Monday, February 23, 2009

Telly Talk

What do you think of the television in your host country?

Mike:

If you want to accentuate the single biggest difference between US and UK Television, the question should read, “Do Tits Belong on the Telly?”

Now, I profess to be one of those ‘sensitive’ type males you read about—I’m in touch with my feminine side, I feel the pain of women who are regarded as mere sex objects—but my answer to the above question is still a resounding, “Yes!” and not simply because I like to see women with their kit off.

I never truly appreciated how prudish Americans are (personally, I blame the Puritans) until I saw full-frontal nudity on the television and nobody here blinking an eye. Sexuality in Britain, and even more so on The Continent, is greeted with a casualness unknown in America outside of hippy communes, the impromptu party after the Senior Prom and the make-believe world of Sex and the City which, happily, leads me back to the telly.

Television seems more ‘real’ to me when I hear people swearing and see them doing things normal people actually do. And the best thing about it is, if I don’t want to watch normal people doing those things, I can turn it off, or surf to one of the three dozen or so channels broadcasting American shows.

As for the overall quality of programming, I think the Brits are the clear winners. I’m not saying Britain would end up as a wallflower at a “Crap Television” disco, or that the US hasn’t produced some cracking shows, but for my money (Note to the Americans: I mean that in the most literal sense) nothing beats a BBC documentary.

In America, sponsors fund programs, and sponsors have agendas. The BBC, funded by yours truly and 60 million other conscripted contributors, has the freedom to make shows simply for the sake of making shows and that has lead to some spectacular programs that otherwise would never have been made. Okay, it also led to “Lark Rise to Candleford” but you can’t have everything.

One thing I will say in favor of America is, I liked the programming schedule. While it may have become a bit less formalized in my absence, my recollection is that new programs started in the autumn, were show at the same time on the same day throughout the winter and in the spring went into reruns. Here, a new series, or a new season of a series, might start at any time. And the season might be four, eight, twelve or thirty-seven episodes long. If you watch the first two or three and really get into it, they’ll change the time or the day or both, and sometimes they’ll show several episodes in one week and then none for a few weeks after that.

It really makes it hard to plan your day, and I find it sort of sad that the only program I can really count on to be regular as clockwork is Big Brother.


Toni:

Well, once again, I find myself in a violent agreement with Mike. (We’ll have to find a topic that causes an “international incident” next time.) Anyway, yes, I find American TV to be woeful on the whole. I have cable TV which, I believe, gives me about 4200 channels, yet I quite often can’t find a thing to watch.

(I have to preface all this with the admission that I rarely watch TV. With a ten year age gap between the oldest and youngest sprog, my evenings consist of dinner, bath, bed, nagging teenagers about homework, proof-reading said homework, getting stuff ready for next day, blogging, bed.)

My viewing window is usually 9-9.30pm if I’m lucky, - a slot on many channels reserved for forensic crime shows (yawn) or “news”, which we know in the US means east coast, west coast and perhaps a bit about the Middle East. The “harder-hitting” news shows generally consist of whoever is trying to sell a book and can shout louder than everyone else. If I want to sink my teeth into international news, I turn to BBC America, where segments last longer than three minutes, the anchors really grill the guests, and the ads are relatively infrequent. Oh yes, and they cover events all over the world.

One thing I don’t miss on US tv are soaps. Most of the soaps here are on daytime TV and feature impossibly gorgeous people leading ridiculously complicated lives. I can’t even relate, but at least I avoid the coma-inducing “real life” or “gritty” British soaps like Emmerdale, Corrie and East Enders. The mere sound of the opening drum beats of East Enders has me reaching for a vat of gin to drown their sorrows.

So in summary, I eschew most US tv, except for my dirty little secret – American Idol. I’ve already picked my winner and they’ve only just announced the final 12!


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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do you have difficulty in your native country concerning accents?

