What the British Really Think of Americans

One thing we’re continually interested in here at Anglotopia is what the British really think of us Americans. It has a lot to do with the fact that we wouldn’t exist without the British – yet even though America has British origins, we couldn’t be more different.

Native Brit Geoff Dyer hits the nail on the head in this exploratory editorial featured in the New York Times this week:

The first thing I ever heard about Americans was that they all carried guns. Then, when I came across people who’d had direct contact with this ferocious-sounding tribe, I learned that they were actually rather friendly. At university, friends who had traveled in the United States came back with more detailed stories, not just of the friendliness of Americans but also of their hospitality (which, in our quaint English way, was translated into something close to gullibility). When I finally got to America myself, I found that not only were the natives friendly and hospitable, they were also incredibly polite. No one tells you this about Americans, but once you notice it, it becomes one of their defining characteristics, especially when they’re abroad.

This is very strange, or at least it says something strange about the way that perception routinely conforms to the preconceptions it would appear to contradict. The archetypal American abroad is perceived as loud and crass even though actually existing American tourists are distinguished by the way they address bus drivers and bartenders as “sir” and are effusive in their thanks when any small service is rendered. We look on with some confusion at these encounters because, on the one hand, the Americans seem a bit country-bumpkinish, and, on the other, good manners are a form of sophistication.

Granted, these visiting Americans often seem to have loud voices, but on closer examination, it’s a little subtler than that. Americans have no fear of being overheard. Civic life in Britain is predicated on the idea that everyone just about conceals his loathing of everyone else. To open your mouth is to risk offending someone. So we mutter and mumble as if surrounded by informers or, more exactly, as if they are living in our heads. In America the right to free speech is exercised freely and cordially. The basic assumption is that nothing you say will offend anyone else because, deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else. No such belief animates British life. On the contrary. A couple of years ago a survey indicated that British Muslims were the most fed-up of any in Europe: a sign, paradoxically, of profound assimilation.

Read the rest of this great article here at the New York Times.

Comments

  1. avatar says

    It’s so true that Americans are not well known for their politeness but they really are! (I’m a Londoner.) it’s worth pointing that out as the first thing Brits think is that Americans are loud and brash but I’ve never met that type, either here in London or across the pond.

  2. avatarLisa says

    I have found that I am louder than most people around here, but I don’t care. Its who I am and in a place where everyone is comfortable with each other I find my voice isn’t always the loudest. I definitely feel like I am overly polite as well, I say please and thank you constantly and it is just how I was raised. Sometimes I actually feel a bit self conscious about it because the person I am showing gratitude to often looks a bit puzzled at first but then warms up to the praise. I would rather feel uncomfortable for being too polite than too rude any day though!

  3. avatarBrit says

    As a Brit i think Americans are 50/50 some good, some bad, like any other country but digging deep i believe more than a fair share of Americans alot of the time (really am trying not be stereotypical) can be Loud Mouthed, indenial of their European history/ancestory, Gun toting, superficial, overly exaggerated patriotism (nothing wrong with loving your country but its almost to the point of insecurity), if it aint American we dont want it attitude, Brainwashed by Media; News Channels etc. Please find Africa and points to Japan type education. Your country is really fake too, i know British have a reputation of having Bad Teeth which in my opinion i think that stems from the old days and alot of British have good healthy teeth but American teeth look so fake, almost like this neon glow is coming from the mouth and i think that decribes America, Veeners, Whitener – All Fake! but made to look good to the public eye. More meanings than one i think. Thanks A Brit.

    Read more: What do Americans think of british people | Answerbag http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/669319#ans9734483#ixzz11fp1abmC

    • avatarBarbie says

      I am an american and am not loud mouthed, just happy. I know of very few “loud mouthed” Americans- but after countless trips across the pond, I find MOST Britains to be borish, snotty and think their crap doesn’t stink. It does!

    • avatarNatalie says

      I, for one, am definitely not loud-mouthed. I’m always have people ask me to speak up when I say something, but it is not my fault, really; I’m soft-spoken. That’s one thing I really like when I went to the UK in 05; I didn’t have anyone ask me to speak up at all.. everyone spoke with the same volume of voice that I did.

