Ask Me Anything

By alison January 31, 2011 23 Comments 7 Min Read

So here we are in the second of my series of answers to your questions. This weeks writing prompt comes from Heather and asks a question I am both excited and scared to answer in case I offend any of my Darling readers across the channel, all of whom are of course, deeply appreciated…
“Part of the reason I enjoy your blog so much is that it gives me a sneak peek into British life. The food, the terms you use for things that I have to look up on google to see what they are (chuckie egg buttie), the places you travel to, etc. is all very fascinating to me. It’s like you live a life similar to mine, but in a different romanticized (to me) way. Is there anything about America or Americans that fascinates you, tickles your fancy, or absolutely horrifies you? What is your impression of Americans-and yes, I’ll take the bad with the good…”
Great question right? So off we go. Just beware: this post is long and possibly rambling…

The thing is this: I have never been a traveller. Never wanted to globe trot or see the same stars from a land far away. For me home is where my heart is, but I just wish my heart was in America, because I’ve been aching to visit since I was about knee high to a grasshopper and have never yet managed to get there…
Perhaps it is my Nana’s fault: this blatant admiration of a country I once knew little about beyond that which I saw in my movies, because wasn’t it she who who saved every penny she had to fulfil her life long dream of visiting the USA at the grand old age of sixty, and set off all by her four foot eight self to report back that it was every inch as grand as she had hoped it would be, but that she was too scared to leave her hotel in New York!
Wasn’t it she who sat me in front of vintage Hollywood movies every Sunday of my childhood? Wasn’t it she who made it seem like the most glamorous of impossible lifestyles in comparison to hers, never for a moment acknowledging that for for every star with her name on Hollywood boulevard, there must have been a million single Mothers suffering all the same hardships as she? Only with Southern drawls and Brooklyn twangs?
Now I’m all grown up and my precious little Nana is hopefully draped in fake fur and singing her heart out on a star spangled cloud, I still carry her love of America in my heart: still believe that this is a nation that creates the most generous people on Earth and still believe, like my Nana clearly did, that anything is possible there…
But I know more now. I have been blessed with the wonder of the Internet and can travel places my Nana could only dare to dream about, meet real life Americans, immerse myself in US culture and  form truly wonderful friendships with so many women who are just like me.
Because that’s the thing isn’t it? The parallels between us are many. In so very many ways your lives are just like mine: we share the same hopes and dreams for our children and face the same struggles to get dinner on the table each night. We are alike. In fact there are times when I believe my outlook on life is more like yours than it is like that which I am supposed to share with the woman I stand on the playground daily with, the friends I grew up with, those terribly British women I see perusing the aisles of Waitrose.
But of course I generalise. No doubt you are no more my version of “American” than I am an English Rose. We are all the same but fundamentally each one of us is different regardless of the continent in which we live. It is the Internet that assimilates our lives and rubs the corners off nationalism as soon as we come together in “tribes” online, united by common interests and willing to forgive, adore or ignore the traits of our country’s that we cannot help but display.
And so my opinion of America these days is culled not from the wider picture on television; not from the sanitised lives I see in Friends, nor from the best of what Hollywood has to offer, but from personal experience within a very narrow field. From forming judgements of American women’s lives gleaned through their vintage lifestyle blogs. From reading between the lines in what they write and assessing their reaction to me in the comments they choose to share here on BrocanteHome. And it is from this very specific point of view that I am now able to write that I remain as much in awe of America as I ever did, but that there are parts of your culture I couldn’t embrace for a big clock: terribly English parts of me that can’t quite get a grasp on some aspects of American society that seem deeply rooted and are essentially a part of who you are…
1. While I admire  the dedication to family life that I see described in so many blogs daily, I can’t fathom the urge to have millions of children. Here we raise eyebrows at anyone mad enough to have more than two, on the basis that the kids should never outnumber the parents, probably because we rarely have the space and more than three or four kids are usually fiscally impossible regardless, and large families here have long been associated with the kind of poverty stricken, church driven lives of our Victorian ancestors. Which is a shame  because large American families often seem to display the kind of clansman-ship rarely seen on these shores.
2. We simply aren’t as religious as you. British women rarely discuss God and when we find religion forced upon us, we simply pretend it’s not there and go on cultivating our own very personal spirituality in whatever form that might take. So while I completely, totally and utterly respect your right to discuss, refer to and write about your God, I don’t always relate to it and very occasionally, if I am to be truly honest, resent it, because in some circumstances reference to personal religious belief seems deeply inappropriate, though judged right it can be both timely and comforting and I remain truly open to expanding my very limited horizons.
3. Your loyalty astounds me. While we British may be known as a polite nation, my country’s womenfolk are always willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of our families, acknowledge when things aren’t good, and swear like fishwives when they are truly terrible, but rare is it for me to read anything even remotely negative about you and yours online, which only goes to accentuate the glossy facade of the blessed lives we are thus led to believe you lead. This is something I recently saw rather hysterically discussed in a post about  Female American Mormon bloggers on Salon, and experienced myself in the backlash I felt when I was hurting after my relationship broke down and I found myself  frequently accused of “husband bashing”, and subsequently lost a dramatic proportion of my American readership. Many women seem fiecely resistant to critisism of the institution that is marriage and avoid discussion of anything that may or may not ignite deeply personal flames…
4. But then you seem to have great men! British men are a rare and difficult breed, not given to hardship and liable to fall asleep at the drop of a hat and ship out at the merest hint of marital crisis, but with a sense of humour that has laughed many women’s knickers off. We love them and we loath them, but while they might settle into steadfast old age, I know, not just from my own experience but from  discussion about and observation of many British marriages, that in the early years they make great friends, generous lovers and often terrible husbands, because they are deeply enlightened beings, scared of their own feelings and desperately afraid of acknowledge their emotions out loud. Not so, it seems the American male. Travel the blogosphere and you will see many an American husband perched happily in the sidebars, supporting their wives endeavors, and seemingly utterly willing to partake in many of the family reinforcing rituals most British men would scoff at. You are lucky and I truly hope you know it!
5. You work incredibly hard and have huge faith in your skills as homemakers, entrepreneurs and educators. In this country home-schooling is practically unheard of and yet you seem to do it in your thousands, and I can’t even begin to express my admiration for this. Here we seem either too oppressed by the system to dare to dream of better things for our children, or we simply don’t place enough faith in all that we are capable of. And so it goes with starting our own businesses,  with being truly brilliant home-makers, or inspirational writers or artists: we just don’t seem to be capable of applying ourselves to the same degree as you do, whether it be by necessity, empowerment or sheer utter strength that you choose to do it.
To me it has always seemed that the cliche that America is the land of the free is somewhat true so long as adherence to strict moral guidelines we barely understand here, are kept. A true comparison of our lives is difficult because we don’t have the same standard of living that you do and the cost of living is comparitively high here and space remains at a premium, so most homes are comparitively small, no doubt to what much of America is used to.Life is harder. Food is more expensive. Books are twice the price…
So the truth is I’m jealous. While I might be able to wander down streets paved with history, your opportunities for making history are much greater than mine. You have such fierce enthusiasm for everything you do, give with all your hearts in a way we will never fathom and seem infinitely more content with your lot than we will ever be. While I sometimes wonder whether your enviable morality is not a little claustrophobic and fear for a country that from my view point seems under threat from Christian fundamentalism and extreme right wing politics, still it remains a country I deeply admire, not for what it represents but for the generous, funny, daring women it inspires.
All that and Dunking Donuts, George Clooney and the best sitcoms on the planet, you lucky lot! Do feel free to weigh in and tell me if I’m wrong, and what it is that YOU love about Britain…

