I’m a global person, not tied to any specific nationality with any particular force. My passport says, ‘United States.’ My homes are in Colorado, Chile, Italy, South Korea, and England. I’m nationless. I really, really get what it’s like to want to be from somewhere else. To break the constraint of that sweaty little electronic booklet, carried against my stomach across four continents.
But when I see something like this article (Ten Reasons Why this Brit Wishes She were American), I get a little miffed. Mostly because her reasons for wanting to be an American over being a Brit range from vaguely mistaken to so-wrong-I-wonder-if-it-was-deliberate. If I could choose any other nationality and shed my Americanity, I’d be tempted to choose here.
In the interest of balance in the universe, here are ten reasons this American wishes she were a Brit.
1. There. Are. (Almost.) No. Guns.
In the US, there is a long, protracted, and largely fruitless debate about gun control. In my mind, there is no clearer indication that the US is a strange place to be from. Our gun crimes make international news when they happen in peaceful communities like the one I’m from, but the slow grind of daily gun murders is much more worrying. Harder to spot.
I’ll never convince people who are set in their ways that guns are out of control in the States. And sure, there are guns here. In the hands of extremely-trained police officers (who now must wear cameras to prove they do not overuse their lethal force) and in the hands of enthusiasts who get them with a license. The restrictions are tough. They are not 100% bulletproof. But they clearly make a difference.
3.2 gun homicides per 100,000 in the US and much, much higher in some areas than in others. (In Denver, CO it was double the national average for 2013.). Compare that to 0.1 per 100,000 in England and Wales. The author of the Matador Network article above claimed that Americans have a greater respect for weapons. Really? Where? Oh, you mean that they think shooting is good fun and there shouldn’t be any background checks required to obtain lethal force? Clearly that respect for weapons is working.
2. Your Religion Doesn’t Take Over Everything
Religion is fairly important in the UK. Churches are even open on Sundays!
The religious of the UK tend not to stamp on too many non-religious toes. The Church of England is famous for its tolerance of most people, and makes a point of telling everyone to come to the communion table. Kosher, Halal, and Hindu foods coexist with Catholic lenten fish fries. Mostly, everyone gets along (don’t pay attention to the Daily Mail, they’re full of shite). I live in one of the most religiously mixed areas of London, and have never once seen anyone preaching.
Sure, religion has divided the UK and caused bloody conflict for centuries. There is a sense that people here are aware of the damage it can do, and moderate themselves accordingly. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are noticeably less pushy.
You can even have pastors telling naughty jokes on BBC4. And no one’s going around claiming that accepting gays will make God hate us. Well, maybe that one guy, but everyone ridiculed him as sounding like an American pastor.
3. You manage your space so much better.
It’s remarkable that there is as much green space as there is in the UK. I was awed when we first came to England, and drove out into the countryside to a pub. Coming from South Korea, a place with similar population density and space worries, it was incredible. Green spaces everywhere!
Since moving here, I’ve noticed that people in the UK are absolute pros at space management. It makes me feel inefficient, as someone who grew up in the wide spaces of the American West. There’s a tiny bit of space over there. Let’s use it as the foundation for a large shipping container installation with shops and restaurants and a pool and some laser tag. That’s not a real place, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be in the UK.
We used to call my hometown ‘The Sea of Houses’ when we first moved there. Grey roofs and beige, as far as your eye can travel to the horizon. McMansions cropping up in the boom years of the Dot Com bubble, with thousands of square feet. It might be ludicrous that I share a single bathroom with seven housemates here in London, but it hasn’t killed me yet. It’s far more ludicrous to build houses with 2.5 toilets for every occupant, or water giant green yards in the desert. Efficiency is beautiful, and the UK has it.
4.Your Pride in Producing Local Food
British produced potatoes. British beef. British lamb. British lettuce. British crisps. British eggs.
Tiny Union flags adorn so much of the food at the shop that it boggles the mind. How can such a tiny place with so many people produce so much deliciousness? Food may be (a little) cheaper Stateside, but that’s because it’s probably feedlot-produced and pumped full of fillers. Food is higher quality than in the States here, and you’ll pay out of pocket about the same amount for free range even once you account for the exchange rate.
Even McDonald’s has to put ‘Freedom Food’ on their breakfast sandwiches. In the US, I have to be content with my floppy, styrofoam Egg Product. National pride where national props are deserved.
5. Your Politics Require Actual, Sustained Debating Ability
US politics can appear dramatic if one looks only at a Wendy Davis-type filibuster. In reality that day was positively mind-numbing. So much procedure. So very little substance. If I ever have to hear the words, “Parliamentary inquiry” again…I just may scream.
The UK Parliament makes a very good show of trying to represent their constituents. Leaders can’t just punch out a few one-liners or lead some chants.
Some from the US might not know this, but the highlight of every Parliamentary week is Prime Minister’s Question Time. It depends on the issues in hand, but for at least 30 minutes each week the PM must face the questions of any MP who wishes to raise one. Yes, they do have to take turns. Yes, there is shouting and some bullying.