    • avatarEric says

      To understAnd Americans you must understand it’s vast geography and it’s vast diversity…one cannot generalize except perhaps about our insistence on public politeness. To give an example of our vastness, the city I live in is right at a million people and the state About 4 million yet I’m 1,200 miles from the federal seat of my government and 1,300 miles from the west coast in the opposite direction. I’m over 600 miles from the nearest beach and the same for any moutain range with a ski resort. Yet I’m 250 miles from a city of over 10 million. I’m over 800 miles from Mexico and over 1,000 miles from Canada. And it’s not like I’m alone out here in this vast and populated land.

  4. avatarKonker says

    The British think the Americans are good at Business. Good at transactions…always trying to do the next deal..interactions are fast, shallow, transient, polite because they are economically driven. Thats why ‘have a nice day’ sounds false to the British. In Britain, there is more about the relationship. as well as the transaction, theres more about community but less than in the past. Interactions are both socially/relationship and economically based. Trust is important because a transaction involves a relationship aspect. When people decide not to engage in this relationship aspect for whatever reason they come across as cold. Americans seem warm because in fact the relationship part is not important so they have nothing social to lose if the transaction goes sour.

    • avatarJoan says

      I’ve heard people say that about us, a lot. And from an outside, looking in it might true to see that way. Actually, most Americans are genuinely expressing a wish that the other is as great or nice a person as they could be. That, through this sense of, to some, is of being insincerely concerned, is actually born of hope. You or that person might not end up friends, or some part of this exchange might go wrong, but we are trying to acknowledge that they are “somebody” whether or not that happens. That they have a sense of worth, of belonging. They might be good, we hope they aren’t bad, but for a single moment, a shine came that made that “wall of stranger” crumble.

      It’s our way of “bonding”, I guess.

      But to speak to the concern of a nice person, appreciating that innate warmth and taking a step forward, “we go cold”, has been said. We aren’t “cold,” we are scared to death!! LOL Because that person may be “some kind of psycho.” So, it’s polite to have “meaningful banter”, but a distance needs to be obeyed because, well – - maybe we we’re still working on where it all fits in…LOL

      The best thing to do is smile broadly, wave back and ask after that person’s family, as they will yours. Compare ages of your children, a bit of talk of jobs, etc. And go on with a friendly pat of the arm or wrist. If nothing else, you had “a moment” that will leave you both smiling.

      Sometimes, friendships form out of it, sometimes, they won’t. But either way, it’s born of hope and warmth. We are not artificial. Some are, as you will find anywhere, but we don’t deserve to be called “fake” as much as we can be “shy”, I guess. Warm but bashful. :)

  5. avatarMicah Evans says

    I have to say that I have always held an infatuation for England. I find the people, history, music, architecture, and art fascinating. I love the language, it’s so proper and eloquent. As an American it is true that I am oppinionated but thats part of our culture here in the states. I am not loud but I can be passionate about my beliefs.I love having relationships where there is an exchange of ideas and beliefs and when I speak it’s no to be superficial or shallow. There are differences to be sure but that’s what makes this world a great place. When I go to England or anywhere else for that matter I don’t expect or want them to act American I want them to celebrate what makes them great. We don’t need to do away with nationalistic pride or form unions to become one big global community we just need to respect our differences even celebrate them.

  6. avatarAlexander Hegenbarth says

    As a Briton I have noticed instances in Britain and the rest of Europe on how ‘load-mouthed’ and ‘rude’ American tourists can be. One instance that comes to mind was when I was in Malta before they adopted the Euro, and an American couple and their children where trying to pay a local horse-drawn coach driver for him to take them around the city of Victoria (just a side note: if one does ever go to Malta I fully recommend a ride in one of these coaches, they’re great!). The American father was shouting at this local to accept the Euros he had brought with them, and when the driver refused the father pulled out an American bill and proceeded to demand he and his family be allowed in the carriage. Obviously I am not stereotyping over 300 million people with this example, but unfortunately the example is just one of several dozen I have seen over the years.