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23 Comments

  1. Heather Faulkner says:

    This makes me want to start singing "I'm Proud To Be An American". 🙂 I love my country and am so grateful to have been born here. But I have a longing for a deep history. Maybe it's because I was born in California and now live in Las Vegas. The history here in Las Vegas is VERY short (it's only been a city for less then 100 years) but then again that short history might allow us our big ideas.
    I think your comment about Christians and right wingers threatening our country is kind of funny. Right now conservatives are up in arms and when Pres. Bush was in office it was the liberals who were all out of joint. Americans aren't comfortable if they don't have something in government to complain about. We are so diverse that that the whole country will never be happy with how it is run. Luckily we has the freedom to complain about it and the ability to do something about it.

  2. Heather says:

    Thanks for replying, Alison. It is very interesting to hear your view. I love your truth.

  3. Rachel says:

    You are completely lovely. Thank you for all your insightful reflections about an English woman's view of our wonderful and (slightly screwy) country! I've been a lurker on your blog for a while and appreciate your take on motherhood and housekeeping. I very much agree with your statements on religion here. I would love to live in an atmosphere where religion was less "in your face" and more personal and private.
    One thing I appreciate about America is the abundance of ice in the drinks. My only trip to England (so far!) was about twenty years ago and I remember that it was impossible to get enough ice. (Can you tell I like ice?)

