Observing Americans

You know the the Fourth of July? That’s when Americans celebrate Independence Day, Independence from British Colonial rule. They make quite the song and dance about it. Some might suggest a little over the top as the actual event was an awfully long time ago. But it’s nice to have a big party to celebrate things and let off fireworks. This isn’t about Independence Day though; it’s just about some Americans. An observational sort of thing.

Firstly I had a quick think and I do not actually ‘know’ any Americans in the flesh, in that I have never had one to my house. I interact with quite a few on Twitter and Facebook. I have met Americans at parties and have seen them moving about in the street. I have been served food and drinks by them and on more than one occasion been instructed to “have a nice day” by them. I’m not convinced they really meant it though. I’ve spent some time ‘playing soldiers’ with the American Military which was quite an eye opener. So we can conclude that I have seen Americans in action on a number of occasions, instances and environments.

I am very happy to have met and chatted with the few Americans in my life as such. I’d very much like it if one day we could have chat over a beer, a proper one, none of that Budweiser or Miller crap.

I’m just going to pose a couple of questions, relate a couple of observations and finish with a telling excerpt from one of my favourite authors on his own countrymen and women.

I’ve only been to America once and that was New York so probably not very representative of the rest of the country but it was very noisy. I’m assuming it is also very noisy elsewhere in America though given the volume at which they choose to communicate with each other, why so loud? Why so much talk about everything? As an example, asking if someone dining with you wished to have a serving of sauce would go as follows. “Sauce?” “Yes thanks”. There, that’s it. That conversation in an American dining establishment or dinner table would probably go as follows. I say probably, I have actually heard this conversation.

“You want some Ketchup”? “Some Ketchup”? “Yes, some Ketchup”. “Sure, I’ll have some ketchup”.  “Shall I pass you the ketchup”? “Sure, pass me the ketchup”. “OK Here is the ketchup”. “I sure appreciate that”

Do Americans have some fear of being misunderstood that we are unaware of?

Most of the Americans I have met have been very friendly, well except for the coffee waitress in New York who was clearly passed over for the part of Carla in Cheers and is still resentful. Friendly but I’ve also encountered a bit of a reluctance to venture beyond the comfort zone of what is known. The stereotyping is simplistic but Americans seem to fit very neatly into demographic types. The preppy, the Suburbanite, the Californian, The Hillbilly, the folk out west. The rebels, who seem to have a uniform of leather jacket, t-shirt, jeans and boots and possibly a bandana strategically positioned, very rebellious, all that conformity to stereotype. I can point out an American on holiday in London to you quite easily and usually accurately.

I was in London a few years ago, when I smoked. I was standing, smoking on my work doorstep in Soho. Easily London’s most concentrated collection and selection of bars and eatery’s. A chap approached me. I had identified him as a holidaying American while he was still 50 yards distant.

He accosted me with the following question. “Hey Buddy, is there anywhere to eat around here”? I was shocked briefly into silence. I looked up and down the street he had just travelled, at the numerous bars and restaurants he could choose from. I replied “Certainly, what would you like to eat”? He responded thus. “Well I don’t know, what is there around here”? Again I panned what I could see from where I was standing and reeled off a dozen or so options visibly available. He informed me he would really like a steak. I told him of the Angus Steak House on Piccadilly but said it was kind of touristy.  He came back with “Well I am a tourist”! And with that set off several hundred yards back through one of the best places in the world to enjoy a meal and a night out to have a crappy Steak at a chain restaurant.

I also encountered recently a nice American lady and daughter, seemingly fresh from cheerleading practice, with a map on Shaftesbury Avenue. She saw me wearing a suit so assumed I would know my way about. She asked me if I knew where such and such a theatre was. I’m no show buff but I know the names of the theatres and this wasn’t one of them. I enquired further and discovered she was speaking of the name of the show and thought the theatre was the same name. We chatted a little more and she asked where ‘Leecheyester’ Square was. I looked at her and asked the redundant question, “So is this your first visit to London”? I explained how Leicester was pronounced but I didn’t ask how she could not have known this given some planning must have gone into visiting London.

I also gave her the quick run-down on what was in the vicinity of where we were standing as I wasn’t in a hurry and I was enjoying myself. I mentioned that Soho was “great for loads of bars and shit” (used instead of ‘stuff’ rather than as a derogatory expression). Her teenage daughter dissolved into a fit of giggles and ‘Mom’ said “Oh My God, did you just say shit?” I have to admit I had no idea what to say about that as I was so taken aback by her shock at my mild expletive. I’m sure I’ve heard some swearing on American television. Is it not common in the street when chatting?

It also reminded me how gullible Americans can be and I have no idea why. They carry little of the cynicism of Brits for example. It is ridiculously easy to pull an Americans leg. Look terribly serious when regaling a preposterous story and they’ll swallow the lot, hook line and sinker.  Why is that? Do they not regularly experience obvious bullshit in the US?

