Sunday, January 2, 2011

Going For Broke

Welcome to 2011. I’m sure most people can agree that 2010 could have been better, but some people (I’m not saying who) faced up to the disappointment better than others (I’m not saying who). Let’s all hope 2011 brings good things.


I think Bill Bryson summed it up best when he pointed out that if you tell an American an asteroid is going to hit the earth in eight weeks and end all life on the planet, he’ll say something like, “Wow! Then I’d better sign up for that macramé class right away.” If you tell a Brit the same thing, he’ll say, “Wouldn’t you just know it. And have you seen the weather forecast for this weekend?”

The financial world has collapsed, people are out of work and for the Brits this is an opportunity for a good old fashioned grumble. It seems they can’t be happy about anything. When the royal wedding was announced, it was only a matter of minutes before it was denounced as a show put on for the sake of the population to cheer people up during the hard times.

Good luck.

I recently read the book, Whoops! by John Lanchester, a thoroughly readable account of the banking disaster and its ramifications. Ironically, and rightly, he thinks people aren’t angry enough. These people (banksters, he calls them) played fast and loose with our money, and now real businesses are going bankrupt, real people are losing their jobs and real lives are being ruined, while they continue to collect billion-pound bonuses. But all the British publics can think to do is say, “Wouldn’t you just know it. And have you seen the weather forecast for this weekend?”


Where’s the passion, the anger, the outrage? Any of that would be preferable to depressing grumblings and a laundry list of doom. It was so bad, I was actually glad to see the student become incensed enough to riot—until I realized it was just an excuse for a pack of yobs to vandalize and desecrate.

There I go, being British.

2010 was not a stellar year in many respects. There isn’t a lot we can do about that. But believing 2011 will be worse isn’t going help anyone. 2011 will be worse if you expect it to be; believe it will be better and maybe, by embracing a bit of optimism, things will improve.

There I go, being an American again.


There's a fine line between being an optimist and being an ostrich with its head in the sand, but I think Americans have it right this time. Yes, there's a depression going on over here but people aren't talking about leaving the country for pastures greener, which is what I hear from many Brits. Recent UK government statistics show record numbers of Brits emigrating "for a better life" as if the rest of the world wasn't also blanketed by fairly hard economic times. I personally know a handful of families who have left the UK in the last few years alone – some have even gone back home already!


Sometimes the American "every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining" approach can get irritating to a Brit who likes the occasional grumble, but I'm often glad I'm not living amongst so many "moaning minnies" in England right now. The UK isn't the only country having to tighten its collective belt - people are having a hard time everywhere, but they're not declaring their countries doomed, finished or down the toilet, nor are they jumping ship or wishing they could. Despite the devastation that the USA has experienced in the last few years (home foreclosures, corporate failures, job losses, not to mention natural disasters like hurricanes, forest fires, floods and oil spills) I have never heard a single American saying they've had enough of this country.

Come on Britannia! Where's that stiff upper lip? Let's rise like a phoenix in 2011!

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  1. Whoa! That's a huge generalisation or British / American culture. I'm a Brit, I have family who live in the US. I spend a lot of time in the States.

    I think pessimism can be a form of dry / sarcastic British humour. It might look like moaning, but on many levels people are trying to be funny. Grin and bear it, and keep going against all odds. I don't think Americans always see through our humour, this post kind of backs that up. :/


  2. I should have also added, "moaning" is actually a form of bonding or relating to those around you / community spirit. And believe it or not, a perhaps weird form of empathy (from outside) ... we're all in this together. The traditional stiff upper lip (historical reasons) pushed this. History very much plays a part in contemporary times.

  3. I think the weather does play a big part. It's hard to be cheerful when it goes dark at 3pm and it's cloudy and dreary. When I lived in Preston I used to hate the winters. In Ohio, even when it's brass monkeys it's sunny and we have longer days in winter of course.
    My friends here do complain about things sometimes, but generally I find that Americans pretend things are happening and breeze along in a kind of la-de-da way. I don't mean to say that in a mean way but during the oil spill and even now with the Iraq war, people just ignore it.

