As you know, all of us Brits are incredibly posh, very wealthy, extremely intelligent, we’re all white and we all speak in the same posh southern accent (or RP = received pronunciation as it’s known). Yes, we are all a walking/talking everyday version of Four Weddings and a Funeral. All my male friends are just like Hugh Grant and I’m *exactly* like Kristin Scott-Thomas. Now, excuse me whilst I visit my pal at his beautiful large country house and chortle away the hours whilst quaffing* champagne.
Except, as you may have discerned from my tone or if indeed you in fact, like me, hail from the British Isles then you will realise this is not the case at all. It is in fact a grossly stereotyped idea of what Britain and the British are like. Don’t get me wrong, some people do live their lives like they’ve stepped straight out of a Richard Curtis movie, but this proportion of the British people is very, very small. For a small island, we are a varied breed. However, the representation of us Brits is never more strongly stereotyped than it is within American culture.
Now, please realise, I LOVE American culture. I’ve already praised it’s comedy HERE and have mentioned my love of American films, books and music throughout many of my posts. However, I can’t help but roll my eyes when a British character is introduced on American TV and film. Here we go, I think to myself, they’ll be posh, well spoken, a snob, white and no doubt probably quite dull. Or they’ll be plotting to destroy the world. One or the other. Either way, it’s never that pleasing and rarely accurate.
So here’s a few pointers about how American culture get their representation of British people wrong. Before I start though, none of the below is a dig at Americans, it is a dig at the people who make their TV shows and films. Americans can’t be blamed for thinking the British are only a certain way if that’s all they see of us:
- We are all posh snobs. Trust me on this one, we are NOT like this. Most of us are not posh (I’m speaking from a personal perspective here) and most of us are very down-to-earth, genuine and self-deprecating. We are nice people who just like a good laugh. The worst example of this representation is bloody Emily (great, classic British name there. Really used your imagination coming up with that name, didn’t you?) from Friends. She was indeed very posh, spoke with the so-called classic British accent (more on this is in a moment), was a complete snob, uptight, showed no sense of humour and most of all was very unlikable. The most annoying thing about Emily is that the writers of Friends created her and the episodes that took place in London as a way to thank the British fans of Friends, but in actual fact all it did was insult us. It’s ok, we got over it once they got rid of the character of Emily as that’s the kind of easy going people we are (we are rarely represented as being easy going either). Interestingly, well respected British actor Helen Baxendale who played Emily was asked to return for the final season of Friends, but she declined. She says that playing Emily was the biggest regret of her career.
- We all speak with the same RP accent. We are a small country, a lot smaller than America anyway, BUT we have so many different accents for such a small country. Geordie (Newcastle), Scouse (Liverpool), Brummie (Birmingham), Manchester, a variety of Yorkshire accents, Bristolian (Bristol), the west country accent, Essex, Suffolk, Home Counties, and at least 4 different London based accents…to name, but a few. Also, that is just England. There is also a wide range of Scottish and Welsh accents too. So, it is safe to say, we do NOT all speak the same. This has been made very apparent to me when I have spent time in the US. Too many times Americans have mistaken me as Australian when they meet me and hear me talk (I am rolling my eyes so hard right now, I’ve almost given myself an eye hernia). In Vegas once, there was this guy on the street that said he could guess what state you were from and if you weren’t American, he’d be able to guess what country. He seemed pretty sure of himself. We had to pay, but if he guessed wrong we’d get our money back plus a prize. I confidently handed him my dollars. I spoke and his answer was….Australian? Nah mate. Not quite. You’re just a whole hemisphere away. For the record, I come from the same part of the UK as both Kate Winslet and Ricky Gervais are from. My accent is half way between the two. Interestingly, the vast difference between Ricky & Kate’s accents is an example in itself of how varied British accents are as they are both from the same town. Occasionally, a “cockney” accent will be portrayed within American culture, but a) it’s usually done badly b) it’s not that often and c) it’s the same area of the UK as the RP accent. Therefore, yet again that British character with the token “cockney” accent is still only representing the same area of the UK.
- We are all white. Whilst I’m probably not the best person to speak on this subject, being a white Brit myself, it is such a painfully important point, it needs raising. Plus it’s something that properly gets on my tits. Once, I was at a music festival in Coney Island, NYC. The British band the Noisettes came on stage and immediately performed their first song. The lead singer happens to be black. When they finished the song, the lead singer said in her broad London accent “ALRIGHT NEW YORK?”. I was then astounded when surrounding me, everyone turned to each other and questioned “oh my God is she British?” or….”is that singer…you know…British?! I’m so surprised”. They were clearly shocked, but not as shocked as I was that they couldn’t quite believe this black person had a British accent. That some British people could in fact be black. However, we can’t blame these shocked American gig goers. How often when a British character is introduced on American TV or in film are they black? Or Asian or anything other than white? The issue is whenever a black British actor gets work in America they play an American or an African. Never or very rarely do they get to play their own nationality. As I’ve already talked about in a previous post of mine, many Brits play Americans on American TV and if you look at my list HERE you will see that many of them are not white. It is seemingly the only way non-white Brits can get work over there. Idris Elba had to use his well-practiced Baltimore accent when speaking to The Wire fans at it would freak them out if he spoke in his own London accent. This might partly be that they couldn’t handle that this Baltimore character was played by a Brit, but am I too bold to suggest it might also have freaked them out hearing a British accent coming from a black person? After witnessing the reaction of those particular Americans at the Noisettes gig, it could also be a possibility.
