Sunday, February 28, 2010


We know Americans celebrate their wins, but what do the Brits do (in the event that they win something)?


There is, without a doubt, a difference in the way the British celebrate achievement in comparison to the way Americans do. However, since I have not raised any children over here, and I know few people who have, I am not in a position to speak about how parents one-up each other, as they do in the States.

Competition between whose child is smarter, better, more athletic has, on more than one occasion, resulted in gunfire in the US. Not so much here. The few people I do know with children of high calibre—championship swimmer, concert violinist, doctor—treat them and their achievements as a matter of course. They are naturally proud of their offspring, but they don't push it in your face. At least not in mine.

Achievement on a national level is not easy to define as the Brits pick their heroes for the strangest of reasons.

Shackleton: He had many achievements, but the one that secured him enduring fame and a place in the heart of Britons was the voyage that ended in failure.

Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards: an Olympic legend for being the best (and only) ski jumper from the United Kingdom. He came in dead last in both the 70 and 90 metre competitions with jumps laughably short of the next worse competitor.

The British, it would seem, don't just love a winner (as in the States) but as often as not will side with the underdog, feeling true admiration for a person who makes a jolly good attempt.

And if someone actually does succeed in an outstanding achievement—sail solo around the world, for example—they have a way to honour them that makes the Americans and their ticker tape parades and appearances on Oprah pale in comparison: they knight them. Now how cool is that?

Dame Amy Williams, anyone?


As a parent to American children, I know I stand out when I don’t give them high fives and “attaboys” for every little thing they do. I’ve grown out of the British habit of actually addressing below-par performance, (“Try a bit harder next time” being a cardinal sin over here) but, I’m still not whooping and hollering on the sidelines. The thing that makes me laugh is that, despite this country’s reputation for stiff competitiveness, my children’s t-ball teams (that’s baseball for little people, where the ball is hit off a tee instead of being thrown at them) never seemed to have a winner. That’s partly because most of the kids kept getting up at the wrong time and playing on the opposition team, but somehow it was always a tie anyway.

What Americans do very well is celebrate their “winningest” people (and yes, that’s a word.) Whether it’s people coming back from a far galaxy, bringing home Olympic hardware or winning a Presidential election, Americans celebrate in the time-hono(u)red way – with a Parade. It’s engrained in the American way of life. They even write songs about it – Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on my Parade” coming instantly to mind.

In New York City they throw you a ticker tape parade if you’re really impressive. That’s where they rip up what looks like bus tickets and throw them all over the place. The last one (November 2009) celebrated the New York Yankees’ win in the (baseball) World Series, and what a mess it made. They aren’t as common as they used to be, presumably because city budget cuts no longer cover the clean-up costs.

Although the US has topped the medal league in the Winter Olympics, I’m noticing there hasn’t been as much chest-puffing and general self-congratulations as I would have thought. Perhaps that’s because half the population is still scratching its collective head at the thought of people winning medals for sweeping the ice!

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  1. So now I know what t-ball is!

    I think parades are rather a good way of celebrating. Am I right in thinking the idea catching on a little in England? Rugby and cricket teams have driven round London in open top buses - not quite the same thing, I know, but the same sort of idea.

  2. I think Kelly Holmes received a few parades when she won Olympic medals a few years ago, and if a Brit ever won Wimbledon I am sure there would be partying in the street.

    I do think American parents are more overt in their encouragement of their kids at ball games etc - and quite hard on them too - but British parents can be very competitive, not always in a nice way either....

  3. I was at a school sponsored Triathlon (for 6-15 year olds) and a parent of one of my daughter's friends (10 year olds at the time) was so disappointed with his daughter's performance I thought she was going to get grounded. He could hardy hold a civil conversation with me--partly I suspect because my daughter outperformed his (my daughter is no sport superstar).

    It surprised me and made me sad. I thought I was living in a country that said 'chin chin' about not doing as well as they might have!

  4. I have always found British parents to be slightly less sympathetic with below-average performance. Round these parts in the US, every child's a winner! Sometimes it makes me wonder how they're going to survive in the real world.