  4. Wonderful post! I love the comparisons you made — so honestly put forth. I, too, smiled at your comment about being under threat from Christians fundamentalism and right wingers. Not because I am one (smile), but because most of the things you admire in American women (and men) are such an integral part of those exact people. A great deal of my relatives are the opposite — outspoken in their liberal politics. They are the ones (in my life) who don't have the supportive men, do not take responsibility for their children's education (whether homeschooling or in other ways), and do not take any initiative to make their lives any better. I would not describe even one of them as generous or daring. Or very patriotic. Sad, really. But, back to your post. I'm sure I'm like many who will read this — so proud to be an American, but also so very much wishing to visit England and experience the country of so many of our literary heroines! (You included.)

  5. What a thoughtful answer to the question! Thank you for giving us a little insight.
    I do have to say that while homeschooling and very large families are common in the blogosphere, they aren't quite as common in "real life", at least in my experience. I only know of a couple of families that homeschool (maybe because we have good schools here) and my five children have earned me plenty of stares and "Don't you know what causes that?" comments over the years. 😉

  6. As an English blogger, I've also LOVED getting to know American women, and enjoyed their warmth and kindness.
    BUT that's in NO way to lessen what I love about England. Perhaps we are initially more reserved as a nation but once we give our hearts then we're there forever!
    Sarahx

    1. brocantehome says:

      Hi Sarah, so lovely to meet you… I do hope I didn't sound disparaging about England, I do so love my town and country, and my envy of American life is I think probably restricted to the America I have conjured up in my imagination…!

  7. Traci says:

    The best sitcoms? Well…maybe. I mean, Friends was ours, as was I Love Lucy. And now we're got The Big Bang Theory, which I think is great. But I would probably give up any of those for a few episodes of Black Books and Spaced, which nearly make me pee every single time.

    1. brocantehome says:

      Agreed Black Books and Spaced are absolutely hilarious but you know the difference between British and American sitcoms? Here we seem to spend an awful lot of time getting our kicks from people who are kind of bonkers, while in America you do everyday situational humour so cleverly, that your comedy goes mainstream instead of becoming the kind of cult classics that the likes of Spaced, Black Books and Father Ted were always going to be…
      Oooh and Traci I LOVE The Big Bang Theory. It makes me howl!

  8. This was really interesting.. I'm from Canada so we have a bit of both worlds here I guess.
    Cheryl

  9. Gloria Jacobsen says:

    Alison Dear,
    What an interesting answer on American ways. I jsut started reading your blog. I truely enjoy it. Thank you.
    Now in my world its his, hers and ours and that makes eight. With two at home. Being an ex-teacher at school I didn't want to teach at home, however we have good schools here. I am what they call a homesteader, small piece of land and making it work as a farm, in Arizona. I am right winged conservative. I am also one of those religious people that have a personal faith. I think that most of what is seen and written about is only a tip of the life here. We long to know about the past so we embrase the many cultures that have made this country, and some of us long to visit 'the old country'. When the old ones have gone we look to other methods of the learning. So we embrace your blog and others like it to learn about you and how you live life in your country. Oh we also like your sitcoms. I like the artists and the authors.
    Thank you for sharing.

  10. Lisa J. says:

    Allison: Interesting insights!
    My grandmother was British, and so are a couple of my uncles. British people are a different breed somewhat from Americans., and Anglo-Canadians are kind of a mix of both.
    1. Americans are more generally more casual, and yes, there is a much larger population of traditional Christians in the US.
    Canada has a much smaller evangelical Christian population – Roman Catholic is still our number one religion here.
    2. British men are a funny lot! I agree. They are the original serious "stiff upper lip" types, or macho "pub" guys – who seems to spend too much time watching soccer or throwing darts with their mates.
    But, alot of American husbands nowadays are "Runners" too. Think nothing of leaving the wife and kids, for a new chick.
    This is big problem in the Western world, and seems to go hand-in-hand with a less family, religious orientation. (Studies are showing this…..) Britian/US have the highest divorce rates….
    3. Americans are business people par excellence!
    4. Brits don't like too much flash and glitz, which they consider "Common" or trashy. Hollywood could only be American.
    But I must say, no one had greater style, dignity or genuine class than my British Grandmother! Ada Mary Quince, born 1898, St. Neats, UK. She represented the best of the traditional English woman. How I miss her still.

