March 13, 2014

An Englishman's view of Americans

In Tom Stoppard's short play New-Found-Land, two government clerks in London are reviewing an American immigrant's application to become a British subject. The more elderly reflects:
BERNARD: Americans are a very modern people, of course. They are a very open people too. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They don't stand on ceremony. They take people as they are. They make no distinction about a man's background, his parentage, his education. They say what they mean and there is a vivid muscularity about the way they say it. They admire everything [around] them without reserve or pretence of scholarship. They are always the first to put their hands in their pockets. They press you to visit them in their own home the moment they meet you, and are irrepressibly goodhumoured, ambitious, and brimming with self-confidence in any company. Apart from all that I've got nothing against them.
 

52 comments:

Daniel said...

What a load of sentimental crap. Reads like a Wall Street Journal editorial And Stoppard is supposed to be a good writer?

Anonymous said...

http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2014/03/13/the-end-of-erdogan/

But the opposition is no better.

Anonymous said...

http://turkeyetc.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/seni-bilen-hayran-bilmeyen-dusman-or-why-erdogan-remains-so-popular/

read the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

He's not praising Americans he's attacking the English.

The clue is in the last line.

(Stoppard's family came to England as refugees from the Nazis.)

Anonymous said...

http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/4-reasons-this-new-movie-everything-wrong-with-hollywood/

Fascist Santa.

THIS IS SANTARTA!

Black Sea said...

Stoppard is a very clever and very amusing writer. Two qualities in short supply on both sides of the Atlantic these days.

Anonymous said...

http://www.cracked.com/article_20877_the-5-most-insane-ways-underdogs-won-olympic-medals.html

http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-ways-1904-olympics-were-craziest-event-ever-held/

Anonymous said...

Only an American could read this as anything other than an indictment of everything American.

Gene Berman said...

"Only an American could read this as anything other than an indictment of everything American."

Quite right, ol' chap. Not to mention their disrespect for a whole shipload of tea! I daresay we'll have to give'em a lesson one day quite soon!

dearieme said...

"They say what they mean and there is a vivid muscularity about the way they say it." I'm just old enough to remember that. It was so much better than the era of reaching out and sharing.

P.S. Some of the first eight comments here would make a cat laugh. Talk about obtuse!

SFG said...

Well said. Maybe I should move to England.

Anonymous said...

Its like an IQ test, either you get it or you don't.

Anonymous said...

You know nothing about Stoppard then. People like him and Mamet need support and protection.

Anonymous said...

This is neither indictment nor praise, just a set of observations. They are very true.

Graham said...

He's not describing American ways. He's not even attacking English ways. He's joking, on various levels of meta-ness, about the English view of themselves, which is stereotyped here by using a stereotype of American character as a straw man.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Only an American could read this as anything other than an indictment of everything American."

Failure to understand the double-barrelled irony of the speech, I see. The statement is an indictment of both England and America.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me I have been meaning to read America I like you, by PG Wodehouse.

thirdtwin said...

What Daniel said. It reads like rejected dialogue from "Downton Abbey".

RS said...

> What a load of sentimental crap. Reads like a Wall Street Journal editorial And Stoppard is supposed to be a good writer?

I sort of agree. As for being a good or great artist or thinker, it's not something that always lasts. (It can even be intermittent.) "The real thing" kind of blew my mind, but I admit I was 19 and that I am and was mentally neotenous.

Hacienda said...

College Humor for the articulate.

And WASPs joshing up WASPs. Ugh. Old school.

Lord North said...

They admire everything [around] them

And apparently they think their compatriots are too dense to interpret British English for themselves.

Rohan Swee said...

Anonymous:

http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2014/03/13/the-end-of-erdogan/

But the opposition is no better.


That article opens on a touchingly naïve note, in spite of being penned by a "professor of international relations":

"It is hard to imagine how in any society a Prime Minister caught on tape firing journalists because he does not like their point of view or instructing television stations to stop the broadcasting of an opposition leader’s speech in parliament could survive."

(Or should I say "because of"?)

Anonymous said...

Thank you anonymous 1245.

I wish I could remember examples now, but as a Canadian I have an occasional interest in this sort of transatlantic misunderstanding and can see both worldviews without really fitting either.

Obviously not all, but inevitably many Americans would not get that this is obviously a dig at traits that are positive to a point but which people of many cultures think Americans carry to annoying excess.

Brits would see nothing else in it. Even to me it seems indisputably the point of the passage, and impossible not to recognize as such.

