Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brits: Seeing Y/Ourselves As Others See Us

A loose follow-up to yesterday's post prompted by what I saw as a rather cock-eyed article in Huffington Post the other day:
"A Letter to William & Kate" by Emma Jenner. Snip:
"I am an English nanny myself, with 17 years of experience caring for families in England and America. In fact, I had my own show on TLC, "Take Home Nanny," in which I showed parents the best principles of English parenting. The English are truly great at bringing up resilient, well-mannered, brave, and kind children. Too many parents -- in our own country and across the Western world -- have lost sight of what we've always done right."

The article, and comments, are overflowing with generalities, to the point of being almost laughable.

One commenter "outed" the article's author:
FinnishReader: Look up the author and connect the dots. The woman's flogging her own child-raising consultancy business (Google Emma's Children) in a nicely indirect way with a bit of "background information" about how the Brits purportedly raise their kids and the results thereof. There's nothing wrong with self-promotion, and if Downton Abbey's ratings are anything to go by, there are plenty of self-styled Anglophiles out there ready to part with their money for a touch of class for both themselves and their offspring. Just don't expect the rest of us to believe this clichéd drivel.

I often wonder whether people in the USA who have never visited Britain actually envisage that land across the Atlantic as an extension of Downton Abbey.

I found it entertaining to read the thread of comments following the piece. An exercise in seeing ourselves as others see us. A few examples, credited by screen-names with, where appropriate my own thoughts as a person of dual nationality British/USA, with over 60 years' experience of life as it is lived in the British Isles.
King 72: I'm not a fan of the Brits myself but good manners always lead to good relations. Don't be too hard on the Brits, they can't seem to help their pompous arrogance. They always use diplomacy at first to get what they want from another nation before invading them and exploiting the land and the people. They've invaded 90% of the other nations on earth. Don't let their good manners fool you.
Hmmmm - I can see where this commenter gets the impression of pomposity and arrogance - Brits who have face and voice recognition over here, the likes of Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, Steven Fry! Also springing to mind in relation to his other points: stones and glass houses!!
BeFairNow:Well that explains a lot about what is wrong with British society - the emotional ineptitude, the stuffy cluelessness of the privileged and the relentless reinforcing of the aforementioned from one generation to the next. People only hire British nannies because they think that these attributes will allow their children to be accepted into the stuffy, insular elite but what highly paid nannies like this one never tell their cash cows is that it takes birth, not simply wealth and privilege to be considered aristocracy in a class-based society like the UK. Furthermore, the idea that Brits are good at raising children is laughable at best. Take your child to any restaurant or entertainment venue not specifically designed for children and they are treated as pariahs. Still, it's an improvement, as mere centuries ago (and trust me, a century is not considered a long time in a place with as much history as the UK) children were tightly wrapped in swaddling and suspended from pegs on the nursery walls until they were old enough to be interesting (if they survived). The royal family also has a questionable record with child rearing, judging from some of Prince Charles's horror stories, particularly about his father. The writer of this article needs to come down from the clouds of cluelessness and joint the rest of us regular folk on terra firma!
Erm.... British society? What exactly is that? There are at least couple of reasonable points made in the comment above though, highlighted.

kinopravda:I see that the British notion of cultural superiority is alive and well. The British apparently are like the French, they have not realized that their empire is gone, that their influence has waned, and that they simply are not the force that they were in just the previous century. These abominable, generic, claims to superiority strike me not only as arrogant, but as seriously flawed as well. In other words, get off of your high horse. Take a walk, you need it.
Can't resist it......stones and glass houses again.....and how!!!!

A couple of more down to earth views:
BouBou: I don't know what UK is like now, but can testify about the 50's and 60's. Education was strict, rigorous and would now be considered a little harsh. Money for gifts and luxuries was short to none.
I grew up there at that time and, yes, I am perfect in every way.
But seriously though, folks.........
My daughter is now an American and bringing up a son. If there is a difference, in the USA there seems to be a supportive, permissive tendency with extravagant praise offered up for a very slight effort or achievement. Also , the household centers around the kids with little priority for adult interactions .As a result US kids sometimes exhibit what seems to us like a confidence , assertiveness and bravura which is not always appropriate. But, hey, I'm a fossil.
liveinhope: As a Brit myself and - not surprisingly - the child of British parents, let me state unequivocally that I have never read such a load of unmitigated tripe in my life. British parents - like parents everywhere else - come in all varieties. We do not have a monopoly on manners or good taste and as far as a lack of tolerance for bullying, you must be out of your tiny mind. British schoolboys - particularly when they reach they teens - have historically been some of the most sadistic and unpleasant bullies in the world.

The rest of the planet may be sinking into some kind of pre-natal, royal parenting euphoria but let's not kid ourselves, OK? Most Brits know that if you want to look at an absolutely horrible parent, you need look no further than Prince Phillip - Charles' dad who was (and probably still is) a nasty, vicious sadist whose idea of good parenting was to humiliate and berate his sons for their shortcomings.
This article is about as relevant to British parenting as Mary Poppins is to child care. In short, stereotype reinforcing, populist bilge.


