Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

British Stereotypes Need Updating

As the lights of hundreds of cars, carrying God knows how many intoxicated New Years drivers, sped by me at 4 a.m. just a few hours after the ball dropped in Times Square, I began to think about how I had ended up in a car rushing to make a plane. Destination: my new home for the next six months, London, England. I consider myself a fairly well-traveled person, maybe not for a Georgetown student, but I spent most of last summer living in Bolivia, the second poorest country in the hemisphere. What excited me about going to London was that I was going to spend a serious amount of time in a country that was not the United States and was also not incredibly impoverished. I would finally get to see how it was possible to have a successful, well-run and economically vibrant nation that isn’t the United States. I figured that since it was England, it would be almost exactly like the United States. Wrong. To be honest, I was wrong about a lot, so let me briefly tell you what I have gleaned after almost two weeks here in the United Kingdom about our cousins across the pond. You hear a lot of stereotypes about the British. Some are true, some aren’t and there are some new ones I would love to teach you. The British are absolutely insane about safety. Those “Mind the Gap” t-shirts you see people wearing aren’t a cute novelty. They literally say it every 15 seconds on “the tube.” They also have signs everywhere warning people about things almost to the point of overkill, annoyance and the ruin of atmosphere. For example, there are enormous plastic signs in the middle of these beautiful, old stone fountains near Trafalgar Square that tell you not to play in the fountain and to not drink the water from them, as it is – surprise – unsafe. At every movie and school meeting I have been to so far, they have pointed out fire exits. There are also several fire alarms every Wednesday; I barely remember having had one in my last three years at Georgetown. But this concern about safety doesn’t just extend to public places and what surrounds your body but also to what goes into your body. There are gargantuan signs on every pack of cigarettes that say, “SMOKING KILLS.” They also charge over $10 a pack to try and tax them out of use. They even card older people if they want to buy them. It’s also against the law to serve a hamburger that’s not well done due to the fear of mad cow disease. Who knew this rugby-loving and dentistry-averse (a fair stereotype of many older Brits) nation was so concerned about safety? As I haven’t been tricked into any pyramid schemes yet, I feel comfortable saying that the British seem very honest when it comes to money and business. I have never seen anyone in the United States check the signature on the back of your card and compare it to the one you sign it on the receipt. Here in the United Kingdom, I haven’t seen anyone not do that, and in fact on multiple occasions, they have made me re-sign it to prove that I am who I say I am – that is Nick Greenough, the guy with bad penmanship. I have also been told on multiple occasions that I shouldn’t buy something from a store by the store vendor himself and have been recommended another place to go where it’s cheaper. They also have the very sensible idea of including the tax on any item with its price tag, so if something says one pound, it is actually one pound. Furthermore, you don’t have to tip in most places in the United Kingdom because they actually pay their servers decent wages; that being said, service is definitely superior in the United States. The Brits have the reputation of being uptight, which is in fact quite ironic. From what I have witnessed, Americans seem actually to be the uptight ones. They are not very P.C. here, and they frequently make suggestive and sexually inappropriate comments in public. There is a lot of sex on television, and people in general aren’t made nearly as uncomfortable about discussing mature issues as in the United States. No wonder their advertising and television is so much funnier. One thing that has proven to be a fair statement about the Brits is that they do indeed love to drink; in fact, it appears to be the national past time, but it is very different than in the States. I was walking past a pub last week at 8 a.m., and I saw a wide variety of people – men and women in suits, construction workers and the like all in the bar having a morning pint. At lunchtime and after work, it seems like the entire nation retires to pubs to fraternize and have a couple of casual drinks. Unlike in the United States, it doesn’t seem like people are drinking to get drunk. It is just a part of their culture; it’s something that everyone of almost every age or social status does, not just for the sake of the effects of alcohol, but because of the people they spend time with while they do it. Professors and students routinely are seen drinking together at the Student Union where the school actually helps subsidize the cost of each pint! I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with any embarrassing linguistic faux pas by studying in an English-speaking country. However, it didn’t take me long to ask a fellow customer at a pub if I could borrow her napkin (here in England that means the type girls use once a month). Much to my surprise, despite sharing a common history and a common language, the United Kingdom and the United States are much more different than we give them credit for. Nick Greenough is junior in the School of Foreign Service and a former opinion editor of THE HOYA. He is currently attending King’s College in London, England. NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND appears every other Friday.

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