LONDON – I think I may have a sign stamped on my forehead that says “Hi, I’m American. So when I speak, pretend you cannot understand my thick accent and give me a hard time.”
I cannot count the amount of times that I have approached a Londoner to ask for directions and my question was met with a look of absolute puzzlement followed by a barrage of responses like “Huh?” and “What was that?” Last time I checked, the official language of Great Britain was English. I came to the realization that British people are curt and standoffish.
I thought this was a traditional “New York City,” trait, but apparently it is prevalent here in London also.
People are friendly here, but they are not as friendly as Americans. I may feel this way because I am more familiar with the American environment and not the British.
But on the other hand, maybe the British are just ill-tempered.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t walk down the street into a sea of scowls, frowns and grimaces; but I did notice that there is virtually no eye contact. In the rare occasion that eye contact is made, it is not accompanied with a smile.
Usually when I catch someone’s eye in public, I smile a little. But here, even the older people don’t smile back at me.
That’s a little bit disturbing.I also hesitate a little before asking for directions. As I mentioned before, it is rather difficult to get them to understand what I’m saying. The unfriendly looks also do not tempt me to ask for assistance.My “Ameri-dar” is developing well. I can spot an American as easily as the British can. There is a definite difference in general appearance and demeanor. The British do have a sterner look, whereas Americans have an enthusiastic look about them.
Sorry for sounding like the “ugly American”, but I value my personal space.
The first time a British person – someone I did not know – touched my shoulder, I almost put him in a sleeper hold. I know it is not uncommon to enter someone else’s space in other countries, but as an American, it is incredibly uncomfortable to have that four feet of personal space violated over and over again. I have not gotten used to it, and frankly, I don’t like it.
Maybe the concept of personal space is foreign to the British. Since bigger is considered better in America, it is the converse of the economizing ways of Europe.The phrase “excuse me” isn’t popular here, and that combined with the lack of personal space is a dangerous mix. There have been countless times when I have gotten bowled over for no apparent reason. I know city living. I thought I was used to being shoved around, but here it’s a shove and a look of annoyance. So not cool.American customs are contradictory. We’re friendly, casual and laid back, but we will not hesitate to put people in a headlock if they graze our shoulder. Maybe that’s why we get a bad rap, and the need for personal space can easily be mistaken for brashness. However, the British are brash and have their flaws also.The British demeanor is also contradictory.
They are curt and no-nonsense, but have no problem touching a complete stranger. Their stiff upper lip is an effective repellent.
The “ugly American” is an epithet used to refer to perceptions of the arrogant, demeaning and thoughtless behavior of Americans abroad. There should be a term coined after the Brits. The “surly Brit” is curt, unsmiling and genuinely brash to visitors in their home country.
Sometimes Americans deserve their moniker, but other countries should own up to their vices as well.
Dashira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.