We often hear the statement made by Americans that “They saved our butts in World War Two”. Let’s amend this and put something to rest. The British have little comprehension of the war fighting done by the Americans in the Pacific. It was truly astonishing what they went through fighting the Japanese and I’m very pleased that a magnificent series was made about it. See it if you haven’t. It’s called ‘The Pacific’.

However, our great friends in the USA need to understand that something in the region of 90% of all German Casualties in WWII were inflicted in the Russian campaign. We very much appreciate their magnificent efforts in Normandy and beyond but it was a team effort and they need to remember that. The Americans should talk more about what they did in the Pacific; there is no arguing with what they did there. Telling Brits they ‘saved their butts’ just starts arguments and leads invariably to unnecessary unpleasantness.

With regard to ‘sports’, American guys like to be all macho but interestingly the national sports of America are variations of British girls games called rounder’s and netball. The very popular American Football is played with Health & Safety in charge or so it appears. It is also very much a game anyone can play. A true game for all people as no physical fitness seems to be required given so much of it is standing around before leaning on each other. Every now and then one bloke, the fit looking one, goes for a short run before the big ones fall on him. They then stop for some advertising messages.  Millions all around the World get up in the night or stay up to watch the Super Bowl. I’m pretty sure every year they wonder why they do and go back to bed as the game of American football is actually pretty tedious. Sorry. It’s interesting that only Americans play it, what on earth do they see in it? NO! Don’t say “what about Cricket?” Billions of people in dozens of countries fervently follow and play cricket. So there!

To their credit though, Soccer will never catch on in the USA for the right reasons. It’s an anathema to the vast majority of American blokes why some guy would fall down all the time pretending he is more hurt than he is, in front of a crowd. I like that.

Enough musing though and thinking out loud. This is an Independence Day post so over to one of my favourite authors for his take on his countrymen. This snippet is by PJ O’Rourke from his fantastic book ‘Holidays in Hell’ the passage is from the chapter ‘Among the Euro-Weenies’. To set the scene. He met some Brit being disrespectful about Americans in a well-known media haunt.

“I snapped, “A John Wayne Movie” I said that’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? We think war is a John Wayne movie. We think life is a John Wayne movie-with good guys and bad guys, as simple as that. Well you know something, Mister Limey Poofter? You’re right and let me tell you who the bad guys are. They’re us. WE BE BAD”.

“We’re the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We’re three quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother’s side. You take Germany, France and Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn’t give us room to park our cars. We’re the big boys Jack, the original giant, economy sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d’Antibes. And we’ve got an American Express credit card limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go. You say our country’s never been invaded? You’re right, little buddy because I’d like to see the needle dicked foreigners who’d have the guts to try. We drink Napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying ‘cheerio’. Hell can’t hold our sock-hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, f**k longer and buy more things than you know the names of. I’d rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than king, queen and jack of all you Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfast and shit them out before lunch.”

 Of course the guy should have punched me. But this is Europe. He just smiled his shabby superior European smile. (God. Don’t these people have dentists?)

You might also like this excellent little known but fantastic cover of Booker T & the MG’s legendary ‘Green Onions’ by the Blues Brothers. Listen to the words. It’s very, very cool.

So there you go. Some big up words for the Americans from PJ O’Rourke and the Blues Brothers. Happy Independence Day to you!

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15 thoughts on “Observing Americans

  1. oldasiahand

    They are right about soccer: it’s a girls game and they call it BOGRAKAB – Bunch of guys running about kicking a ball.

    But they are now the world’s rogue elephant with their economy hooked on perpetual war and the middle class getting wiped out to pay for them. This economy of plutocrats is now even called a plutonomy by some and they hope one of their own Romney will run it for them.

    1. sandysview

      I find it hard to see past the fact that Romney is a popular breed of sheep in New Zealand and their one, the one they might elect president has magic underpants and his religious beliefs are that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. Most reassuring!

  2. shacklefordlb

    Hhhmm, Americans in America are great. I love they way they do things (food, cars, hotel beds). Americans in Europe are interesting; not as cosmopolitan as they would have us believe. Americans at Wimbledon are to be avoided.

    When I was growing up in SA, the Americans imposed sanctions, including on medicines and pharmaceuticals. I have never understood why they thought this course of action would benefit the disadvantaged. Quite the contrary, it made life very difficult and could have brought civil war, if not for the statesmanship of Mr Mandela and his colleagues.

  3. wagonmaster1

    I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Yankee Doodle do or die. A real life nephew of my Uncle Sam, born of the 4th of July. I’ve got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart, she’s my Yankee Doodle joy. Yankee Doodle went to London just to ride the ponies, I am that Yankee Doodle boy. xx

  4. A Gentleman's Rapier

    The live version of Green Onions is awesome!
    As usual very astute and pithy commentary.

    A former American.

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