Lots of interesting thoughts on the previous post — thanks to all who commented. I’ll comment in that thread on the various clarifications of American culture. Here, I want to discuss some of the proposed oddities that have been suggested for Britain. (I won’t be addressing trivia like the lengths of TV series or the size of mains plugs, interesting though they are, because I want to focus on fundamentals.)
First, jwerpy is right to point out the ubiquity of surveillance, not only in London but in most British cities. It’s shameful not just that this has happened, but that it’s happened so quietly and unobtrusively that almost no-one has even objected.
I’d agree that incursions into freedom of expression in Britain are a very fundamental problem — not least because it’s the kind of meta-issue that makes it much harder for the country to protect itself against other issues. Lizard rightly points out the example of our terrible libel laws: we saw that culture most immediately in the vote two days ago against libel reform *headdesk*. But our culture of restricting expression applies in many other ways, and, yes, often results in people being arrested for tweets.
The progressive erosion of freedom that the last two points represent arises from a yet more fundamental issue which I’m surprised no-one picked up on: we have no (written) constitution. So if I want to assert my right to freedom of expression, I can’t just point to the First Amendment and say “look, it’s right here in the most fundamental laws of the land”.
It’s a surprise to me that so many people see the BBC as such an oddity. I know it’s an unusual way to finance broadcasting, but I’d never have seen it as one of the stand-out differences about Britain. For what it’s, I think it’s pretty good value for an as-close-to-independent broadcaster as you can get, free from the need to court advertisers. It’s always astonishing to me that a 45-minute episode of, say, Buffy takes a full hour to air in America. (I wonder how £12 a month compares with what typical Americans pay for TV?)
Wyrd points to the tendency for people to get into fights at football matches. (This is much less common than you’d think from the news, but it does happen.) That is very strange to me; but it’s far from being a characteristically British problem, and is more pan-European. I don’t know what lies behind it, unless it’s a tendency for Europeans to be more partisan regarding their sports. Perhaps it’s just a matter of cultural momentum? Violent people going to a football match in Europe know that violence happens at football matches, so they act accordingly and the cycle is perpetuated. I’ve been to one American sporting event in my life (Boston Red Sox) and despite not understanding more than 10% of what was happening, thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the American approach to enjoying sport is much better than ours. (Shame the actual sports are so lame.)
Wyrd also suggests that anti-intellectualism may be less ubiquitous and pervasive in Britain than in America. That may be true, but if it is then I’m not sure the difference is one of kind, only of degree.
Then there’s the monarchy, as mentioned by Sean Conner and others. I’m sure no-one would advocate it as a system of government. In practice, it’s purely ceremonial. We could argue about whether the economic benefit of a monarchy outweighs its cost, but in terms of what it means to live in Britain it has almost no impact at all beyond providing a set of celebrities for tabloid newspapers to obsess over.
Did we miss anything? What else about Britain makes Americans (and other non-Brits) go “what is this i dont even”?