    Also, again another side note, England is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (yes there are two Irelands), and England is not ‘another name’ for Great Britain. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all parts of the UK, and England is just one of the kingdoms (like Scotland) that make up the United Kingdom.

    • avatarIan says

      *sigh* I suppose I will be perpetuating a few American stereotypes here, but I really cannot help my curiosity. I am not trying to be rude; I am merely genuinely curious about a few points. First, how independent are the various kingdoms? That is, is someone from Scotland Scottish first and a member of the United Kingdom second? Or is it the other way round? Is someone from Wales seen as belonging to a foreign country as much as someone from France or the U.S.? What about Canadians or some of the more Anglo-centric countries?
      Next, you said you were a Britain, where exactly does that fall in the hegemony of kingdoms? That is, if Scotland is to the Scots, England is to the English, and Wales is to the Welsh, and these are (I think) the three Kingdoms on the British Isle, than could you safely call any of these a Britain?
      Finally, is there a term that amounts to a ‘U.K.er’ that would acceptably refer to all of the associate kingdoms including Northern Ireland?
      I realize that this is a rather involved question, and I do apologize, but I have been curious about this for a while but have not been able to find any real answers on my own. Since you brought it up in your post I was hoping you would be willing to explain the basics of the situation to me.

      • avatarJohn says

        Ian,
        That’s actually a great question. Though we see ourselves as part of the same country, if you were to ask an American where he’s from in the U.S. he would associate himself by his state of origin. If we are out of our country the reply would be “I’m from America.” We kind of hold a “dual loyalty.” Though we like to say that are government is a democracy, in actuality it’s a republic. That why we are called the “United States.”

      • avatarChris says

        Hi Ian,

        No need to be embarrassed for asking the question. It’s actually a question that confuses a quite a lot of people. Even many here in the UK don’t really seem to get it.

        Alexander was mistaken when he referred to the four ‘home nations’ of the United Kingdom as separate “kingdoms”. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is one country – or kingdom, if you like – that is made up of four nations, each with its own unique identity and culture. We refer to the four home nations as “countries” although, in my opinion, that’s mainly for historical reasons and to avoid upsetting the nationalists. The UK is made up of Great Britain (“great” meaning “large”, as it is the largest island of the British Isles) and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales. However, the word “British” tends to be used to refer to anyone from the UK, although I would advise you to use it with discretion around the Northern Irish. You’re just asking for trouble if you refer to a republican as “British”. Also, never refer to the British Isles as the “British” Isles when you’re around a N.I republican or a person from the Republic of Ireland.

        As for your question as to how independent each home nation is – that is a rather politically sensitive issue at the moment. The UK is governed from Westminster (the Houses of Parliament). Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own governments that deal with issues that effect only that particular nation. I suppose you could compare Westminster to your Federal government in D.C. and the independent home nations’ governments to state governments. It’s a bit different, but that’s the easiest way to think of it. Those parts of the UK (especially Scotland) have demanded and been given (since the UK is a democracy) increasing levels of autonomy since the 1990s. They dislike that England is the most powerful nation of the UK. However, it is important to understand why England has so much power here. The UK as a whole has a population of around 61 million. England makes up over 51 million of that, with just under 8 million in London alone. Compare that to Scotland’s 5 million, Wales’ 3 million and N.I’s under 2 million. The truth is that, as an individual, an Englishman has no more power in the UK than a Scot, a Welshman or a N.Irishman. In fact, it tends to work out that an individual Englishman’s vote is worth less than an individual Scot’s vote. England has no independent government – It is governed purely by the joint British government, meaning that Scottish, Welsh and N.I Members of Parliament (MPs) can vote on matters that concern only England. I’m sure you can see why people are getting upset. A sense of British identity and pride is also being swiftly corroded by those of the four individual home nations. Scottish “independence” (as they call it) is a real possibility in the current political climate, which makes the future of the UK uncertain.