Toni:

I can’t say I have difficulty with accents when coming back to the UK, except the difficulties I had in the first place – Glaswegians who speak very quickly, Brummies who mumble etc. The thing that I have to get used to, though, is the huge number of accents in such a relatively small country. You can go ten miles down the A1 from where my family is and the accent is noticeably different. In the States, yes, there are subtle differences, but usually it’s just the Southern twang, perhaps a New York brogue, the Boston flat ‘A’, and the rest. (There are other accents, but you have to be here a while to notice them.)

What has kept me on my toes are all the new words and phrases that have popped up in British vocabulary since I left. It’s not an immediate assumption that if something is “pants” it’s probably not very good. I mean, since when did the name of a garment come to be an adjective that often has nothing to do with clothing? And although “chavs” themselves have been around forever, (we used to just call them “common”), that word is relatively new. In the northeast, for some reason, they are called “charvers” rather than “chavs”. No one is able to tell me why there is a difference.

By far the biggest challenge is keeping up with Cockney Rhyming Slag, which I was never much exposed to anyway, but now it seems everyone’s doing it. Yes, I know that “Apples and Pears” means the stairs, and “Trouble and Strife” means the wife, but a “Billie Piper” being a windscreen wiper? At least I know who she is, courtesy of BBC America. Going out for a couple of Britneys? Apparently Britney Spears is now the rhyming slag for beers. We’ll see how long that one stays in fashion. I’m going to have to do some homework before the summer, I can see!


Mike:

Really, how could I? When I visit the States, I am among people who don’t have an accent.

The regional accents in America, like America itself, are broad; I would have to travel several hundred miles south to Dixie to find an accent that is fundamentally different from my own, and even then it wouldn’t be hard to understand. For accent and regional dialect mayhem, you really can’t beat Britain, where you only have to cross the street to find a people talking in a strange, indecipherable inflection and using totally alien words (like “Twitten”) to mean “Footpath.” In this respect, America is comparatively bland.

I, on the other hand, can occasionally be misunderstood by my friends in the States, not because I have developed an accent (which I haven’t) but because I have adopted British phraseology. If I call something “Dodgy” or identify someone as a “Grass” or refer to an arrest as “being nicked” it not only causes confusion for my listeners but alerts you to the types of people I hang out with when I visit my homeland (and why my wife insists that every other year is often enough).

But I digress.

The short answer, obviously, is “No.” The dearth of truly interesting dialects in America (which is rivaled only by their lack of imagination regarding cheese) makes misunderstandings of the kind you might encounter in a Glasgow pub nearly impossible. And I think America is poorer for it. I would love to go back there and find they have, like Britain, developed some truly distinctive and attractive speech patterns beyond the habit of ending every sentence on a high note, as if they are asking a question. I find that, like, highly annoying? But it doesn’t confuse me? It just gets on my tits?

And that, in turn, confuses my American friends.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

What do people make of your accent?

Mike:

Very little, frankly. The reason for this can be summed up in the reaction of the very first person I met on my very first trip abroad. I was in a pub enjoying a pint of Guinness and smoking a cigar when the guy next to me made a comment that required my answering it. At the sound of my voice he seemed perplexed.

"You're a Yank?"

I assured him I was.

"You're awfully quiet for a Yank!"

Not only am I a man of few words, but I am soft spoken and possess an accent devoid of flat vowels, hard consonants and easily identifiable colloquialisms. I am, in short, hard to place.

I once spent three days of a five-day holiday with my companions believing I was Irish. So mostly, my accent goes unnoticed, which is fine by me. People pointing out that I am an American happens so infrequently that it never fails to take me by surprise. I don't believe for a minute that I can pass as a native but, having adopted the local style of speech even if not the accent, hearing me say something like, "I was up on the High Street yesterday and the offie put his prices up again; that's just not on!" in an accent that may or may not be American might prompt the listener to assume I came from Hampshire or Ipswich. People generally have to talk with me for a while before it occurs to them to ask if I'm a Colonial.