  4. I agree moaning is a bonding thing although too much of it can be irritating which is why we Brits being polite try to turn the conversation to safer ground with things like: Now have you seen what the weather forecast is doing?

  5. I can certainly understand some of my irish relatives leaving Ireland like rats jumping off a sinking ship - Ireland will not recover for many years.

    I do know what you mean though - no one whinges here in USA - it's so wierd! Sometimes I feel like a good whinge and no one wants to. Also I think the UK is currently in a worse state economically than USA and that's why people aren't emigrating from USA to other countries. The UK seems to be in a pretty bad place right now and I wouldn't blame those who wanted to leave for Australia etc!

  6. But Britain IS horrible and down the toilet... what's to like about it?!

    I'm actually serious. I'd leave if I could persuade the rest of my family. But I've held that view for several years, not just the last one.

    It's mostly the weather that gets to me, not the financial situation.

  7. I don't miss the moaning and grumbling. I love the way Americans are so positive and upbeat. Occasionally it's a bit over the top, but it's a fault in the right direction. Nailing my colours to the American mast on this one.

  8. We're painting in broad strokes with this one. Normally that's fine, but in this example I think we're missing the nuance. Here are my thoughts. As you know I love this blog and we're among friends so I haven't held back.

    Mike asks where's the British outrage over the financial crisis is, but ignores that it's the US political consensus that the market must be allowed to function at all costs. Also if you're going to ask where the anger and outrage is, it's a little odd to then dismiss a display of outrage not seen in a generation on the grounds that it was a bit too angry and full of outrage for your liking as you do with the student protests. You may not have liked the actions of a minority of the protesters (neither did I), but that's besides the point with the specific argument that you're trying to construct here.

    On the notion being expressed that Americans are a bunch of smiling Polyannas. Really? In 2010? The year of The Tea Party? A large part of their success has been based on rhetoric emphasising extreme disenchantment with the direction America is going. Talking to Americans (of either political persuasions) I rarely come across Pollyannas but people who take a more nuanced approach and see beyond American exceptionalism to the tough decisions ahead for the country and that the future is as much about the BRIC economies as themselves.

    On the point about never hearing Americans saying they want to leave the US. They may not say it, but plenty do it - an estimated 6 million.

    I don't see much difference with the people of the US and UK in this matter. And if there is, perhaps it's just the Americans hiding behind a smile and the Brits indulging in some gallows humour.

  9. Anthony - my take on Mike's comment was that he was glad to see the students 'revolting', but that glee was quickly extinguished when it became clear that a rent-a-mob was turning the place upside down and just spoiling for a fight. Nothing to do with the students at all.

    I think your last sentence sums things up perfectly - it's two different approaches. However, given that you have 4 expat Brits all saying the same thing (Americans don't whinge as much), it's not too sweeping a statement. Definitely the case here in the mid-west anyway, (where Pam and Iota are also living.)

    As for the Tea Partyers - let's face it, not only are they a tiny miniority (not even representative of Republicans), but they're pissed off because we have an African American Democrat in the White House. Yes, they don't like where they think America is headed, (communism) but that's mainly based on utter ignorance and an inability to look outside of the USA for examples.
    Most of them don't even understand that their Medicare payments are from the "big government" they despise, let alone what's been happening to the economy recently.
    And if they were that pissed off, wouldn't they be talking about living on the Costa Del Sol?

  10. Speaking as a Brit, it's true that we enjoy a good moan.

    Key word being enjoy.

  11. I agree with Alison. Keep calm and carry on. We all know it's awful, but sarcasm and bitchery relieves some of the tension ;)

  12. It is no use moaning and winging because we just have to get on with life no matter what is going on in the country.
    A bit of optimism would go down very well right now. But you have to strike a balance.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May


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