85 on a Vegas 21 table. At 6.30 in the morning, on a road trip, on Route 66.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the UK and have developed an affinity for life here. I once wrote a Lonely Planet chapter covering the western half of England. I’ve had swans as neighbors, twice: once in a converted barn in the Cotswolds. In the past month, I’ve visited five manor houses, four castles, nine gardens (including Prince Charles’) and had seven cream teas. (Double parental visits might have been involved.)
Here is my totally and completely unscientific survey in a who-wins-and-why cage match.
The UK: Tiddleywink. Crapstone. Fittleworth. Spithandle Copse. Elephant and Castle. Great Cockshill Wood.
The US: Springfield, Missouri. Springfield, Illinois. Springfield, Ohio. Springfield wherever the Simpsons live. Boring, Tennessee. (Or Maryland. Or Oregon.)
Point: UK, by an imperial mile.
In the United Kingdom’s history, street names were often very descriptive of their goings-on. (Gropecount Lane has added a very key ‘o’ since the Middle Ages.) In London, you can walk through history by street names alone: Pilgrims Mews, Gallions Way, Poultry Road, Roman Road, London Wall, Old Jewry, Dockers Tanners Road
US: Elm St, Main St, First St, 119th Avenue, G St.
UK: Oh, I’m terribly sorry and I don’t mean to bother you, but could you possibly just move your bicycle a tad, dear chap? I’m afraid my prize roses aren’t quite up to the task of keeping it afloat. So sorry!
Translated: Move your bloody bike, arsehole.
US: Move your fucking bike, you fucking douchebag.
Translated: Would you please care to move your bicycle when you have a moment? Thanks ever so much!
Talking to Strangers
UK: “Aaaack! Did you just talk to me? Are you insane? You must be literally insane to speak to me in public.”
US: “You’re from Seattle, are ya? Me and the missus, we were in Washington once. Got stoned out of our gourds at a music festival in the Olympics back in ‘79. That medical marijuana just passed there, didn’t it? We might-could just go on out there again to take advantage of that. Haven’t smoked a doobie for 25 years, ever since I started making seven figures doing Ivan Boesky shit on Wall Street in the 80s. God, those were the days. Blow off a hooker’s ass, for real. Well, hell, lady, now that I’ve got ya here, is that medical marijuana any good for erectile dysfunction, do you know?”
As much as Brits think I’m nuts, point goes to the US here. Plus, science has my back on this one.
Most people who do talk to you on public transport in London, by the way? Clinically insane.
UK: Honey-colored stone cottages draped in misty lavender wisteria. Half-timbered Tudor pubs dating to the 16th century. Manicured flower gardens.
US: New Orleans French quarter. San Francisco Victorians. Strip malls. Parking lots. Lots of parking lots.
Architectural functionality: plumbing
Dear All of Europe: Please make a shower a short person can turn on without getting soaking wet. Just one? Kthnx.
UK: Environmentally appropriate levels of water in toilet bowls. Water pressure brought to modern acceptable levels only by noisy water pumps. Separate hot and cold taps which sometimes require a ‘Warning! Hot water is very hot!’ notice in public loos. No electrical outlets. Open doors on most bathtubs.
US: Hot and cold water join together in solidarity, creating a pleasant non-scalding tepidness. Pressure is excellent, water doesn’t get all over the bathroom, you can blow dry your hair somewhere other than the kitchen.
It looks like my cage match has ended in a tie. I’m not surprised; I’ve always loved the history, tradition and progressive attitudes of the UK and Europe, and I am unabashedly a fan of the US and its innovation and authenticity, charity and friendliness. Whenever I’m on one continent, I miss certain things about the other. But I guess this is what happens in our new globalized world.
But, seriously, what’s with two taps thing, Britain?
* Who would have thought a goat could beat a pig?