  5. Expat mum--good point, about the real word, that is. Unless everyone's a winner in the American workplace now (which I suspect isnt the case). I think there's a big difference between working towards 'personal best' and 'everyones a winner' but the distinction seems difficult to define for many people--and schools included with the newish attitude of some UK schools' sports days where competitiveness is frowned upon.

    I have a German friend who's dad always told him '2nd place is first loser.' Oh dear.

  6. It's hard to talk about attitudes to winning in the context of children as the whole British attitude to kids becomes bound up in it. British parents mostly won't boast openly about their children's ablilities but will be far more modest (though a boast will usually be hidden in the modest statement), such as "I don't know how she won that race, she never trains and needs to do more". Modest, but also a boast that the kids is a great runner without training.

    My British daughter keeps being offered help by her US classmates, not because she needs it she's doing great (see a modest boast by me). But when they ask her "how's your project/homework/exam going?" she replies "it's fine/okay" This promts them to offer help as she sounds like she is struggling, but she is just being typically British, modest and understated. When she asks them the same question they say 'I'm doing GREAT, I'm gonna be top of the class".

    "Well you did your best", "as long as the tried your best" are typical British statements to an unsuccessful event, expect little and you won't be disappointed. There are pushy parents everywhere, I'd say in the UK they are generally frowned upon.

    In the world of adult and competitive sport the British do love the underdog. A British audience with no prior interest in the competitors will usually cheer for the underdog I guess to try and level the playing field a little.

    However British do love a winner, particually if it is a win against an arch rival or beating someone at their own game, rarely do the Britsih actually expect it to happen though and so are more overjoyed when it does. If they lose, well hey, something to have an enjoyable moan about.

  7. True, anonymous. When British players appear at Wimbledon (for example)or other sporting events, the crowd will get behind them for obvious reasons. When the players are both foreigners the crowd will nearly always back the underdog, even if his/her opponent is v famous.I know I do myself. American crowds seem to do the opposite
    - see how Tiger Woods was always almost hysterically applauded even though he didnt need either the money or another trophy.
    When I was a child my parents used to say 'Try your best but always remember its just a game' and 'its not the winning but the taking part'. I agree, and still say the same to my own children.

  8. The taking part is so important and it is also important to learn to lose. So much better for children to learn that skill when they are young and the loosing is about a three legged race or a rounders match than later on in the grown up world. One American parent friend of mine told me that at her children's school a child can't 'fail', it has to be called 'deferred success'. Hmmmmm.

  9. I can't stand all that 'no-one can fail' stuff. Bit of competitiveness is good for everyone.
    On the other hand,I can't stand pushy parents whose children have to be the best at everything. I find myself really hoping the child will fail dismally at something!

    I am typically British and understated, and could never bring myself to whoop and holler or whatever. But I do think we could learn a little more positivity from Americans in this. Just not too much!

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  11. Sorry - I left out a key word!!!

    Deferred success"? Oh dear.
    I can't decide whether Brits or Americans are pushier academically. My British friends whose children are approaching college seem pretty much to be letting them get on with it, although the expectations are there all the same. Over here, the Queenager has friends whose parents are dictating which subjects they should take, which colleges they should apply to etc. Perhaps it's because college here costs an arm and a leg and they want to make sure the kids aren't wasting time and money?

  12. Nappy Valley Girl: Kelly Holmes is now DAME Kelly Holmes. That's celebrating success!

    And Amy Williams had a parade in Bath yesterday. More to come, I think ;)

  13. Surely Canada was the most successful country in the Winter Olympics with 14 gold medals, followed by Germany with 10 and Norway and the US with 9. Probably the reason for our lack of chest puffing and self-congratulation is that we are embarrassed. Kinda sad to draw with Norway!

  14. I like that you have Canada as the most successful at the Winter Olympics. Gold is what matters, unless you're the US and the only way you can come out on top is to count "total medals" That seems to be the way we are counting them at this Olympics ;)

    US: 37; Germany: 30; Canada: 26

    Well done on the 14 Golds!

  15. And don't you just love that word - "winningest"?


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