  11. dangermom says:

    Funnily enough, I AM a Mormon homeschooler mom. (I'm not a very good housekeeper though; I'm much better at reading books and blogs about it than actually doing it.) I have no family or homeschooling blog, though, just book ones. Dorothy Sayers invented my homeschooling philosophy, and you should know that there are lovely homeschoolers in the UK who are feeling pretty embattled these days!
    My husband is the one who wants to talk about emotions in our family. Getting me to do it is like pulling teeth. It's true we don't like to talk about our everyday difficulties on public blogs; it seems disloyal and hurtful. I think we save that for close friends on a more personal level.
    I will admit to being an awful, terrible UK-ophile. All my favorite authors and books are British. My biggest daydream is to move my family to the UK to live for a year–we would do school 2-3 days a week and spend 3-2 days a week exploring everything. Maybe you Brits don't consciously appreciate all the layers of history around you as much, but you'd sure miss it if it was gone; where I'm from, a building that's 150 years old is incredibly historic, and that must sound ludicrous to you. OTOH while I like the green you have, I can't wrap my brain around how cold and damp it always is (I'm from droughty California, where we pray for rain and it's not summer till it hits at least 40 degrees).

  12. Sally Hackney says:

    Oh Alison. I so loved this post. I am many of those things you wrote about Americans…Midwestern (central Illinois) Catholic, right-wing, pro-life and I even homeschooled a couple of my kids. I come from a family of 6, my husband 7 and we have 5. Now here I am at 50 years young with 12 grandkids. I wouldn't know what to do with a small family or how to cook for only two.
    Saying all that in one long breath…I have always wished to visit the UK. Maybe I'll win the lottery someday and get to visit.
    You would think with my last name-HACKNEY-I should get to at least see England one day.
    Thanks for letting me see your fair land in your posts.
    Love from very snowy Deer Creek, Illinois…Sally Hackney

  13. Anna Marie says:

    I'm an American who moved to the UK, and I'm married to a Brit. I've been here nearly seven years. Alison, your comments about American religion and "family values" are generally correct. One of the reasons I left the States is that we don't choose to parent, which in the States is considered almost unthinkable, but here no one bats an eyebrow about it. I also am an agnostic, so much of American religion was baffling to me, and I was born and raised there!
    On the other hand, it seems to me that Americans do have a stronger work ethic (whether that leads to a better quality of life in an emotional or spiritual sense is debatable, but the material standard of living is surely higher). As for British and American men, I find the British hesitation to express emotion and sensitivity rather adorable, but perhaps that is because I wear my heart on my sleeve. In that way, my husband and I compliment each other.
    I miss American enthusiasm and the sense of possibility (which seems to have been taking a beating as of late in the recession), and I miss decent Mexican food. But for me, the UK's historical sense of place, and the tolerance here are priceless treasures. For those things, giving up a house in the suburbs, a passel of kids running around, and the 3 cars in the driveway is a bargain.

  14. Karla says:

    Love this post. As an American, I feel like I fit your description of a British woman more. LOL your views are very astute. I have to say I'd agree with most of it.

  15. Missteacherlady says:

    I'm an American who married an Englishman and we reside outside New York City. I have been blessed to have enjoyed the English countryside, numerous trips to London, as well as traveled to fifteen other countries and twenty five of the States. Having met people literally from around the world, I agree with your assessment that people are fundamentally the same. Family, friends, pets, and work that is both enjoyable and fulfilling seem to be their prime focus in life.
    I think it can be hard to generalize about people in a country as large as America. The pace of life (and driving!) in Iowa is vastly different from that from northern New Jersey, the number of children in a family in my area is generally 2, while it appears from comments to your blog very large families are the norm in other areas. Just as life in London is different to life in the Cotswolds, Vegas vs Vermont has a very different atmosphere.
    There are a few things I am sure of, concerning my own British/American experience:
    1. No one does drama like the British, while the Americans are the best at musicals.
    2. Afternoon tea is pure heaven, while a burger with fries and a milkshake are so satisfying!
    3.It was pointed out to me, quite emphatically in London, that "we que in this country", while enduring "free-for-alls" in the States when waiting on lines seems more of the norm.
    4.British humour takes a "bit of getting used to", and Americans can be loud and obnoxious, while also being the most generous people on Earth.
    I am grateful to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. My darling, clever husband, through the use of technology, accesses British television so I can enjoy "Lark Rise" the same day you do, following a day of American football.
    So glad to have found your blog many months ago and have enjoyed working on "Trash to Treasure" with you. Amazing the bonds women have……

