When travelling abroad as well as exploring new ground and learning about other cultures I always find it fascinating to hear how other people view Great Britain. It never ceases to amaze me what features of my homeland attract the most interest and what a bizarre vision of life over here some people have. This is particularly true of Americans, many of whom seem to believe that we all live in chocolate box cottages, travel everywhere in red buses and always go to work in bowler hats.
Royalty and the Beetles
Mention to any American that you are from England and you will be met with a barrage of questions about the Beetles and the Royal Family. I have been asked on many occasions if there is really a Penny Lane, which there is incidentally. I had the privilege of living just a few hundred yards from the fabled street which is always a conversation stopper on American soil as is the proximity of my current home to Windsor castle. One poor women almost fainted when she asked if I had ever seen that most famous of edifices and I told her that it was just down the road from my house.
The Main Attractions
In addition to a fascination with Liverpool and the Royals the place that Americans most want to see is Stonehenge. Why such an underwhelming circle of stones should be worthy of transatlantic travel I will never know but it is right up there with Eleanor Rigby’s statue and the Cavern club as a must see destination. Despite our thousands of years of history, our richly diverse culture, the many areas of outstanding natural beauty and an embarrassment of architectural riches it is all about four blokes from Liverpool and some stones.
The Americans view the British as a nation of eccentrics and when I come to think of it that should be no surprise considering the rather strange nature of many of our traditions and our propensity for perpetuating them. Where else in the world would rolling a cheese down a hill be any kind of sport or tossing the caber for that matter? This week saw a Knob Throwing event in Dorset. I have to admit that I enjoyed the reports of this ridiculous occasion, packed as they inevitably were with a raft of innuendos, but what would foreigners make of a biscuit throwing competition?
The Wrong Focus
I am guessing that many might feel that this perfectly explains why we haven’t won a football World Cup for the best part of 50 years. We are clearly too wrapped up in honing our cheese rolling and biscuit throwing skills to be any good at proper sport!
The Bowler Hat
The one thing I really don’t understand is the stereotypical image of the British gent in a bowler hat. I mean nobody wears those anymore! The kilt is still a firm favourite and we do a big trade in cable knit jumpers, anything tartan and those annoying jumpers with triangle patterns on them but there isn’t a bowler hat in sight. Looking at the tacky souvenirs on sale around our tourist hotspots it is a wonder that the rest of the world doesn’t think that we all wear bearskins or Beefeater uniforms!
I suppose every country has its stereotypical image and tourist destinations that the locals find less than amazing. We are all fascinated by what is different about other countries but the Americans view Britain as more like another planet. I fear the reality may all seem rather mundane!
Article by Sally Stacey