Vanilla Rose said...

Babies on pegs? Really?

mike said...

I haven't ventured to Britain, so I can't say much, other than my exposure to the British concept via TV, several British acquaintances, newspapers, and music. My first exposure was through music...many Brit bands in the 1960s onward were considered leading edge and I succumbed to the beat. My concept of the English through the media has always been of a practical, less frivolous, less pretentious people compared to us Americans, but certainly capable of egregious matters.

I listened to the BBC as a child, because I loved my old shortwave radio with the cat's eye tuner. The broadcasts always contained information that wasn't readily available here in the states, but I was too young for true comparison of "truth". Many years later, the USA had PBS.

I suppose my most enduring captivation is through British humor...most Americans are less apt to see the ironic or self-deprecating behavior so prevalent in human interaction. Some American sit-coms of the past decade have been based on English versions, so we in the USA must be catching the synthesis. I've been addicted to several British series over the years, such as Absolutely Fabulous (aka Ab Fab)...Patsy and Edina are a hoot...Fawlty Towers, Inbetweeners, etc. Can't forget Dr. Who!

I saw a documentary about WWII and recall that the British were so thankful for the American supplies that were shipped from individual localities here in the US, usually by women's civic groups. The Brits were annoyed by the newspapers and magazines that were used as packing, as Americans were self-describing their personal trials and tribulations regarding sacrifices for the war efforts. I recall several of the Brits saying that they would have loved "sacrificing" the way we Americans did! The American magazines, particularly, would show pictures of festive holiday feasts with the table fully loaded...this during extreme rationing in England.

I've had exposure to many different nationalities over the years through university and professional employment. I do realize that each nationality has its own peculiarities, but essentially people are people, regardless.

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose ~~~ sounds horrendous doesn't it. I don't know whether it really was the custom in Britain - ever, but Alpha dictionary.com says:

Swaddling dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, who wrapped their infants in long strips of cloth, a process taking as long as two hours. Swaddled babies were then often hung on a wall peg. Swaddling is still practiced in the Balkans, presumably because the babe feels more like it did in the womb. Many Native Americans once swaddled their papooses.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ I can't see us as others do, but an adjective often used about the British (or maybe more accurately the English - because there is clear difference in temperament between English, Scottish and Welsh - and Northern Irish) the word is: phlegmatic.

Aye - certain among us through the centuries have been well capable of egregiousness! :-) But then, same can be said for certain inhabitants of any nation on this planet.

There are quite noticeable regional differences in Britain, even in such a comparatively small nation (approx size of Wisconsin), and to be really honest, I don't think there is "a true British type" - we come in all sorts, as do USA-ans.

I think my husband, who spent more than a year in England with me, would be on exactly the same page as you re the music and humour.

The way the two world wars affected Britain as against the way they affected the USA have to have made an impression on the way we viewed each other -both in positive and negative ways. A little of that survives, but not much, as so many of the generations involved are now gone.

Yes, Mike - the whole thing can be summed up as you did it, very simply: "People are people". :-)

Wisewebwoman said...

Wow - such generalizations are appalling. There are good and bad parents everywhere and sometimes it is difficult to see what is what. And the children of today? I know a lot of them and they display far more knowledge of the universe and its manifestations than I ever did at their age.

I was brought up with a huge intolerance of the British (from my mother who saw the Black and Tans wreak havoc on her village) but in time that left as it was - again - a generalization. Once I got to know British boyfriends and their families I was aware (as in getting to know some Germans) that they did not represent their countries, no more than I represent Ireland or Newfoundland.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Yes, children of today, growing up with easy access to knowledge - literally at their finger-tips if they choose to seek it - will be better informed than we were. Growing up among the net's social networks will fundamentally change their outlook too.
As for parenting - I have no experience - even secondary experience - no nieces/nephews. Never did baby-sit, never did have any maternal longings. From observation on both sides of the pond I see that things are less strict than when I was a child, and in the USA, although this IS a generality, kids do seem more precocious and full of themselves than I remember their equivalents were in the UK.

The British military, and those "pulling the strings", back in the day, have black marks against them, I realise that, with regret. These days the US have inherited that unsavoury role of military villains. :-(

James Higham said...

It's certainly coming full circle here. The PCishness is now becoming unpopular and more sound values are starting to be spoken about again.

Swings and roundabouts. Perhaps Britain won't go the way of the USSR after all.

Anonymous said...
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Twilight said...

James Higham ~ Interesting!
Although, James, one person's "sound values" are another person's "road to dystopia".

R J Adams said...

Is the Huffington Post trying to outdo the National Enquirer? Why does it print such rubbish? Emma Jenner is no advertisement for Britain. She sounds more like an American infomercial! I'm quite embarrassed.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~ I know! HuffPo has some
dross, that's for sure. but it must sell advertising. :-(