        Canada, Australia, et al have nothing to do with us. They’re generally very popular over here and we hope they like us too, but they’re completely independent nations. We do share a royal family, however – although our Monarchies are technically distinct from one another.

        I hope I’ve answered all of your questions clearly! It’s hard to fit something so complicated into so little space.

        Kind regards,

        Chris

      • avatarJoe says

        England, Scotland, and Wales are countries but they are also political divisions of the an autonomous sovereign called the UK. i am being polite and correct.

  7. avatarMike W says

    I am American and after reading these comments I believe we generally are loud in America. I never thought about before….it’s just the way it always has been. I want to visit England. When I get to England I promise to speak softly and politely AND NOT YELL….lol.

    • avatarJoan says

      Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m from Boston and of Italian descent and can tell you, quite literally, it is almost always impossible to be quiet around here! If you are not talking to a perfect stranger while out to buy bread, they look at you like you need to be “locked up.” :) LOL We learn young that being “charmingly boisterous” is expected. In America, we have scores of different cultures. Some are quite loud: Italians, Sicilians, Irish, German, Russian, etc. I’m also Irish, and it’s the same thing. They don’t let you say nothing. It’s expected. YOU MUST or you’ll be called impolite, at best, “troubled” at worst. ;) We travel places and do what we learn here. (You have to banter with the man behind the deli counter, or you must make a cute joke while buying a bottle of wine or Vinnie, the liquor store owner, just won’t let you leave..) We think we’re being “polite”, but they don’t see it that way. Different cultures, that’s all.

  8. avatarmakenna says

    okay, hello there. I’m American and i would love to travel to England but i wonder what they would think of someone like me, i try to be polite if i don’t know someone and it takes time for me to open up to others because i guess you can say im shy? but im artistic and love to have a good laugh. But i want to comment about my own country, People i know around here in Maryland and just about any state can be very rude and loud and shallow and judgmental. but i believe that all depends on what type of person you are and how you were raised. There are “jerks” all around the world, i guess it just depends on who you meet. all my foreign friends tell me i’m a wonderful person because im sincere and do anything for my friends and family. What are the different types of people in england???

  9. avatarAndy says

    I’m British and personally like Americans, to be honest I think most Brits probably do, don’t pay any attention to those on Yahoo hurling abuse at you. Please come over and enjoy our country. In fact I haven’t been to the US in years. Should be coming over to Houston and also Vegas next year, so look out you gorgeous American girls I’m coming to get you !!!

  10. avatarNay says

    Well, I’m American, but I recently went to Great Britian this past summer, but spent the bulk of my time in London. I LOVED IT! I went with my sisters and we were raised by very conservative parents because contrary to popular belief all Americans are not raised the same, lol. I found the younger generations in London to be SOO excited that we were American, they played nothing but American artist in every song and knew more of our dances and lyrics than we did! The best was when we stood in front of the M&M store in Picadilly (sorry if spelt wrong) Circus and one girl we met goes “Melt in your mouth, not in your hand” huh? And I said “Yea, you never heard that before?” and then her friend screams “I KNEW it was an American Slogan”. I found there if you were nice than everyone was nice and helpful back to you. I truly loved London so much and after my trip there could even see myself living there, but I think I tend to be rather different from the average American. lol.

    • avatarScott Jones says

      I really think that you can find some loud Americans and some very quiet Americans. Many cultures exist in American-many different regional differences and many different religions. I think that it depends on the American that you meet.

      • avatarJim says

        Most of these Americans that are seen as rude, loud, and pushy are either Northern-Americans or Californians. Southern-Americans (native Southerners from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, East Texas) are actually very similar to their British ancestors in more ways than most modern Americans.

        Southerners, like Londoners, despise the rude, pushy, loud ways of Northern-Americans. Southerners are raised to speak softly in public places and not to draw attention to themselves, sticking out like a sore thumb is not popular in the South. Southerners are also very well-mannered and polite, saying please, thank you, yes Sir, yes Mame. Southerners are very modest and taught to be humble regardless of how wealthy they might be and are not driven so much by the accumulation of wealth as their Northern neighbors are…community, traditions, friends and family-ties are things that are very important in the South.

