Monday, May 19, 2008

The Dick van Dyke thing

(DISCLAIMER: No part of the following post should be interpreted as 'knee-jerk anti-Americanism'; as I've said many times before, I love Otis Redding and Andy Warhol and Christina Ricci and Converse sneakers and insane conspiracy theories far too much to slag off 300 million people. I'm just saying, though, right...)

When I meet an American, s/he usually asks me where I'm from, which is a perfectly sensible question. To which I give what I hope is a perfectly sensible reply, which is "London".

Because I'm not a complete social retard, I then ask the same question of my interlocutor. Who, more often than not, says something along the lines of: "I'm from the States."

Well, I mean, duh? It's just possible that he's clarifying that he's not Canadian, I suppose. But do Americans not realise that, as soon as they open their expensively realigned mouths, they are announcing their Americanness? We get that bit - where in America? New York? LA? Or somewhere in the flyover states, somewhere that only really impinges our attention when there's a high-school massacre?

Last year, in Cambodia, I met a nice American couple.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"We're from the States."

"Riiight... Whereabouts in the States?"

"A city called Minneapolis."

"Oh, OK."

"Gee, you mean you've heard of it?"

And rather than saying that I come from London, should I be announcing that I come from England, as if every atom of my being, from my accent to my pasty skin, from my yellow-grey teeth to my fondness for sarcasm, doesn't scream that fact out loud?

PS: Serendipitously, this turns up in my inbox, courtesy of the ever-delicious Very Short List. I like the Scottish one best.


Daisy said...

no...some americans are just annoying like that...what annoys me is when i am abroad and i tell people i am from illinois...they look at me like they have never heard of this odd place...until i say 2 hours from chicago...well then they know...why this is so annoying is that chicago typically separates itself from the entire state, as if it is a state of it's own and i hate associating with...oh yeah and the al capone comments are real nice from the brits as if there is nothing else here...

Christopher said...

I was swept up last week in a group of very tall young Americans - so I presumed from their attitude and accent - walking down a long hotel corridor in Orléans. I asked them where they came from: San Diego, they replied, looking down from their vast height on the diminutive creature below, lost in the carpet pattern; they were playing basketball in Paris two evenings later.
At dinner I mentioned them to our waitress. Yes, she said (actually she said oui), they were from Cholet. They were the Cholet basketball team. (Cholet, a name dear to Wombles devotees, is a town in the Vendée.)
They don't seem very French to me, I said.
No, she said, they're American. Basketball clubs buy their players in, you know.

Don't know why I'm telling you this, really, but it's filled in an idle moment before lunch. But I wonder how many Frenchmen play boules for San Diego.

red said...

I'm relieved to read I'm not the only one who finds this annoying. Americans do it all the time....

Tim F said...

Daisy: Think of it this way - if a Brit said to an American "I'm from Lancashire", it might not make sense. But "I live a few miles from Manchester [like Chicago, the third largest city in the country]" would probably be more helpful. That said, any state namechecked in song by Tom Waits *and* Doris Day must have made it onto the cultural radar of most civilised people...

Christopher: There's a Thai chap who plays boules on his own just round the corner from me. I do wonder if I should offer him a game, along with a bottle of marc and a soft pack of Gitanes. Then we could take on the top French team. It would be like Cool Runnings, but with Gérard Depardieu playing the coach.

Red: At least they remember where they're from.

Daisy said...

btw i live about 30 minutes from the town dick van dike was born and raised in...and no it isn't

llewtrah said...

I usually end up saying "the States is a big place ... whereabouts in the States?"

Maybe they assume I can tell from their accent, but mostly they seem pleased I show an interest.

Rimshot said...

I think you're giving people (in general, and Ami's in particular) too much credit.

I would hazard to guess that near 50% of the folks you speak with from "The States" wouldn't know if you're from Londinium, Ireland, Australia (or perhaps Austria) or South Africa based solely on your accent.

Additionally, if I may be so bold as to posit that "the States" is a pat answer because its the equivalent of someone telling them that they're from Germany or Spain rather than Kalk or Toledo. Its just how its done in the countries that don't base their money on silver.

That said, its a convenient way of getting out of small-talk, since most folks aren't really interested in the first place where someone's from. They're just waiting to add, "Oh, I was in [insert state or city] once."

Just my $0.05, keep the change.

Betty said...

Perhaps Americans call themselves "Americans" because they like to view everywhere else as a giant land mass? Some of them seem to have problems identifying countries, let alone regions or towns.

We were once staying at a hotel in Sorrento when a group of American teenagers didn't seem to acknowledge the fact that they were in Italy - although they did refer to their holiday in "Yooorp" on several occasions. They even had a toast during a meal once - "here's to Yooorp!" one of them said as they raised their glasses.

Maybe it's time to accept the fact that you're a Yooorpian Tim.

Billy said...

Americans invented cocktails. I forgive them a lot.

Billy said...

...oh and when I was in Australia people would ask me where in Britain I was from.

I'd say Bristol and they'd say, is that near London?

And I'd say about 200 miles and they'd say, Pretty close, then?

Not really, I'd think, but their country was on a larger scale.

Rog said...

Popular music has ensured that the World has heard of just about every US City from Saganaw to Alberquerque.

dinahmow said...

Rimshot is probably right in that, mostly, people don't give a hoot.

Miss Schlegel said...

I am an Australian who has lived in Asia where American expats assumed I was British. They're seriously dense, and we meet the ones who have actually made an effort to get out and about. On the other hand, some of my best friends and all that.

I have also been to Bristol and London and can confirm they are quite close. I lived in Swansea when I was in the UK, and would often suggest a quick sojourn to London of a Saturday, to which my Welsh friends would reply, "What are you talking about? London? I haven't been there since 1973," to which I would reply, "It's three hours away, you inbred Welsh retards." After which, relations soured.

Tim F said...

(Does anyone else dither when faced with more than about six responses? Individual replies? Cherrypick? One general response? Just let them get on with it? Ach, I'd only be working otherwise.)

But Daisy... I always thought DvD came from Hoxton or Poplar or somewhere like that...

I'm sure they just fancy you, Llewtrah.

Rimshot: So if I call myself a Citizen of the Universe, they can say "Ooh, I was there last week"?

Betty: I suppose it's no different from old English buffers referring to "continentals".

Billy: The Americans invented cocktails, but we invented shandy.

Murph: I've always wanted to go to LA and ask if anyone knows the way to San Jose...

I know, Dinah, but I give a hoot, and I insist on imposing my pedantic needs on everyone.

That's nothing, Miss S. I love the story of notorious art forgers Greenhalgh family. The mum, Olive, had never left Bolton. She was 83.

Daisy said...

i am's just what i am...none of you can hear my accent is why i identify myself as such here...i travel 2 to 3 times a year to northern ireland to visit with some very close friends and do pride myself on not only telling what specific country someone is from by their accent but i can tell the difference between a belfast and a ballycastle accent over a ballymena accent. I would be offended and to be honest my hair raised a little on some of the comments here...then i put it in perspective...people from across the pond do the same thing with us, and it is equally annoying...for you not to identify with where illinois is, let alone the town i reside, is the same as an american not knowing the difference between london and least we give you the opportunity to just identify the state and still when i talk to people they don't know where illinois is the middle of the USA...the very middle...but i have to identify chicago before they know...and still they don't know where in the states chicago is i am not talking about you knowing the city (as bristol) just the freaking state (which by the way is as large as all of ireland)...okay that is my rant...having said that...when i have been abroad to various places i have been embarrassed when other americans are around because most of the time they act ignorant...i will give you that...but we are not ALL like that...