Richard Curtis, This Is All Your Fault

Last week, I smugly decided to prove to our American sisters that we're not all the twee, bumbling product of British romantic comedies. Turns out, I was wrong, we're one steaming pile of cliché.
Publish date:
December 12, 2012
Christmas, love actually, American vs British, Richard Curtis, Christmas films

Last week I was talking to xoJane's Managing Editor, Corynne, about Christmas traffic, and mentioned that, in my experience, traffic sometimes goes up a bit in that period between Christmas and New Year, because everyone is sick of hanging out with their families and staring at the TV, and so sneaks off to do some online shopping with a bottle of gin and a cheese board. In my experience.

Corynne was surprised, because, as far as she was concerned, British people love their quirky, eccentric families, who all sit around together drinking mulled wine (I'm paraphrasing a bit).

To be fair, this scene does sound familiar. Not because it's like any Christmas I’ve ever had, but I’ve definitely seen it somewhere before. In fact, if Harry Potter and Bridget Jones accidentally stumbled onto the set of Love Actually, on Christmas Day, it's probably a fairly close approximation of what would go down.

So, I decided to find out which other preconceptions our American sistas have developed about Brits from a diet of Richard Curtis films and English-accented Disney baddies, ready to SMASH them down with my cliché hammer (it's a metaphorical hammer). Actually I decided to get some of the writers from the UK site to smash them down for me, because I'm lazy like that.

Unfortunately, although some of the suggestions were slightly off-piste (mainly those involving men and courtship), it turns out that the ladies across the pond, and Richard Curtis, may be onto something...

Julieanne: "All British men are cuddly, sexually non-threatening types who don't know they're handsome even when they are."

Stuart: Two words for you, Julieanne: Jimmy Savile. For many years, Jimmy Savile was one of the most famous men in the country, thanks to his show where he granted the wishes of thousands of children. The pay-off was that the children had to spend time around Savile, a cigar-smoking paedophile who both looked and sounded like Skeletor (if Skeletor had walked around in a second-hand nylon chemo wig and a succession of melting Magic Eye puzzles instead of actual clothes).

Cuddly? No. Sexually non-threatening? The man was literally one of the most prolific paedophiles in British history. Handsome? You decide.

Corynne: "All British people will spend Christmas day drinking spiced wine and having great dinner parties at their flats. Also, their quirky clueless parents and hilarious siblings will come - because everyone is best friends with their family"

Stevie: Firstly, great dinner parties? Plural? Dinner consists of leftover Christmas lunch and watching the dog throw up a bauble. Nobody can drink wine because they're too close to throwing up too (leftovers, not baubles).

I am genuinely best friends with my mum, dad and sister, and they're all very quirky (my mum recently sent me a text that read TiTS ON FIRE!!!!!X apropos of nothing) but this is seen as a weird phenomenon by my peers. Not the norm.

However, when it comes to the extended family, I have an uncle who gets drunk and moons at everyone. As in properly, bent-over mooning. It's horrific.

Corynne: 'You all have cupboards under the stairs:'

Rebecca: Fair play Corynne, my parents do have a cupboard under the stairs (I don't because I can't afford stairs, let alone a cupboard). Here’s my sister in front of it. We also all dress up at Boris Johnson at any possible opportunity.

India-Jewel: "You all have yellow/brown teeth"

Danielle: Ahh India-Jewel, you have no idea how right you are. So much so, I once had the opportunity to have my teeth lasered for gratis. I went and sat with peculiar glasses on while the dentist promised me sparkling teeth. He coated my teeth with goo, stuck giant plastic things over the top and lasered them.

My gums bled. My teeth looked maybe a shade or two lighter – totally not the Ross from Friends/Shane Warne look I was hoping to achieve, and then the sheer agony afterwards NOBODY told me about. It was like someone had hooked up live electric currents to each tooth. Never again. I’ll keep my tea stained gnashers as they are.

Lesley: "All British Women are always somewhat disheveled and approachable and charmingly awkward"

Phoebe: This is one of those clichés that has some truth to it, although the ladies of TOWIE and Kensington might disagree. While there are many Englishwomen sporting glossy hair and freshly pressed clothes, most of my peers don’t have the time or money to look that groomed.

We travel and do our make-up on public transport and with the best will in the world, by the time we’ve emerged from the underground or fallen off the bus into the drizzle, we’re going to be looking sweaty, rumpled and flustered. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that we don’t care that much.

I own an iron, I just never got around to acquiring an ironing board so I could use it. I could spend half an hour tying myself in yogic knots to blow-dry the back of my head, but I can’t see it, so why bother? I’d rather watch TV read an improving book.

I think the qualities Lesley describes are inextricably linked – you can’t help but be charmed by someone who looks unthreateningly scruffy. We have a sense of humour, we like to have fun, we’re not particularly intimidating and our greatest icons (Kate Bush, Elizabeth I) have frizzy hair.

In fact, even those who do favour a more glamorous look are endearingly honest about the effort it takes to achieve it – thus you see Liverpool’s women proudly walking around the city centre on a Saturday afternoon with their curlers in, in readiness for the night to come. I love that.

Picture the scene: you’re at a party and see a chic Parisian with a perfect chignon who is coolly ignoring the canapés standing next to an Englishwoman with spinach in her teeth, a dubious stain down her top and a brimming glass of gin in her hand. Who would you rather hang out with?

Daisy: "Many of you are orphans and governesses are all the rage"

Rebecca: Ok, so I spent aaaages trying to find out how many orphans there actually are in the UK, and no-one seems to have the answer. One random page on the Internet told me it was 5,000, but that doesn't seem right to me.

HOWEVER, I've just remembered that Norland College, the training ground for Norland Nannies, still exists. They're the closest thing you're ever going to get to a governess these days, and they look like this:

The thing is, there's a recession on, so I can't really see how anyone can afford a Norland Nanny. But I like to think that when they finish their training and go on to become admin assistants for the local district council, or whatever, they still insist on wearing their uniforms to work.

Julieanne: This is how you court each other:

[I got several responses to this. Clearly we all have a very strong feelings about Andrew Lincoln's decision to say it with permanent markers --Rebecca]

Squeamish Kate: Americans! If you're going to base your assumptions about the British on Richard Curtis's work, your best bet is to glean all your knowledge from Blackadder. It is far more factually accurate than Love Actually, Actually. If Britain were so full of bumbling English men I'd emigrate.

Having said that, the cliché of Brits getting wankered in order to court each other (sicking on your shoes is our way of saying we like you) is accurate. Which is why Julieanne's belief we chat each other up using a marker pen and card irks me so. BECAUSE I WISH IT WERE BLOODY TRUE.

The reason I could never reside in a country full of bumbling English men is because I am a bumbling British woman, the thought of men courting me with signs, or maybe sock puppets appeals to me greatly.

Yes, men of Britain - this Christmas, I am actually asking you to spell it out. Mainly so I can weed out the ones who don't know the difference between your and you're.

Sally Griffith: Yeah we liked that bit too. Actually, it's this:

Robyn: THIS is how we court each other:

Which preconceptions of British people here would you like to take issue with? Get on board in the comments below. Also, calling all Yanks - how many of your assumptions about British people come from twee romantic comedies and Harry Potter films? Tell us what they are and don't feel bad, you're probably right, TBH.