        • avatarJoan says

          Hey, I’m from Boston and yes, we can be loud sometimes, but not impolite. I don’t know who you met in the Northeast that gave you that impression, actually sorry for it – but don’t call us all boasting, materialistic, bimbos, you…Texan!! LOL

  11. avatar:P says

    I think Americans are just loud because there’s a lot of space. One of my friends who travels a lot says that in Europe people stand really close to each other when they talk and if you’re on a subway someone will sit right next to you even if there are other seats available (while in America there’s sort of a rule where you try to sit as far away from someone you don’t know as possible). So it’s just sort of habit to talk loudly.

  12. avatarjames says

    Americans are fine and very friendly in their own country but as soon as they leave they give the impression of being loud and arrogant (especially “we saved you in the war” comments). Chanting u.s.a does you no favours either.

    • avatarJoe says

      James,

      Do the Americans you meet int he UK (mostly tourists and there are a lot of them every year) really loud and arrogant? I was in the UK several times and observed them “outside their comfort zone” and I did not find most of them that way. The ones I observed were very quiet and well reserved compared to the surrounding British people.

  13. avatar says

    Well , America is more diverse than you may think,,,it is by size huge,,,and maybe why you think America is arrogant you are tiny , no insult. Intended. I am American and descent Italian and Eastern European,,, very aware no Celtic. Heritage here,,,I am a socialist do not believe that private citizens need a ton of guns,,, do not support all these wars and get mad at my country for all its world dominance and Imperialism., no supporter of capitalism here accept both black and whites,,,,granddaughter is a Latino, One sibling is a millionaire I am not wealthy by any means,,..hate that no real socialist programs exist here,,, accept gays and abortions, like 70 years of education with us siblings four of us and admire much of Western Europe social programs. So. Do I fit your stereotype,,,, love the family pet first and foremost,,,, peace to all you folks out there. Xoxoxo

  14. avatarSiri says

    I am an American from the US and I think all of you are stereotyping people from both areas. People are people wherever you go. Some people will have good manners and some won’t. To say all or most people from either country have specific behaviors is a bit ridiculous because none of you have met a significant number of people from either country to make such blanket statements. From my visits to the UK, I seriously didn’t think there was that much of a difference between the cultures. The difference was mainly in the dialects.

    • avatareric says

      I agree Siri. People are people and you have “good” and “bad” behvaior everywhere. The thing that bothers me is that many in other countries tend to define Americans from the United States by our Media…which at it’s best is still a very poor refelection of our actual values. IMHO, we are as diverse as the world is large but we have some similarities in that we agree that it’s ok to disagree on nearly 100% of the issues and still get along with each other like it means nothing. An example is the person who said they were a socialist American…I would likely tend to disagree with them on basically every political issue, yet I respect their entitlement to their opinion and the rule of law and would likely get along with them just famously.

      Also, my British friends, when speaking of Americans in political generalities, please relize that we vote basically 50/50 these days on political issues so we are a divided nation in terms of our political leanings…however, I think this is more a product of our media dividing us rather than people being totally divided. Most of us want the same things, a good family, a good job, three squares, a nice home and good transportation.

      Our difference lie in the opion of “whom” should provide those things. Many of us feel that the federal governement, being so detacted geographically and in mindset from a huge portions of our population, is a poor provider. Due to this fact we wish to provide for ourselves with as little interference and taxation from the federal governement as possible. Many feel that it’s OUR responsibility, not the governments, to provide for the poor amoung us and to support charity out of our own convictions. We do not feel it’s the governments responsibility to provide for it’s citizens, but only to protect it’s citizens from foregin intrest. To those ends many (if not most) of the people I know personally give more to charity than they pay in Taxes….this, to me, is the true meaning of freedom. To be personally responsible for ones own decisions about ones money without governement interference. To us, overregulation (esecially if it includes enforcement) is the main problem with the Federal system in any country.

