In an article he wrote for the magazine Abroad View, Hafez Adel wrote, “Living abroad taught me that stereotypes endure because they provide a comfortable shortcut to understanding complex matters and that they usually emerge to fill a vacuum of knowledge…what we [Hafez and his Spanish roommate] learned is that we know much less about each other’s cultures than we thought. But what we lost in certainty, we made up for in understanding.”
I think Americans have developed their stereotypes of England, and London in particular, from what they see on TV and in movies. I believe that as Americans we tend to see British people as “posh”, proper, and more reserved than we are. I think we also expect London to be a rainy, dreary place where there are only a few days of sunlight. Coming here has made me realize that most of those stereotypes are not true. The reason why we see the British as having that “proper” accent and being so posh is because a lot of actors from England are from the upper classes and speak and act in that way. Also, many television shows and movies revolve around that class of English people, especially the royal family, who would of course only behave and speak in a “proper” manner. In reality, there are many, many, kinds of English accents and not all British people are reserved and fall under the category of “posh”. In fact, when we think of British people, we only think of people from England, but technically “Britain” includes Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in addition to England, and each country has its own cultural traditions and accents. There are also stereotypes about how much the British drink tea, which is mostly true, and the plethora of pubs that line the city streets, which again is mostly true.
Yes, I have definitely found that generally Brits are less likely to approach a stranger and start talking to them, and they generally keep to themselves in places like the Underground, but they are not as cold as some people think. And they also love their small talk, especially about the weather. But that may also be because they have their own stereotypes of Americans that include believing that we are much more approachable and easy to talk to. It has also become apparent to me that the Brits love to talk about politics, and think that it’s okay to immediately ask every American they know about Donald Trump. It hasn’t necessarily infuriated me, but I do feel annoyed every time I am speaking to a British person and after they ask, “Are you American?” the second question is always “Did you vote for Donald Trump?” or “How do you feel about Trump?” I would never ask them about Brexit, as I know it is a very dividing issue in the country at the moment, so why do they feel the need to pry into an issue of the same magnitude in my home country? I appreciate their interest in politics, but I would prefer if they talked to me for a little while first before deciding whether or not I’m the type of person who would want to discuss my country’s new president. I definitely think this stereotype of sorts was created partially to fill this “vacuum of knowledge”. While I’m sure news outlets here covered the U.S. election, I’m sure a lot of details were left out, and only the big stories were presented to the public. I think people here aren’t aware how strongly people feel about the issue, whether they’re pro-Trump or anti-Trump, and they aren’t aware that it actually makes some people extremely upset and uncomfortable to talk about it. Especially since most of us have been in London since before the inauguration and haven’t really felt the impact of this presidency yet. So I’ve just learned to tell people I didn’t vote for him, I don’t really like him, and try to leave it at that.
The picture I chose to show that depicts an American stereotype of England is a stereotype I have not yet touched upon. In the picture, the American police officer is vicious and intimidating with pointed teeth and a wide variety of weapons, and he is called a “cop”. Meanwhile, the British “policeman” is automatically presented as more sophisticated and proper by his label, and is shown as more timid and implicitly harmless by only carrying a nightstick as a means of warding off criminals. To me, this is saying that in the eyes of Americans, our policemen are scarier and more intimidating, while British policemen are not to be feared as much. I think this is a false view to have and it comes down to the differences in American and British laws. England has much stricter laws about things such as gun control and, generally, there are less violent crimes to speak of in places like London. Here, it seems like one of the most common crimes is theft, with criminals on the Underground stealing people’s cell phones amongst other items. London also has a “CCTV” system in place, meaning that there are security cameras throughout the city, which are constantly monitored by police and security officers to seek out any possible criminal activity. Unfortunately, the United States has a more relaxed view on gun control, and we do not have a CCTV system like in England, so our police officers must be more “equipped” to deal with these possible threats. Also, major places such as big train stations, attractions like Buckingham Palace, etc. have armed military officers that can keep people safe and apprehend anyone that may be breaking the law and carrying a weapon of some sort. I have never felt like the law enforcement here were less strong or intimidating than in the U.S., and I have never felt unsafe even when I was on the streets very late at night. I think there are some Americans that think the British people are weaker because of their lack of guns and heavily armed police, but I actually prefer that to the extreme level in which we arm our police, and I definitely prefer the stronger gun control laws.
Overall, I feel like I’ve learned that the British people, well the people of London that is, have a “hard shell” of sorts and once you learn how to break that shell and start getting to know people, they are just as open and nice as Americans can be. I have also learned that there are a wide variety of English accents, and not all of them are easy to understand. England is very culturally similar to the United States and I have begun to adopt their love for tea, but not so much the love for small talk about the weather. I think travel is good to eliminate stereotypes because, as Adel wrote, what we lack in certainty, we make up for in understanding.