Cross Ocean Interviews: HC Chatham's Thoughts on British Stereotypes

The U.S. and the U.K. have quite a bit in common, but there are still stereotypical interpretations of British culture floating around in America. The HC Chatham team spent some time brainstorming – here are the top five stereotypes we’ve heard about life in the UK.

  1. Everyone is fashionable.

Style Blogger Beti Kercelli points out that American looks are often inspired by trends in the UK. Magazines in the US are often packed with advice to “Get the London look”, and the Union Jack is emblazoned on shirts, bags and jackets in stores across the country. The influence of British designers is so powerful in the US that they’re even part of our curriculum: Chatham students who take History of Rock, Pop and Soul in the spring will spend part of the course learning about Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s impact on punk culture.

  1. Everyone is polite and intellectual.

News/Lifestyle Section Editor Gretchen Geibel says many Americans feel that the British are “very polite, refined and well-mannered.” Beti agrees: she often hears about Britain’s amazing table manners. That aura of sophistication is complemented by the accent. Says writer Shannon Ward, Americans believe that “any person with a British accent sounds sophisticated and interesting, no matter what they’re talking about.” Analysis from wisegeek.com backs this up: “several studies show that Americans who have not lived outside of the United States tend to rate British English speakers as having higher intelligence and social status than non-British English speakers.”

 

  1. The British all drink tea.

Both Gretchen and Shannon mentioned this one. Americans have this perception that “British people drink tea like it is water,” says Shannon. According to the UK Tea Council, the British consume about 165 million cups every day – that translates to 60.2 billion per year. Britain even invented the tea party! An article on popular American tea store Teavana’s website reports that Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, opted to supplement the traditional breakfast and dinner meals with yummy treats and beverages between 3pm and 5pm –the event blossomed into the traditional afternoon tea.

Of course, the UK offers seriously delicious food options, too. Sustainability Writer Catherine Giles mentioned fish and chips, a dinner many Americans associate with Britain. A quick journey through BBC’s Good Food page, though, and we’re obsessed: from pork pies to Yorkshire puddings, there are plenty of delicious dishes not usually found in America.

  1. The UK is home to many politically powerful ladies.

Beti mentioned that the UK is known for turning out extremely influential female leaders. Almost everyone in the US is familiar with Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher. The Parliament’s website reports that female members make up approximately a fifth of the House of Lords and about a quarter of the House of Commons. And while many Americans may not know details about the ins-and-outs of British politics, there’s a general obsession with the royal family. Gretchen remembers the importance of Princess Kate and Prince William’s wedding – an event that captivated families in the US and the UK.

  1. The UK is basically Hogwarts.

Okay, we know this isn’t true. But Shannon Ward mentioned that Americans still wish that all British people lived in castles. Maybe it’s because Exeter alum J.K. Rowling shaped an entire generation’s worth of childhoods, but kids in the U.S. still reach their eleventh birthday and hope they’ll see an owl fluttering outside their window with a Hogwarts acceptance letter.

 

Works Cited

Teavana: http://www.teavana.com/tea-info/tea-party-history-etiquette

United Kingdom Tea Council: http://www.tea.co.uk/page.php?id=237

Parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/education/online-resources/parliament-explained/women-in-politics/

WiseGeek: http://www.wisegeek.com/why-do-british-accents-make-people-sound-smarter.htm

BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/british

United Kingdom Design Council: http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/about-design/types-of-design/fashion-and-textile-design/a-history-of-fashion/