From Romantic to Mature Anglophilia

When I was a teenager, I had your standard romanticized view of what the U.K. was about.  I lapped up anything and everything that I could get my hands on.  It never got to the point to where I wished I were British, but I wanted a chance to live over there because I imagined this world full of witty, intelligent people with cool music and fascinating history.  I bought Dream U.K. lock, stock and barrel.

Of course, what we are sold over here isn’t Dream U.K.  It’s Dream England.  It has nothing to do with Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.  It’s a place where Received Pronunciation (the Queen’s English) is spoken.  It’s a place of castles, the BBC, and white people putting on airs.  Or, if you are a teenager, it’s that Boy Band world where all those sweet words of undying devotion sound extra romantic with an English accent.

Well, the Britons are probably having a good chuckle at my expense right now.  Rightly so.  Have a good belly laugh.  Go on.

OK, so I did meet witty, intelligent people.  I did hear cool music, and I learned more about its fascinating history.  But the U.K. is a real country with real people and complexities and deserves the same amount of celebration and scrutiny as the United States.  Even at age 19, I should have known better, although the Boffin says I should cut myself some slack on this.  I have to say I am really embarrassed with how shallow I was with the knowledge and misconceptions I had when I first arrived in 1992.  (“What do you mean you don’t go trick-or-treating here?  It’s Halloween!”)  But what I had in naïveté, I made up for in enthusiasm and a desire to learn where I was going wrong.

And learn I did.  I made friends, read the newspapers, asked questions, and traveled.  I tried to make the most of the limited time I had there and bumbled all along the way.  I knew I couldn’t learn everything, but I just wanted to understand better what eluded me.

And what did I learn?  Well, I learned about the diversity of Britain thanks to the city of Cambridge being so close.  My discovery was still at the time of ethnic minorities being 8% of the population as opposed to the 13% now, but it was still eye-opening to see how Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Chinese people, and a host of others gathered to study and live in one spot that was not London. It also showed me how they made the place so much brighter and dynamic just by their culinary contributions, let alone their societal ones.  It made for a refreshing change from the Italian/Slavic/Hispanic/German backgrounds that the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania population had.

I am craving a proper dosa so badly I could cry right now.
I am craving a proper dosa so badly I could cry right now. “Dosai Chutney Hotel Saravana Bhavan” by Mike Linksvayer

My journeys did take me into Scotland and briefly into Wales.  (I married into a Welsh family.  I think that counts for something.)  I never did get to Northern Ireland because of the tumult at the time, but that does not mean it won’t be on the docket when we get back to the country.  It only showed me how different those nations are to England and to just lump everything together is like lumping Canada in with the United States.  I learned to take each one and enjoy them as their own entities.

I was still able to enjoy the BBC shows, food, and all the stuff I did when I was in my romantic phase.  But, you know what?  It was even better because I understand the context in which they were created better.

However, I also learned the U.K. was also a country with its own problems.  I remember the beloved National Health Service being in need of funding back then.  The Real IRA decided to restart its bombing campaign in various locations around the U.K., including, I later discovered, some perilously close to where the Boffin was going to university.  The country was in a recession when I arrived in 1992 with unemployment reaching as high as 10%.  Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD, the human form of Mad Cow Disease) reared its head during my time there, and I still am not allowed to give blood over here because of the inability to screen.  Being a romantic meant ignoring what was happening on a human level and only led me to make the Britons into characters in my mental play.  That was demeaning and wrong.  I am so glad I now see them as the people they are, and I appreciate those who helped me open my eyes.

Little did I know that my experience would do more than personally enrich me.  Fast forward to 1999, a young American divorcée meets a young English widower.  Several things were in my favor when I met the Boffin.

1)  I was immune to his accent, so I was listening to what he was saying and not gushing over the fact that he was English.  Admittedly, he wishes I listened to him a little less.  (“Yes, you did say that!  You were wearing your hunter green polo shirt and standing by the bow window.  It was on Tuesday last week, and you just got home from work!”)

2)  He didn’t have to explain every little thing about himself to bridge the cultural gap.

3)  I didn’t have doe eyes when it came to his country of origin and was more understanding about why he was making his home in the States.

And while I missed my time across the Pond, I managed to get the good parts back in a way through the Boffin.  Meanwhile, he was left with the mixed feelings with being an immigrant and very complex reasons why he left the U.K. behind.  (It’s not my story to tell, but I can say that part of the reason is that the country knows how to educate its STEM stars, but it doesn’t know how to employ them.)  It only goes to show just how complicated, once again, the country truly is and how I just cannot hold the “tea and crumpets” version that so many Americans carry.

I guess you can say the process of my love of the U.K. has been like a marriage.  I went through my honeymoon stage with Anglophilia, but it developed into that nice settled bit.  There are bits of the U.K. that I absolutely adore.  There are bits that make me apoplectic.  In the end, the U.K. and I have been through a lot together, and I see it for what it is and still love it, faults and all.

27 thoughts on “From Romantic to Mature Anglophilia

  1. Good post. And I think you’re onto something in the way you characterize anglophilia. The only thing I’d add is that, depending on what they read, some people don’t understand that the place isn’t still in the middle ages and some haven’t let it get past the age of Dickens.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great addition, Ellen.