Anonymous 1138 might have a point that there is a further dig at the English buried there by Stoppard, I don't know enough to be sure. But I have no doubt the obvious dig at Americans was intended.

Anonymous said...

"New-Found-Land" The play is from 1976. Stoppard was 40 in '76 as was likely writing about a world view he formed in the 50s and 60s. So I wonder if his observations of Americans would be different in the 00's.

Anonymous said...

Off Topic:

a NYTimes video about the lost Malaysian plane reports that "the political culture there is often ruled by ethnic division and patronage, trumping talent... perhaps not for long".

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Too true. It's all so irritating.

DPG said...

A mixed Jewish/Chinese girl broke up Sergey Brin's marriage.

The leaders of this country in a generation or two are going to be the most remorselessly self-interested this country has ever seen. Noblesse oblige will cease to exist.

TomV said...

Some of the eight comments thus far remind me of this XKCD cartoon, with tone-deafness in place of ignorance (distinction without a difference?).

Try to keep up, guys. Comments here are usually high-quality.

Anonymous said...

In any negotiation, the side driving the hard bargain makes the other side to come closer to its demand.

So, if you demand something for free, the other side is forced to bargain by lowering the price so that he gets at least something in the bargain.

Or, if you demand a payment of $100, the other side will negotiate to pay less. You won't get the full$100, but you drove the negotiation by setting the demand.

On immigration, the Democrats are making the demand. They call for total amnesty but will settle for something less(which is like amnesty). Even if Dems don't get all they want, they get a substantial amount. They set the terms with the demand.

This is why the GOP should have defined the argument with a hard bargain. Full deportation of all illegals. Not because GOP will get that, but because, with it as the standard of the debate, the best the Dems can do is negotiate for something less drastic--like deportation of unemployed illegals.
Even if GOP doesn't get all it demands, it will have forced the Dems to move closer to their agenda.

But of course, as Jews run the media, a hard bargaining GOP would be vilified in a way that hard bargaining Dem party would not be.

Anonymous said...

OT, I went into Office Max today and played with their computers. I tried to browse to iSteve, but was blocked. I was, however, able to pull up DailyKos, Huffington Post and similar sites.

What a croc.

slumber_j said...

Off-topic, but with the emergence of the Andaman Islands scenario, we now have a potentially iSteve-y Pygmy Negrito angle on the disappearance of MH370:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/14/world/asia/malaysia-airlines-plane/index.html?sr=tw031414malaysiaairlines9aVODtop

Paul Ciotti said...

It's astonishing how many people here have no sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

It's astonishing how many people here have no sense of humor.

But almost everyone(in America) thinks he/she is funny.

Cail Corishev said...

The leaders of this country in a generation or two are going to be the most remorselessly self-interested this country has ever seen.

That's what I was thinking while reading about what's-her-name, the lesbian who wants her brother and lover's test-tube babies to have five parents and is about to get us in a meaningless war. We think the therapy generation of the 70s was messed up, or that day care and divorce screw with your head? Those were nothing; we've got a generation coming on that's going to be seriously fucked up, and the worst ones will probably be in charge.

Jon said...

"OT, I went into Office Max today and played with their computers. I tried to browse to iSteve, but was blocked. I was, however, able to pull up DailyKos, Huffington Post and similar sites."

If we could have established to each others' satisfaction that we were both naive about which sites they block, I would have laid you 20/1 that they blocked Steve's.

Anonymous said...

"It's astonishing how many people here have no sense of humor."

There are two primary strains of comments here: morose and apocalyptic. When one of these light-hearted culture posts crops up I'm pretty sure about a third of the commentariat panics to cram it into a schema of Spenglerian degradation.

Anonymous said...

After the first couple of sentences I saw that punchline coming!

-Cloudswrest

DanJ said...

Somewhat OT, on American traits:

I've long wondered why you Americans percieve yourselves to be great individualists. You never do anything alone. You team up at work, at home and in the neighbourhood. You are helpful and generous. You take pride in great communal efforts like the D-day landings or the Apollo program.

This is not to be critical of Americans. In the real world, individualism often bring little success. The Russians, for example, are true individualists. Nice enough people but much harder to work with.

(I'm a Finn myself)

Daniel said...

>>There are two primary strains of comments here: morose and apocalyptic. When one of these light-hearted culture posts crops up I'm pretty sure about a third of the commentariat panics to cram it into a schema of Spenglerian degradation.

