Americans really are suckers for an English accent
All right, I admit it: about 75% of the reason I wanted to move to America was because of that scene in Love Actually, where a goofy British guy goes looking for romance in Wisconsin and immediately stumbles upon three adoring Midwestern beauties. And I’m married (which explains the missing 25%). Of course, I’ve now realized it’s not really like that -- or maybe the problem is that I’m even goofier than the fictional goofy guy whose character was created with the sole purpose of being goofy. But cliche though it is, the British manner definitely has a way of charming an American audience.
Obviously I haven’t been dating, but I’ve been amazed how my accent works wonders in all kinds of situations, like asking for a better table in a restaurant or apologizing to the person I just trod on on the subway. Even stranger, the more Hugh Grant I go, the more effective it becomes. Back home, being so unbearably bumbly would probably earn me a black eye. Here, I get a free drink. Jolly good.
Americans aren't afraid to be themselves
This one probably applies more in New York than more straight-laced cities, but man, there are a lot of oddballs here. So many, in fact, that after a while I stopped noticing. If British me saw a woman dressed entirely in lime-green, with lime-green hair, lime-green mascara, and a lime-green rucksack, I’d stop dead in my tracks and quietly reach for my camera. In New York, I carry straight on, half-expecting her all-in-pink sister to be around the corner. Americans, I think, are pretty much hardwired to accept and celebrate diversity. Wear what you like, be who you are, say what you think -- if anyone judges you for it, that’s their problem.
Americans tell it like it is
I’d been in America all of four hours when I worked this one out. We sublet a semi-derelict apartment on the fourth floor of a Hell’s Kitchen walk-up, while we searched for somewhere with more sunlight and less Hell’s Kitchen about it. There was a knock at the door -- “Neighbors!” we thought, imagining 1995 Courteney Cox bearing a batch of fresh-baked welcome cookies. Well, we got a Friends character, but not Monica -- instead, it was our very own Mr. Heckles, complete with furrowed brow and cotton nightgown. “Your shit is dripping down my wall,” he said, matter-of-factly -- and we quickly worked out that one reason for our unusually cheap rent was the lack of a working toilet.
As an Englishman, I specialize in mincing words and avoiding confrontation. Had the roles been reversed, I probably would have silently put up with Mr. Heckles’ business dripping down my wall. Eventually, I might gently raise the issue in a convoluted and non-committal way, deflecting the blame (“who knows how the plumbing works!”) and tempering everything with niceties -- (“what delightful embroidery you have on that gown”). Straight-talking is the American way -- I even see it in email etiquette, when my carefully crafted essays are met with one-line replies, without even a greeting or sign-off.
It’s the kind of bluntness that earns you guys a reputation for lacking subtlety and sophistication (oh, you didn’t know?), but I find the straightforward honesty refreshing. I’ll give the last word to Sam’s, a family pizza joint in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where the menu reads “You’ve got two options: take it, or leave it.”
Americans are relentlessly positive
Man, I miss depression. What I’d do for just one of those simple, wonderfully miserable days back home -- walking the grayscale streets listening to my third-favorite Radiohead album, or meeting up with friends so we could undermine each other’s confidence and watch rain drip slowly down the pub window. Here, I can’t even get in and out of CVS (for Kraft dinner, the most depressing of all meals) without someone hollering “Have a nice day!” at me.
The default national mentality is to be positive and genuinely wish well on others. It’s a phenomenon best observed at the NYC Marathon, when thousands of spectators give up their Sunday to whoop, cheer, and hurl words of encouragement at people they’ve never met. In the workplace, the mantra is “there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” but that’s garbage -- there are lots of laughably awful, entirely worthless ideas out there (I’ve had plenty). Even casual acquaintances heap praise on one another willy-nilly, commending achievements and paying compliments. My completely average British mate Alex was once called an “extraordinary man” by our mutual American friend -- all he’d done was buy her a smoothie.
Most saccharine of all are American wedding speeches. You can almost forgive the bride and groom for all that overstated emotion, but there’s no excuse for a Best Man who drawls on about how much he’s enjoyed “seeing you grow together,” along with 15 other ways of saying “I love you, bro.” In England, we’d be waiting for the punchline.
(Some) Americans take things way too seriously...
... and if this article has touched a nerve, that probably includes you.