I woke up completely disoriented to the screams of a small British child. “Go awaaaaay,” It yelled/whined me fully awake. I turned over to see a grown man sitting up in bed with a sheet tucked under his armpits, as though keeping the nipples out of sight is an exercise in male modesty. The front door of the hotel room clicked shut in response.
“The bloody maid,” he addressed me, still protecting himself with the sheet. His lower lip jutted out as though he’d been traumatized. For a moment I imagined him finishing that sentence: “Tried to take my lolly” “Pinched me bum” “Took advantage of me in the back of a crisps lorry”
What in the hell was up with this guy’s accent? It was so frantic and whiny, not at all the calm, classy timbre I remembered. As he took a shower and I put on my dress from the day before, I remembered bits of the previous night.
He was some sort of financial journalist in town for a conference. I met him at a party and we had gone to another bar for some whiskey cocktails. This was all very good, very British. What I had experienced was the auditory version of beer goggles. I had gone to bed with Colin Firth and woken up with the “Charlie bit my finger” boy. I looked at his multi-colored trainers next to the bed. This experience was making me rethink my anglophillia.
“Quite excited,” he said to me later, straightening the cuffs on his shirt as we went down the escalator, “going to a basketball game today.”
Aside from Tony Blair’s Iraq speech, it may have been the least attractive thing I’ve ever heard an Englishman say. I want an Englishman to sniff, “Basketball, what’s the point?” And then cross his leg over his knee and shake open his newspaper.
I certainly don’t want him to be excited about it. Actually, I don’t really want to see a Brit get too excited over anything. It’s like your great-uncle wearing a Lady Gaga t-shirt with his L.L Bean slacks. Unnatural. As Woody Allen once said, “I didn't know he was dead; I thought he was British.” Yes please.
Now don’t get me wrong, people from other countries can be into whatever part of American culture they like. By all means. Dutch people can be obsessed with Donald Duck. Thai clubs can play Zombie by The Cranberries and everyone can dance like they are on an invisible stripper pole to the part about “tanks and bombs” for as many years as they want. And Brits, well if you want to have televised political debates with zooming, exploding graphics, that’s fine by me.
But as an American I have to tell you, you all look a bit silly. It’s like seeing one of us in a furry Russian hat or speaking Mandarin to an employee of the Panda Express. That was the deal with this guy I realized. He was a Brit with a thing for America. Well done for him as he had just scored with an American girl in the Hudson hotel. However, to an American with a thing for Brits, his puffy shoes and pump a fist into the air enthusiasm were debasing.
There is a kind of aggressive optimism that on a Brit just looks -- and more importantly sounds -- eager and emasculating. The English accent was wrought on sarcasm and incredulousness. You’re like America’s older, stodgier sibling, eyebrow raised at our perpetual exuberance. I’m aware you can’t all be stereotypes, that Britain is not just a John Cleese sound-alike contest. That being excited is nice sometimes and you shouldn’t have to forgo the emotion even if it makes your voice raise several unattractive octaves. Of course I am.
But it really hurts.