Mike's post over at Postcards prompted a thought for this week's discussion. Who's friendlier - Americans or Brits?
I hate to sit on the fence but it really depends where you are in each country. I was brought up in the North East of England and believe me, they are extremely friendly people. You can't stand at a bus stop for more than two minutes without the little old lady in front of you telling you her life story plus medical history. Where my mother lives (which is semi-rural) I am frequently greeted by locals who have no idea who I am or whose daughter I am. I'm sure someone like the Brit Out of Water, living in New York, might have something to say about the level of friendliness there, as would many people living in London. Brit Gal Sarah, on the other hand, has experienced friendliness in Oklahoma that she could barely believe. My own southern experience has been that there is a reserve that would rival anything you'd find in the UK. Southerners are friendly, don't get me wrong, but there's a suit of armour there at the same time.
One thing I've noticed is that police officers are a lot friendlier here in the US. Not that I have had much to do with them you understand, but there's none of that withering sarcasm or borderline personality that hangs over every encounter in the UK. Many years ago I had occasion to call the police at 3am when my alarm went off and the husband was out of town. The responding officers were perfectly nice when we discovered that it was a huge helium-filled balloon that had come off its tether and set the motion detector off. Half an hour later, after they had finished looking at all the work we'd done on the house (one of them was rehabbing his own house), I was wishing they weren't so friendly if only because I had to get up in a couple of hours for the school run.
I even have a photo of me sitting on a policeman's motor bike on Beale Street in Memphis. (My mother was with me so it wasn't the 20-something drunken incident that it could have been). I'm not sure I would even have approached a British police officer with such a request although I admit I plastered on the English accent and pretended I was a moon struck tourist.
Another thing I noticed recently, highlighted by the wide grin of Farrah Fawcett that has been everywhere on the TV - most Americans automatically shape their mouths into a smile when they talk. Just do a personal survey for a few days if you don't believe me. It used to throw me because they smile even when they're not telling you a joke; teachers do it even when they're relating the latest "infraction"; sales assistants do it telling you that the 50% sale doesn't apply to your chosen item. Even political commentators, who are currently dealing with the devastating news that Sarah Palin is stepping down (cough, cough) break into a smile before they voice their carefully-worded responses. Oh wait...that may be for another reason.
Despite the fact that I haven't had a spontaneous conversation with anyone in my hometown since I've moved here, I can't say the Brits are not friendly. They are, in my local area, simply reserved. Furthermore, despite my saying, here and now, that people in North America (mustn't forget the Canadians, who are even friendlier than we Yanks) win this contest hands-down, overall friendliness is mostly a matter of locale.
My life here has fallen into a comfortable routine, one that involves rare contact with other people. Not because I don't desire it, simply because the locals are standoffish. The people I count as friends here (and I can do that on one hand) were already friends of my wife or people who sought me out because I'm a famous author and worthy of their adulation. I have never spontaneously struck up a friendship with anyone on this island and all but a few of the conversations I have had since moving here have been with my wife.
Compare that to Canada and the US, where I have just returned from and where, in the first 24 hours, we found ourselves in three different conversations with total strangers. And when we met my future daughter-in-law's family for the first time, we were treated like family and, after about ten minutes, I felt as if I had known them my whole life. All the people we interacted with on my recent trip were open and friendly, and it made me realize just how little interaction I have with people over here.
However, as I pointed out earlier, this is a matter of location more than anything else. When I travel for work out to Devon, the people I meet on the street as I walk to work in the morning all smile and say, "Hell-o." I even had one local fall into step with me, after he saw me taking a photo, to tell me the best locations and times of day to get good pictures. The people from the north, likewise, are friendlier than the people down here, so the Brits are not all staid and reserved.
But these past weeks in the US have convinced me, without a doubt, that the Americans are the friendlier of the two nations.
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Spring in the park
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