But the Parliament requires that the PM, the leader of the opposition, and all the MPs present be on their game. Every week. There is instant correction; if you fuck up your talking points the chamber will fill with “EUEUEUEUGHGUEEHEHEGUU” until you shout them down. It’s entertaining at the very least, and may be a better way to raise important issues.
6. Can’t Beat EU Membership
Oh, yes. Good ol’ Figel Narage and his UKIP kin are vehemently opposed to EU membership. But let’s be honest, the chances of the UK leaving are akin to those of Scotland voting ‘Aye’ on its referendum later this year.Which is to say, pretty slim. The benefits of being in the EU are farther-reaching than most who grew up with them can imagine. Not being a card-carrying member sucks.
UK citizens can travel the world with greater ease than I because of their EU membership. They can work in any number of foreign countries on the continent, or retire to them once it’s time. They can study without barriers, and should they happen to fall in love with someone who has a membership card to this great political experiment, the doors are open.
Despite the misgivings, the EU is often led by the UK. There is no one leader of the EU, but no one can deny that the UK has serious bargaining power. I’d love to be on the cutting edge of international politics, problematic and bizarre though it often is.
7. You have real buses. And proper public transport.
Take a seat, Americans. I have to tell you something shocking. There are people, many people, in the UK who never. Learn. To drive.
There are buses even in the smallest and most crap of towns. Those buses can take me to a real coffee shop where the coffee is made from real beans (unlike in the Matador Network story) or anywhere else I might want to go. Intercity services can take me around the country for less than a fiver. They’re cheap, clean, and largely pleasant. I don’t have to drive, unless I choose to. Ever. Trying to commute one town over without a car in the US last summer was a nightmare sometimes. Miss the bus, and you’re SOL. Miss the bus here, and there’s another one 1 minute away.
I have never owned a car. This puts me in Anti-American fringes, according to some. I can drive, but I’d rather not because I like beer sometimes and I hate parking. I want cities built less around cars and more around public transport. Even in the countryside, where it is admittedly less reliable than here in Londontown, British public transport kicks the arse of the US in all categories.
8. Your food is amazing.
I’ll come out and say it: that British food is bad or boring is a stereotype. Not simply because the national dish is a fantastic blend of spices and burn and the second place one is a hangover cure in a newspaper. London has better food than Paris, after all. And in the rest of the UK, it’s not as bad as most people tell you.
Shamefully, I live in the over-exposed SouthEast. But this means that I have practically any type of food I want, any day of the week. This plays well for a traveller’s permanent nostalgia. I want Chipotle? I can get Chipotle. I want kimchi jiggae? I can get kimchi jiggae. I want casuela? Luckily, all the ingredients for that Chilean soupmeal are to be found in any shop. I don’t get the same homefoodsickness that crops up everywhere else in the world.
9. The BBC Kicks Arse
The BBC. It’s awesome. Meticulously accurate, always waiting to get good information instead of just jumping on some false lead (ahem. CNN.). And the British Broadcasting Corporation is so much more than just news.
I’ve been immersed in it for over a year now, and I can truly say that BBC programming beats American primetime hands down. It’s like they respect their audience enough not to beat us over the head with a joke every two minutes. You can even say, ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ on air on shows meant for adults, as if those watching were actually adults. (Or as if swearing were not a mortal sin, see reason 3). I write this as I watch Have I Got News For You, in it’s 47th series. This panel show is so witty that I really have to focus on it, and have to be well-read to keep up with the banter. The likes of it just do not exist in the States. Nothing approaches the panel shows on BBC.
There may be some of the ‘same’ programmes in the States, but let me assure you that those that do jump the pond are often the shittest of British telly, and they have to be further watered down for US audiences. Don’t argue with me. Just watch the two versions of The Office.
10. Your Patriotism Doesn’t Define You
Everywhere in the world, I can only be The American. Whatever that means depends on the person, but it’s meant anything from ‘friend’ to ‘walking bag of cash’ to ‘neocolonial overlordress’ in my travels. And Americans are proud. Maybe too proud.
It might seem nice to an outsider that Americans self-define so patriotically, but it complicates matters. You must be patriotic to be American. Step out of line, mention some mildly unpopular belief, or claim that maybe the way others do things in the world could be better than ours (healthcare, I’m looking at you)…BOOM. Anti-American. Not allowed in the club.
Patriotism blinds us from the real problems, and makes people claim the US is the very best country on this planet while we slip lower and lower in every category but military spending. I’d much rather be a part of a country that is proud and patriotic when it’s warranted. The UK has no shortage of pomp for major holidays, but its citizens can happily gripe about how low their literacy scores have slipped in broad daylight (Still ten points higher than in the US.)
Change often doesn’t come at all, but the only sure way to change a society is to grumble ceaselessly. Fiery protests peter out. High rhetoric is code for That-Will-Never-Happen. Being able to see that your country is not the Greatest Nation on Earth is a blessing, and a lesson the United Kingdom has learned well.