The British came to our shores in 1776 and 1812 in a spirit of brotherly love and fellowship…. for each other. For the inhabitants, they commenced to levying taxes, quartering soldiers and burning beautiful colonial era homes. Over a century later, relations were on the mend and, to help, the United States sent some old warships, four million troops and proceeded to burn down a lot of pre-war French and German homes.
Seems like a bad bargain, but the U.S. and England, nevertheless, have developed and maintained a steady and intimate friendship. Indeed, there is a kinship, a veritable soft spot, felt by the mutual friends across the pond. While there is much to connect these two great nations, there are still some serious bones of contention between the two.
Each maintains that it retains the upper hand in world opinion and hopes to export its own brand of sophistication and culture. Here are a few of the more notable, contested issues and a scorecard to help you determine who is winning the hearts and minds of the world.
George Bernard Shaw famously stated that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. A keen observation for a man who would later have trouble discerning the difference between a statue and a real girl.
Aside from the fact that British spelling just does not use the letter “zed” in enough words to make the playing of Scrabble any fun, there is the question of the meaning of actual words. For instance, the use of “chips” instead of “French fries.” Ostensibly, the English want nothing to do with the French. OK, but the definition stems not from a national origin but from a culinary technique.
Similarly, the word “holiday” which by their own dictionary's definition lasts one day has been transformed to mean vacation. Perhaps, they are too closely and unknowingly emulating their continental counterparts who think that every weekend should last quatre jours.
Most inexplicably, they insist that football is played with a round ball and no hands whereas any Texas grade-schooler can tell you that real football involves pigskins, stickum and cheerleaders. To their credit, the British have surpassed the Americans in their embrasure of insipid broadcasters, tedious home-team chants and booze.
SCORE US:1, GB:1 (+1 for Football, +1 for Scotch)
French and German engineers, including guys with names like Benz and Daimler, invented the modern automobile and Henry Ford figured out how to mass produce them. All of these countries drive on the right. The British, however, drive on the left.
What possessed them to go and adopt such a contrarian attitude? The Royal Navy is probably the answer but pure spite also played a significant role. The dismissal of James Watts’ steam engine as the de facto standard was a shock to the preeminent world power of the time.
In response, they mandated that internal combustion machines should be customized if they were to be imported to England. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in the rest of the world and now only England and a few of her former colonies behave in such an absurd manner as driving on the left.
SCORE US:2, GB:1 (+1 for Muscle Cars)
Everyone writes letters. Then again, that was before the Internet. Back to reality….
For centuries, people wrote letters. In fact, they wrote so many that the sheet of paper most commonly used became known as “letter size." The introduction of the metric system in Europe changed all that and a size, familiar to Europeans as A4, became exceptionally popular.
Similar in size to the American letter-size, A4 has a significantly better aspect ratio. That is, if you reduce, enlarge, cut it in half or modify in other standard ways, it will retain the same proportions as it had before the modification. This characteristic is especially useful in the print industry. In short, the standard has spread to almost every country in the world except those in North America and the British are damn proud of it.
SCORE US:2, GB:2 (+1 for the Metric System)
In the UK, light switches are flicked down to complete the electrical connection while, in the United States, the reverse is used and the switch is toggled up.. The Brits will argue the point but, with a little thought, it seems obvious that flicking the switch up is really just a subliminal, albeit misguided, summons to the sun and is therefore the obvious and preferred method.
SCORE US:2, GB:2 (Does it really matter? They’re light switches.)
Step into a cab in New York City and you never know what you will encounter. From Mad Max to a sophisticated Pakistani particle physics professor, they all drive in the Big Apple. These "hack" drivers are also amongst the most friendly, talkative and informative people on the planet. For instance, one can learn how to say, “Where’s the beer?” in almost 200 languages just by taking cabs in the capital of the world. FYI, in Urdu, it’s “Daru, kaha hay?”
London, on the other hand, gives its taxi cab drivers what is considered one of the most difficult-to-pass tests in all of the Western world. It’s necessary. Have you taken a look at a map of London? It’s the seeming result of taking that infinite group of monkeys working on Hamlet and sending them to urban planning school.
London is labyrinthine. That’s an understatement, by the way. Whilst and despite navigating the narrow streets in oversized, black cabs, London cab drivers are a remarkably civil group. Almost always chatty and well informed, they provide excellent entertainment while traversing this city's almost continual traffic.
SCORE US:3, GB:3 (+1 for the Education., +1 for the Civility)
There you have it. The battle to influence the world is a draw. We’re not going to talk about the Pax Brittanica, the Pax Americana, Hollywood, or Stanley Kubrick. Similarly, we won’t mention the fact that the English language itself is the very model of cross cultural pollination and the lingua franca, to use a most outdated term, for, not only, all scientific endeavors but also for any polyglot nation that wishes to assimilate its various inhabitants.
Instead, we’ll remember the innumerable lives offered by the sons of these nations in pursuit of peace and the inestimable value of British and American history and values. Then, we’ll sit back and smile and thank God that we were born in one of those countries. Full stop. Amen.