America Versus Britain

To the Editor: This letter is in response to Julian Brizzi’s opinion piece on 16 Sept., a piece titled “Abroad and Aghast.” I too am currently living in a foreign yet English-speaking country: England. According to Brizzi, Britain is “The most stuck up, prude country in the world.” Having been in the country for a few weeks now, I would have to disagree with Brizzi’s stereotype. While the British have the reputation for being stuck-up, cold and unfriendly, I have found my British counterparts to be quite different. The Brits whom I have met have been outgoing, loud and more than willing to help you out (or buy you a pint). However, there are cultural differences between here and the US that extend beyond their obsession with tea and David Beckham. Some of the social issues that plague our nation don’t seem to be as big of a problem here. Racism doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue here as in the United States, but not because the Brits are open to everyone; rather, the decreased racism is becauseeveryone here is white (they have a minority population comparable to that of Vermont). While the city of London might be more diverse than Burlington, London’s diversity is the exception here rather than the rule. Moral issues such as the death penalty and abortion aren’t even mentioned in political discussions because no one has been executed here in at least 40years. If they did reinstate the death penalty, the British would lose their membership in the European Union. As for abortions, they are available to those who need them and are provided by National Health Services doctors. But at the same time, if you forget for a moment where you actually are, you might think you were back in the US (ignoring the accents, of course ). Our cultural influences are everywhere: On every corner there are Starbucks, the music on the radio is by Justin Timberlake and the big television news is about Charlotte getting married again on “Sex and theCity.” Yet here is one large difference: Even as someone who could be kicked out of the country with a flash of her passport, here I am given benefits that many Americans don’t even get as citizens. Not to mention the fact that I am guaranteed free medical treatment from the NHS, I can open a bank account without a credit check and I am well respected (because I look British, I have been told). Naturally, I don’t mean to make it sound like England doesn’t have its own problems, but I understand that the US has major problems. Believe me, both countries have problems, but they’re different from nation to nation. I have been told not to judge things on a scale of better or worse (even though the traditional food here IS gross) but rather, just to deem them to be different. And while I am enjoying my time here, I am not ready to emigrate. I definitely miss some of the freedoms I had in the US (the ability to not have to pay ?1.50 to talk on the phone, for example), and of course, I miss being surrounded by people who understand truly what it is to be American (and by people who actually know where Vermont is). Being here on Sept. 11 was somewhat odd as it was reduced to simply another blip on the news along with that cow that flew into the house on the side of the road. It’s good to be home where you have people who know that being American isn’t just a matter of driving an SUV, hating the poor and trying to make as much money as possible. As my Norwegian neighbor says to me, “The only ideas we have of Americans are of George Bush and Baywatch.” How sad. While I am here for the year to become more accustomed and adapted to the British culture, to learn what is to be British and to experience something new, I am not ready to let go of my American heritage. Someone has to show these Brits that not all Americans like George Bush, we don’t all live on the California beaches and that we’re not all as loud-mouthed and obnoxious as we are perceived to be. Cheers to that.