  15. avatarJasmine Jade says

    I am from America, Oklahoma specifically. I have rarely been outside my state, occasionally to N. Texas. But I have a Londoner friend, named Cathrine (Cat for short). She has been here for 11 years and recently married an Oklahoman named Heath. For their honeymoon, they visited Cat’s parents in London. Heath said that when he opened doors for people, they would look at him funny and clutch their purses. In America, especially the South, this is being polite; to not do it is frowned upon. I have never opened a door myself when a man is around. Do Brits not think the same way? I also noticed that many of you from Europe mentioned Americans as “gun toting”. I will not deny this. My family owns a total of over 30 guns. I am 16, and I own quite a few of them. I have hunted since I was 8 years old. This is what they are for. Don’t get me wrong, they are for protection also. Both my parents have their Open Carry License. But we use the guns to hunt. We don’t buy meat from the store, it all comes from what my dad and I get during the season.
    Some of you Americans talk about not really being out-spoken. Everyone I know is out-spoken. Perhaps Europeans aren’t so; I do know Cat is though. Opinions are valued here. As kids, we are taught to voice them. On the contrary, however, we are also taught not to care what others think of us. Doesn’t make sense, I know.
    America is made of fakes; I will admit this. Makeup, plastic surgery, and fake personalities are everywhere. They make up half of the US. I myself wear makeup. TV shows and reality aren’t too far apart. All of the Housewives shows may depict life in Orange County, Cali. But in the South, that isn’t how it works.
    I have read many Euros telling other Euros to watch Mean Girls (the movie) and that is how life in America is. I don’t know about other states, but in Oklahoma, there are no mean girls that are popular. People don’t like rude bitches (excuse my English). Popular people are pretty, as a general rule, but also nice. Mostly smart, and get along with most people. In high school, there are a ton of different groups, and no, you don’t talk to those outside your group. I don’t know why, it just is. There are a few exceptions, of course, such as myself. I don’t really have a place. It happens. I am a cheerleader, but I am country. I am kind of preppy, yet I always say the Pledge of Allegiance. I am different.
    I agree with Eric, (above me). It is our belief that freedoms means that we take care of the country while the gov. takes care of the foreigners. To be in the military is a great honor, and I have a family of Military, Navy and Marines mostly. I don’t however, agree with the gov. in most places; I especially don’t like Obama. But if you go North, they all love him. It all depends on where you go.
    I plan to travel as a career, (not literally) but my plan is to visit all countries in Europe, half of all countries in Asia, some of all countries in Africa, and most in South America by the time I’m 40. Then I will settle down in New Zealand and open a Surf and Diving Shop. I don’t plan to ever attend college. I don’t plan to live in America. I want a simple life, and that’s hard to achieve over here. Everything is about the latest gadget out there and how much we are willing to go into debt to get it. I just don’t like that. I don’t want to be rich, I just want a, as I said, simple life.

    • avatarPerry says

      In response to Jasmine Jada, I just want to point out a few things. I am 54 and have visited at least 20 states both on vacation and on business in the past 33 years. Not to mention I have visited over 10 countries including visiting the UK four times. So here they are:

      1. The USA is not a gun totting nation and 99.9% of legal gun owners are law-abiding citizens. They do not go around shooting people. Most Americans do not own guns. Guns are used for hunting and self-defense.

      2. Americans in general are out spoken because they have to. This is another way to give feedback to society at large on what is right and wrong. However, it is not always effective and it varies from region to region.

      3. Movies, TV shows, the news, internet, celebrities, and politicians do not portray the USA accurately and most of the times are very anti-American. Europeans have to read a lot on accurate US history and government (a lot of pages, about 100 pages), live in the USA for at least twenty years, and visit at least 20 states to faithfully understand the USA.

      4. There is nothing wrong in serving in the military in any country; it is still an honorable profession. Europeans do not understand this.

      5. You do not have to have the latest in everything to live in the USA. You can really live a simple life; however, if you get married and have children then your life and spouse’s life will automatically become complicated. This is true in all countries. Marriage and parenthood are luxuries and not necessities. They cost money and have a lot of intangible complications. So you can live a simple life but not as married person or a parent.

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