British versus American


Unlike most Britons (male and female) that I know, I am unreserved about enjoying a British series called Made In Chelsea (MiC). I debriefed the series in a previous post here, which you can read up on here. Liking the series (and Britons who also like it, but are embarrassed to admit it in British public) may say a great deal about me as a person, and the people I attract. Let’s face it, black-identified Americans have called me “bourgie” since I was a child. It’s pretty hilarious to think about the cultural connection, too, as Anglophones typically view Francophone people as “refined” ( Ou Lah Lah! ) but “arrogant.” We all bathe in parfum and are serial epicureans. “If the shoe fits?”

Last year, MiC introduced an American named Stephanie “Steph” Pratt to their cast. She’s blond, blue-eyed, with teeth and skin whiter than a Philip’s 100w light bulb. And she speaks, at least on set, in the manner Brits typically expect Americans to communicate. You know, “oh my gawwd; realllyyyy?” All the exaggerated elongation of the ending of words, and just speaking outrageously and loudly. Yep, that is pretty much what Brits expect an American to sound like. And, Steph fits that bill. But at the time of her arrival on set, I thought: okay, in the second year (in 2012), they had a brown-skinned Parisian on set for a few weeks (dating Caggie, Spencer’s ex-girlfriend). So, this was their way to show not being bloody xenophobes. (Yes, I used “blood;” get over it. hehe)

But this year, the cast went to New York City, and a few more Americans were introduced to the staff. Then, I began to notice a pattern. For me, the British cast just looks like everyday Brits. The only difference is the stuffy accent they speak in, which is likely acting – I’ve rarely heard Brits speak this way, and I know more than a few wealthy Brits. So, there’s the accent. But, there’s also the obvious wardrobe, cars, housing, and what not. But, phenotypically, they’ve not-so-perfect teeth (not trying to play with stereotypes here!) and faces that wouldn’t make most people stop, stare, and ask for an autograph on the streets. They just look pretty typical.

Made In Chelsea British Cast

Made In Chelsea British Cast

But, when I saw the Americans added to the season in New York City, I could not help noticing that each expanded what Steph already brought to the table. Orthodontist-perfectly straight teeth. Cosmetically-treated everything, from teeth-whitening, to lots of makeup. And, of course the men were all gym rats with perfectly sculpted bodies. And there was the accent thing, too … the whole “valley girl” and “frat boy” accent. “Seriously?!” Of course they, like the cast on Beverly Hills 90210, were all white-identified or, at least, white-perceived. Because, ostensibly, there aren’t really wealthy tan, yellow, and brown people who live in Chelsea, London or on New York City’s Upper West Side.

Americans on the Made In Chelsea cast in New York City

Americans on the Made In Chelsea cast in New York City

I sent a text to my girl in Tehran, who studied at my University here and shared many of the same “things” as yours truly; including MiC. Anyway, I asked if she noticed something about the casts on the show, in particular the contrast between the Americans and the Brits on the show, and she immediately responded in the affirmative. It was not a mistake and I was not being “sensitive” (as some folks say when I observe certain things).

The message is quite clear … not even partially hidden. And it has everything to do with the big “fugly” word that makes Americans heave … class. You see, as far as I’ve observed, and even read, in the British worldview, the elite in society wish to deflect from being perceived as privileged. And, they do this by looking like everyday people, imperceptibly different from a stock room worker at Hollister. They tend to be less likely to have braces-perfect teeth. On the flip-side, wealthy Americans, at least in many people’s minds here, are not really hereditarily wealthy (i.e. descended from generations of elite) and tilt towards being nouveau riche. And we all know how the nouveau riche act; just look at the Trumps and Kardashians. Boisterous, tacky, too much everything. That peppers local beliefs that “American culture is new,” I think, too. What they mean is “white Anglo” culture is new in the US, because when I point out that there are older human remains in the Americas than in the British Isles, and dynasties in the Americas that far exceed any in Europe in terms of length of time said empires or kingdoms lasted, their eyes cross as if I completely missed the point.

Speaking softly yet clearly from England to “America”: simmer down and stop talking so damn loudly, it’s annoying and expected of you. In the meantime, I really envy you and wish, in a different life, I’d been born in Vegas, too.

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