Work has been rather slow. I have managed to squeeze in another book for review! The rainbow at the end of the storm, you could say.
I can live with it!The Anglo Files
, by Sarah Lyall (Norton, 2008), gives an American writer's view of how Britain has changed in the years since she moved there (early 90's) and married an English writer. She does a very creditable job of encapsulating old vs new in one book, and gives you a detailed look at how people who lived through WWII differ so markedly from later generations, and why. However, if you're not already somewhat Britain-savvy, I don't recommend this as your first book. Try two other books, Notes From a Small Island
and Watching the English
, which I have reviewed in this section of the forum, first, and you will be much better able to see the changes she is talking about as genuine surprises, in other words, with a bit of native perspective.
Britain has changed a lot in that time. My overall impression, as well as Lyall's, is that it has become somewhat more Americanish, definitely a mixed blessing, due in part to the economic boom of the 90's.
On the plus side:
Britons are more open with their feelings, which is a good thing in the long run, as I
think it will ultimately reduce drink-fueled problems. ( I say ultimately
.) Just don't
get carried away and go all Yank on us, will you? That is, not to the extent of the popular-
image Yank. We hate that kind too.
The 90's explosion in the economy brought in many offshore retail chains, who provided the
same kind of service they did elsewhere. Native-born chains had to compete. Britons were
suddenly faced with the daunting prospect of going shopping--and actually being able to complain
about lousy service and get something done! As a result, many traditionally
bad services, from retail sales to telephone number information, greatly improved. Lyall's
impression is that the overall mood shift in the people you dealt went from "I *^^%&$% HATE
you, you are the reason I'm a **$###@* slave here" to "I don't quite like you, but I'll let it
The whole class thing is eroding away, but by no means as dead as some say. Tony Blair
tries to cultivate a middle class image with his carefully not-quite-cut-glass accent and his
declaration that 'we're all middle class now'. But everyone still makes a big fuss out of Prince
Harry's declasse African girlfriend Chelsy Davy, and the press had a field day when it was
revealed that she calls the--you know, convenience, powder room, loo--the 'toilet'. A writer
interviewing people on their class perceptions quoted one woman as saying that she'd
rather hear her kids say 'fuck' than 'toilet'.
On the minus side:
It was the Thatcher administration's vision that the economic explosion was a grand time to
wean a lot of people off the state teat. Look--jobs!! Go for it! Well, this was great if you
got a good education. If not, you'd better be a highly talented person (for example Samantha
Morton, who was in and out of foster care homes, beaten a lot, and homeless in
Nottingham), or your disadvantaged background won't get you in the door. Drink-related
problems are currently a bit on the increase, in part for the above reason.
Disenfranchisement is extremely reckless in a society saturated with buy-buy-buy
advertising, and the whole chav / chavette scene completely illustrates this. (Of course,
some of those people are just the usual layabouts every society has always had.)
Britain has also instituted the regrettable practice of allowing American-style psychologists
to institute excessive permissiveness in state-run schools. Lyall certainly does a thorough
job of portraying the horrors of the old style school system. But in her opinion, Britain is
seeing a whole new generation coming of age that are very Americanish in that they feel a
sense of innate entitlement in life and, therefore, a lack of personal responsibility. You
have a right to whinge whenever you're unhappy, blame anybody handy for whatever's
wrong, and worst of all, increasingly, to sue for almost anything. Lyall says that she doesn't
think it will get as bad as it has in America, but I dunno. Take it from an American,
frivolous litigiousness causes massive
retraction of basic goods and services. Pay
phones, public toilets, benches in parks and streets disappear. Enjoying the neighborhood
becomes illegal loitering, etc. An example of freedom not being free.
There are chapters on eccentric people, cricket, weather, and the World War II generation as well. Even if you hate sports altogether, you cannot understand England without understanding the whole mindset behind cricket. It's very central to the culture.
Most Americans don't know (I didn't) that rationing was still in effect until 1953, and was actually worse in 1947 and 1948 than during the war! It's no wonder older Brits wait until dark to turn on lights, can't bear to throw away a lone, stale potato crisp, and take baths in three inches of tub water (not to mention leaving it for the next person, as Lyall's husband often offers to do, which she declines). Survival habits don't die. The current young generation, however, are avid consumers and had no problem being talked into living on massive credit, for which they are now paying with foreclosures, bankruptcies, and the recent austerity measures. A Britain populated by people of the older mindset would be, perhaps, a bit duller and more staid place, but it would not be in such economic straits, even with the world economy as it is. It would just, as so often before, tuck in a bit here and there.
This is a definite must-read. But again, be properly prepared if possible.
Lac lactis in primoris (milk in first).