You're right. But I don't get meta and satire is only good if it creeps in unbeknownst.

Anonymous said...

"Failure to understand the double-barrelled irony of the speech, I see. The statement is an indictment of both England and America."

Quite right. There is absolutely no good-natured ribbing lurking in: "Only an American could read this as anything other than an indictment of everything American."

(Seriously - the Stoppard quote isn't an indictment of anything; it's just amused.)

Anonymous said...

The US Census is looking at big changes in how it asks about race and ethnicity. Apparently it's considering putting "Lebanese" and "Egyptian" in the "White" category, and "Spaniard" in the "Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin" category:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/03/14/u-s-census-looking-at-big-changes-in-how-it-asks-about-race-and-ethnicity

Anonymous said...

Well, he did fail to identify the Americans most defining trait- gullability.

Anonymous said...

"I've long wondered why you Americans percieve yourselves to be great individualists. You never do anything alone. You team up at work, at home and in the neighbourhood. You are helpful and generous. You take pride in great communal efforts like the D-day landings or the Apollo program."

Well,my Finnish friend, I have parsed the depths of my American soul on your question and have come to the conclusion that you are basically right.

The individualist thing is sort of a pretense with us. It's not really who we are,but who we'd like to be. Even the Declaration talks about how it's a good idea to explain ourselves to the rest of the world in regards to our violent overthrow of our colonial government. That's not something a true individualist would do.

So this was kind of in the mold from the moment the die was cast.

People in America have the desire to come together,despite our differences,and this in spite of all the various forces which simultaneously repel us from one another. This, and not "diversity" was our greatest strength and the raison d'etre of our nation. It was possible for us to do this in earlier days, but with mass immigration,those days are probably over.

I feel that the pendulum must inevitably swing wholly to the side of separation and that our country,like the Liberty Bell, will violently split apart just as enduring liberty and freedom are being rung out across the country.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference, too, between individualists and aspies.

Anonymous said...

Pinker was right about punker. 70s were barbaric.

M said...

DanJ I've long wondered why you Americans percieve yourselves to be great individualists. You never do anything alone. You team up at work, at home and in the neighbourhood. You are helpful and generous. You take pride in great communal efforts like the D-day landings or the Apollo program.

Individualism in the American sense is mainly about feeling that you are free to break your ties to the group you're in more or less freely and join another one.

It's also about groups not being more than the sum of their individual parts.

It's not really about going it alone or being shy or socially unskilled or being a loner or doing things alone.

Socially skilled people are actually better suited to being individualists in the American sense, because they have an easy time forming and getting into new groups, and because they have an easy time persuading others to stay in the group.

Americans see themselves as individualists because when they team up at work, its with the assumption that any of them can opt out and form a new group at any time, and because the group is expressly for the good of the individuals, not the individuals for the good of the group.

(This is mostly true for the British as well).

In the American sense, to be a collectivist is to see yourself as immutably a part of collective that is more than a short term tool of convenience for the ends of the individuals in it.

Being a collectivist is not about being someone who is very sociable.

james wilson said...

It's nothing more than a ripoff of a particular Dickens essay written from America in 1841.

dcite said...

"Seriously - the Stoppard quote isn't an indictment of anything; it's just amused"

Yes. I first read Stoppard in high school (on my own, not assigned.) Rosencrantz & Guildensern are Dead. It didn't "indict" Hamlet or mock, or sneer, or re-tell, or change the story in any way. All that was changed was the perspective.

And that change my way of thinking forever. Or maybe not. I always saw the punchline coming too.

dcite said...

"Well, he did fail to identify the Americans most defining trait- gullability"

That's for sure. One of the funniest ironies of the last couple centuries is our "free" press and our "uncensored news."

By now we don't guess, we know so many instances of criminal lying by "government" and yet most of us still believe them, as if in a weary trance.

DanJ said...

@ Anonymous, M,

thanks for your replies. Interesting view on individualism as an ability to easily leave one group and join another. Perhaps that goes for family and marriage too in today's world.

Still, if we stick to popular definitions of individualism, I think Americans on average are just too sociable and fond of other people to match the description.

Anonymous said...

Re: Bernard's speech in Stoppard's play.

Um, yeah, this speech might have worked in say 1950...

But we're 64 years on.

It's as topical as "we are not amused."

Anonymous said...

Re: Only an American could read this as anything other than an indictment of everything American.

I'm not an American. How is it an indictment of everything American?

Do tell.