  16. Krista Willmorth says:

    What a lovely post Alison! I had logged on to do the family bookkeeping, but, thanks to your post, first had the wonderful opportunity to sigh a bit and remember my travels of years ago. I love my country, and this is probably where my home will always remain, but I also dearly love to travel and learn about other cultures. I am happy to see from what you wrote that, despite the massive influence of the internet and the chance we have daily to draw the far-flung corners of the world into our lap, that we still retain some fundamental differences. Vive la differance I say! What a dull world it would be if we were all the same! Your post clarified a thought (a worry?) I'd had at back of mind for some time now. That with the ability we have in "first world" countries to interact on a daily, even hourly, basis, and to section ourselves off in like-minded forums, blogs and news organizations, that perhaps we are all becoming a bit…well…homogenized and clannish. I haven't had the opportunity to travel abroad for about 10 years now, so I've been curious what differences (if any) I would see. I imagine there has been some homogenization in the previous ten years, and perhaps some people choose to surround themselves only with like-minded individuals, but I'm glad to see there are still some deep-down practices that differentiate one culture from another.
    Thanks for the good read.
    Krista
    (P.S. My first post here, though I've been reading for years – since "The Breakup." Perhaps I'm odd – I tuned in then and simply could never tear myself away. You let us in, in such an intimate way, to a season of your life that was obviously very painful. Perhaps that's the loyalty you speak of. =) After hearing your story, I simply couldn't "walk away." Even if you never knew I was reading your posts and rooting for you the whole time.=) That brings up another difference – I first observed it when I was studying in France for a short time. Americans seem to have lots of "friends" (we will say hi to anybody), but, in my experience, we have few intimate friends in the way the French, at least, do. Lots of acquaintances, fewer friends that you know truly deeply.

  17. Sharla Middleton says:

    I love (what I perceive to be ) the more laid back style of life in Britain as opposed to the US. As a whole, most of us work hard on everything we do…careers, homemaking, childraising…Leaving little time for actually living. We rarely take time to enjoy the very things we say we are working so hard for. Granted, we do have many wonderful options for entertainment and good food whenever we do take time to enjoy them.
    It seems to me that in Britain life is lived at a more relaxed pace. I love the home decor that I've seen on British blogs. I find it to be comfy and homey. It reminds me of my grandmother's house when I was young. Also, I love all the plants that thive in your part of the world. I live in west Texas where we must water outdoor plants every day in the summer just to keep them alive.

  18. Laurie says:

    So very interesting to look at things from your point of view. I think you will find that a lot of American women look at things the way you do, I see many bloggers as being very "foreign" compared to me, but it is all interesting and enlightening. And if it's not, we can move on to something we prefer.

  19. Daja says:

    The best things about living in the UK (according to my American Fantasies!) are scones, tea, and clotted cream. That and your proximity to the rest of Europe. My husband and I have a fantasy about moving to France or Italy for a year or two. We backpacked around Europe this summer and have been actively plotting to get back every since! (By the way, Americans are terrible copy-cats when it comes to sitcoms! The Office? That was yours first! So many of our shows started out somewhere else–often Britain, and we just remade them! I think British sitcoms are some of the funniest things on television. Keeping Up Appearances? My grandma and I sit around watching 'til we cry!)
    Very interesting paradoxical list you made about Americans! I think I have a fairly global perspective, having grown up in California in a very multi-ethnic family, having traveled abroad fairly extensively and then having lived in Mongolia for many years. It's interesting that you see that America is under threat from Right-Wing Christians when many things on your list (large families, involved husbands, entrepreneurial spirit, homeschooling, women keeping house, etc.) are very distinct values of Right Wing Christians.
    Don't believe everything you see in the media regarding American politics and Right Wing/Left Wing stuff. There's a lot of fiction mixed in with the facts! Some of the best fantasy comes from the New York Times! LOL!
    Gonna go make myself a spot of tea and think of what I shall make for dessert tonight….. 🙂

  20. Carlie says:

    Truly, I am flattered. I would never have thought to ask this question but, it is something I have idly wondered from time to time. It's heart-warming to know that you aren't sniffing down your elite and lovely Anglo nose at us lousy newcomers. *wink* I think Brits are fabulous, especially you!

  21. Linda says:

    I'm an English girl who travels the world via blog and Iloved your post! I love reading about the wonderfully organised, happy homemakers who always have oodles of craft supplies for their children and never watch tele. They educate their families and eat together every evening. Then I look up from my computer and see one child eating tea on her knee infront of the tv, another playing on the wii whilst his twin is increasing in volume as he wants to play a different game and its surely his turn now?!
    But we are happy too and it works for us! It isn't always like this – a couple of us go to Church, we love a game of Uno every now and then and we get on really well most of the time!
    You manage to sum things up so well in your wonderful posts – long may you continue
    Linda xx

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