      Fantasy is a very powerful thing, and people can get very defensive, if you try to bring reality into it. It’s amazing the number of people I have encountered who have essentially said, “Don’t tell me about England. I love what it is in my own mind.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My naivete ended in a Pakistani restaurant in London. “Ooooh,” I said, “I love curry. Can I have a heaping plate of that?” It took me two weeks of cold potatoes to put my digestive tract back in order.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes, yes and yes. When I meet Americans who have never been to Britain, for many their impressions are clearly of a vision of Britain gleaned from period drama and nothing outside of middle-class London. Of course, there are very many Americans who do comprehend that it’s a more complex and varied set of nations and cultures and languages but that’s because they’ve exposed themselves to more obscure media exports. I think for some there is an assumption that a country so small there must be homogeneity.

    However, I’m sure the same is true of many Brits when it comes to their vision of America. They probably think of metropolises like NYC, the stereotypes of the Deep South and Florida theme parks and that’s it.

    And now your post is making me badly crave a really good curry. I’ve had one not-cooked-by-me curry since I emigrated. Pennsylvania needs to get on board with curry addiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Valid points across the board, Laura. I was describing my own experience, but we can very much steer the conversation into the stereotypes we have of each other as countries, both positive and negative. In fact, I am working on a post trying to address that topic, but I am balancing on a knife edge and can’t get it right.

      I so agree with you about the need for more curry houses in this country. If you want some, I bet you have to go closer to Philadelphia. I have found Yelp! to be the perfect app when it comes to restaurants, so give that a go. There may be a hidden gem you don’t know about.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think we all have idealized views of different countries when we’re young — mine was of the UK, too. But anyplace anybody fantasizes about ain’t necessarily like the real live version.

    BTW, they celebrate Halloween in France and Switzerland. With Trick or Treating and lots of flaming torches. My son and his friend Joe went one year when Joe dressed as Zorro, with a wonderful black cape that he kept swirling around. Swirling around the flaming torches. I kept my jacket off expecting to have to smother the fire that I expected to happen momentarily all night. Flames + polyester = parental terror.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyed your post! Thanks for bringing up these kinds of issues in such a thoughtful way. Why do you suppose it is that many Americans seem to have a particularly romanticized view or admiration of England? Of course it’s not everyone and some people romanticize other countries, but I feel like in America we have a particular tendency to idolize England in some fashion, whether consciously or unconsciously. Like in American movies and TV, characters with English accents often seem to symbolize intelligence, wealth, high position, etc. And some of the American public TV stations show almost entirely British shows, as though they see it as a higher form of culture. It’s like we’re sort of encouraged to look up to England or Britain on some level. There could be various reasons for this (or maybe this perception is flawed), but I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a hard question to answer, but I can give some thoughts. I know from the get-go we were the bumpkins in the colonies, the outcasts, and Great Britain was the place where the refinery was. That image carried over even when the sun never set on the British Empire. The U.K. works very hard outside of its borders at selling that image of intelligence, sophistication, and taste, especially when it brings in tourist dollars. And, make no mistake, the romantics do see it as a higher form of culture. Having it in the same language (sort of) makes it possibly within reach.

      Both sides still play into those stereotypes to the detriment of each other. The Americans end up demeaning themselves by putting the U.K. on an artificial pedestal. The U.K. puts on a false mask and ends up demeaning themselves by not being honest about who they really are.

      You have to remember something about the BBC. It is a government media conglomerate financed by license fees paid by whoever is living in the country. (I know I had to pay them.) It is far from a dictatorial establishment, and there is still plenty of leeway for expression, but the BBC will not hesitate to censor, if lines are crossed. That is where most of the romanticized stuff comes from. The U.K. has plenty of commercial stations too, but we only get a handful from the ITV and Channel 4 crowd.

      Look up Jeremy Kyle, if you want to see the other side of British TV.

      Funny enough, you mentioned the movies. A beef British movie-goers have with Hollywood is the tendency to cast British actors as villains. Yes, they may have all of those cool qualities, but they end up being defeated in the end by American know-how and grit.

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  6. Really interesting discussion; thanks for raising those points. About the tendency to cast Brits as villains, my thought is that it goes back to the American image of Brits as intelligent, not that we see them as evil somehow. But an intelligent villain is more threatening and scary and makes for better drama (usually) than a dumb villain, so villains get cast with British accents because it makes them seem smarter. On the other hand whenever the villain is a bumbling buffoon type character, he/she usually has an American accent…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, and it is also safer to cast a white Briton as a villain because you are not really stepping on any ethnic minorities’ toes. However, it is annoying to the British viewing audience.

      I really could go deeper into this subject, but it would turn into a whole exploration about stereotyping, and I cannot do it justice in the comments. I am trying to write a post, and it just comes out reductionist. Not giving up, but it will take a few more drafts.

      Like

  7. My Anglophilia began when I traveled with our Sherlock Holmes group to London in 1994. My last–probably last overseas venture–took place in 2011. In between with personal trips, an international writing conference in London in 2000 (hottest summer ever!), three college/university summer-school groups to Cambridge, I am quite at home with Foyle’s War and 1066 A.D and All That! We learned early, “They’ve been doing it that way since 1066.” Your piece is a delightful and fresh review of some of my experiences. For me, an Irishman-of-sorts, the UK and England have provided me hours of pleasure, knowledge, and idiosyncratic life that is never to be duplicated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you were able to experience the U.K. through work and pleasure, and you know firsthand about how wonderful, yet maddening the place can be. There is no end to what you can learn about the place, and you will forever be eluded about the cultural differences. And that’s OK. It’ll give me blog fodder forever. 🙂

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