- The British are just English. I also feel American culture forget about the Scottish and the Welsh. If an Irish person does appear in American culture they are usually from the Republic of Ireland and very rarely from Northern Ireland. Out of these three nationalities the Scottish are probably represented the most. Yet, as you can guess they are largely stereotyped too. I’m thinking about the school caretaker in the Simpsons right now (maybe not the best example because as much as I love the Simpsons, they do like to stereotype- hello Apu). Welsh characters never appear within American culture. I’m struggling to think of one. Can you?
- If we’re not uptight posh snobs then we are evil villains. We just don’t come across well to Americans, do we? If we did, then maybe just maybe we’d be represented more favourably. However, playing evil Brits has done/did wonders for the careers of Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons et al. Whilst it’s not altogether pleasant, this stereotype doesn’t bother me as much (perhaps it should) as at least these villainous characters are quite fun unlike the boring, haughty British characters. I love this car advert starring Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong that sends up the stereotype of the British being evil villains.
- We can’t rap. Admittedly, if I did a rap for you right now, you would be well within your rights to point and laugh at me until I walked off in shame. Nonetheless, there is a strong animosity towards British rappers in general. Last year, Drake released his new album and a few tracks featured British rappers Giggs and Skepta (as well as British singers Jorja Smith and Sampha). The reaction on the internet was not positive. Many Americans claimed that the album was ruined by the British rappers. People even created memes to show how angry they were about it (granted, the memes were actually quite funny. You can find some examples HERE). It seems that Americans don’t seem to appreciate our rap/grime music. Again, is this because British rappers don’t fit the only British representation that Americans are exposed to? Possibly, they hear the accent and think that a British person cannot relate to what rap music is about because all we do is drink tea and discuss the merits of Shakespeare over here? I get it to a certain extent. Americans are bound to prefer American music as it represents their culture more. However, to have no tolerance of other countries producing the same genre of music is hardly inclusive and thoroughly audacious. There is one thing that I cannot stand and that is music snobbery. A particular genre of music should never be limited to just one continent.
- It rains all the time. So this is more of a stereotype about our country rather than its people. Every time an American TV show or film relocates to the UK, this is typically signified by rain pouring down on the streets of the UK somewhere. Yes, it does like to rain over here. That’s why are countryside is so luscious and green. I appreciate the rain for this reason, but here’s the thing, we also get other weather. We even get hot, sunny days. Only recently, America has been experiencing spring time snow and we on the other hand, have been sunbathing in our back gardens. We get weather that allows us to enjoys days at the beach, allows us to have BBQs in our gardens, picnics in parks and even swim in outdoor swimming pools. The problem being, that it will be like this one week and then a lot cooler and rainy the following week. Our weather is “interestingly” unpredictable over here.
- We have bad teeth. Yes, some of us have bad teeth, but also lots of us have good teeth. We just like to keep things a bit more “natural” across the Atlantic.
- The one stereotype about the British that is 100% correct. We drink a lot of tea. First thing in the morning? Yup tea please. Just finished breakfast? Better have another cup of tea. Mid morning break? Tea. Just had lunch? More tea. Mid-afternoon, just got home from work, after dinner, after doing the washing up, after having a bath, someone’s just popped round, someone’s having a crisis, just broken your leg, just had your car stolen, someone’s died, TEA TEA TEA AND MORE TEA. According to us Brits, there is literally nothing that can’t be cured by popping on the kettle and having a nice cup of tea. The Americans have this stereotype on the nose.
I am sure there are the odd occasions when the British haven’t been stereotyped within American culture, but it’s safe to say these occasions are few and far between. Why should it bother me that we so often get misrepresented? American culture is huge and dominates across the world. Therefore, this stereotype of the British (and indeed other countries. Did you know that all Russians are also evil villains? Only when the British are too busy drinking tea to take over the world that is) is constantly being seen and compounded across the world. With the worldwide influence American culture has, comes great responsibility. Just to reiterate, I don’t blame Americans at all for thinking the British are all of the above. Also, I realise there will be many Americans that won’t think any of this about the British at all, as they’ll know that a whole nation of people won’t have the same personality and background. It’s just a touch annoying that American culture can’t sometimes broaden its horizons when it comes to representing us Brits. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to put the kettle on and make myself a nice cup of tea. Cheers.
*WHAT THE FUCK IS QUAFFING?!
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