And never, not once, has anyone said, "I love your accent! Say something for me!" which happens to my wife on a routine basis when we visit the States.

I have also never had anyone try to imitate an American accent on my account, though there is a woman at work who "does" an American accent (it's sort of her party piece) and it never fails to crack me up. I'm sorry, but there is something inherently funny about a Brit speaking in an American accent.

On the other hand, I still love the accent here and enjoy traveling around the country and listening to regional variations. I never get tired of it; it must be something inherently American.


Toni:

As I mentioned in the first post, strangers hearing me will often edge closer (just to be sure) and then engage me in conversation, usually to tell me not only that they love my accent/the UK, but where they have been or where their British ancestors came from.

I like to think that my friends don’t notice my accent, but the reality is that they obviously do because they imitate me from time to time, and I am always identified as “the British woman” to others. At school, I am quite often asked to speak in public when there are other parents who could just as easily do it. It might be that that kind of thing doesn’t scare me (unless it’s to the High schoolers), but the other parents often say it sounds “better” with my accent. I also have to slow down when I'm on the phone to Americans, or risk having to repeat every other sentence.

The only thing that really bugs me is complete strangers imitating me. It happens quite a lot in shops/ stores. Half way through a transaction, the sales assistant (usually young and male for some reason) will twig that I’m British, and switch to a weird combination of the Queen Mother and a Monty Python member. I never quite know how to react. Yes, they’re being funny, but would they imitate me if I had a Bangladeshi or Brazilian accent? I think not. I seem to be fair game but maybe I should chill a little. After all, they’re the ones who look ridiculous.


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Monday, February 2, 2009

In light of your expat experience, do Brits and Americans like each other?

Toni Hargis:

As a Brit in the US, I can honestly say I have rarely felt insulted or disliked by Americans just because of my nationality. (Other things, yes.) In fact, I sometimes try not to talk when in shops/stores and other public places as some people feel compelled to come up and tell me they love my accent and my country. And not that I'm a big potty mouth, but on the occasion that I do swear, it usually causes great mirth among my Americans friends, who tell me it "sounds so much better" with an English accent. I am also credited with a far higher IQ than I actually possess, again because of my accent. What's not to like?

Americans do generalize about the Brits (uptight, restrained, and unemotional) based on television portrayals and ignorance, like many generalizations. However, as soon as they meet a real, live Brit they realize the error of their impressions.

Brits in the States, for the most part, seem to tolerate Americans in general but really like their American friends. Again, they have a generalization that quickly evaporates with personal experiences. I'm on record as saying it's like living with 350 million Labrador puppies, such is the unbridled enthusiasm most Americans have for life, the universe and contact sports. As cynical Brits, it can sometimes be rather wearing, but we have to admire their positivity.

Given that over four million Brits vacation in the US each year, and about thirty thousand relocate here annually, there must be some affection there, even if the Brits try their best to hide it.


Mike Harling:

It's a shame to start off this debate without a controversy, but I agree with most everything Toni said.

The love/hate relationship between the UK and the US is a lot like our collective love/hate relationship with France: en mass, we can be critical of each other, but on a personal level, at least in my experience, we get along just fine.

Not once in the seven years I have lived here has anyone said to me, "I don't like you because you're a Yank." They may say, "I don't like America because of what they are doing in ..." (Pick a country/issue/music genre), but they have never had an issue with me, personally. Nor have I with them. And this is a good thing, because it allows us to quickly get past our national differences and get on with the business of not liking each other because I'm an insufferable twit and me not liking them because they're pompous prats. (Just kidding, I'm very fond of the British people I know, and they tolerate me well, even though I can be an insufferable twit at times.)

So, clearly, the answer is, "Yes." On a personal level, we genuinely like each other. And on a national level, as long as we can join together to slag off the French, we'll get along just fine.

Sociable