us v. US

I’ve been listening to Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island this week. This was written about his farewell tour of Britain before moving back to the States. He often muses in the book about the difference between the two countries. For example, the weather. In the States you get dramatic weather. In Britain, a weather forecast once read, “Warm and sunny, with some rain and cooler temperatures.” Which just about fits any day you care to select in a year’s worth of British weather.

Anyway, the book got me to thinking about some of the differences between the two countries. Our strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what I came up with. Feel free to add your contribution!

Things Which Britain Does Better Than The USA

  • Period dramas
  • Chocolate
  • Irony
  • Tea
  • Fish & Chips
  • Beer

Things Which The USA Does Better Than Britain

  • Sitcoms
  • Coffee
  • America’s Next Top Model (have you ever seen the British version? Dire!)
  • Customer service
  • Ok, pretty much all TV shows
  • Restaurants

Uh, I thought I’d be able to come up with more than that. Help!


15 thoughts on “us v. US

  1. Oh my, TV shows must be a matter of perspective depending on which side of the pond you’re on! I would gladly watch many British shows (and commercials!) over American ones. 🙂

  2. I do think the TV thing is a grass-is-greener matter. Stands to reason that only the good ones get exported – so we see the pick of US shows, they see the best of British. My personal taste does veer to the American, but I suspect if I were actually faced with a typical US weekly TV schedule, I might change my mind.

    You’re so right about Top Model though. I think it’s maybe because of the lack of irony. The US show is rooted in a deep belief in itself – from the hosts as much as the contestants, and despite a conspicuous failure to produce any actual top models in 11 seasons and counting – but the British show doesn’t seem to be quite convinced.

  3. I don’t agree with the TV either! We only get the good ones in Europe, so it seems that way, but I’ll watch BBC anyday! And I’m also not totally convinced of the coffee (excluding ofcourse the Starbucks and Wayne’s or whatever) Some of the very worst coffee of my life was served to me in the States!
    And Restaurants … British chefs are wonderful!!! British cookbooks are wonderful!!! Britain is full of lovely magazines full of wonderful recipes! Britain has Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Gary Rhodes, Delia Smith, … I could go on for a really long time! And these people do have restaurants! I’m actually a bit tired of hearing that british food sucks… and I live in Italy!!! I actually think that the best chefs of italian food are british!!
    Didn’t mean to rant, but I LOVE so many british cooks! =)

  4. I think it’s a challenge to say better or worse. I just appreciate some of the differences. Parliament v. Congress. In the States, we tend to think British=decorum. Parliament defies that definition. It is hilarious to watch a session where they nearly come to blows. One can hardly picture that happening in Congress.

    The language. We may both speak English but a translator may be required for some. I love some of the expressions that sound more refined.

    Some of our strengths may also be our weaknesses. We work a lot and have relatively little vacation time. I’m not certain what a typical workweek is like in England (my grandparents were from Lancashire so it’s hard for me to say Britain as they never did). I am a lawyer in a US firm and we work 60-80 hours per week on average. My counterparts in our London are expected to work far less, yet get paid more. Oops, that sounded like complaining not comparing….

    Technology is one area where the US excels from the space program to the iPod.

    Shopping–everything seems to cost so much more in in England.

    Theme parks–I’m guessing the US has the corner on the market with Disney.

    Music is a toss up. Of couse, in the 60s, so many bands were imported from England into the US that they nearly became American. I was at Epcot in Walt Disney World last fall and the British pavillion was having a music festival. I heard a 12 year old boy kind of laugh and make a crack wondering what kind of music festival could have possibly come from England. When they started playing Beatles songs he looked confused until we pointed out that the Beatles were not an American band.

    You, of course, have the market on proximity to Europe and scads of history. The value of this cannot be underestimated.

    I do think we have great customer service overall in the US–of course, Posh is the best (Dee, I’m guessing from you listing it as a US strength that everyone on that side of the Atlantic does not meet Posh standards. Pity).

  5. I lived in London for a year (I went to SOAS for study abroad during my third year of college) and I have to say, that list is very very true! After eating so much REAL Cadbury, I refuse to eat Cadbury if it says that it came from Hershey, Pennsylvania (the American distributors of Hershey I think) and have forsworn all American chocolate.

  6. oh dear… US working hours are terrible, inhuman almost! And the teeny tiny vacation??? I really admire how you actually do it!
    The prices? well that’s relative, isn’t it? I mean… New York/ London… how anyone affords them remains a mystery, but there’s so much more in both countries, right?
    Schools ? Britain has excellent schooling system, but so few percentage-wise that actually get their A-levels for example!
    Ice cream? this one I don’t know… US has some excellent ones,but I’m not familiar with the british ones! Anyone?
    One thing is for sure! The horrible gossip-newspapers are terrible in both!!! =)

  7. I love the USA but equally love the UK, so this is tough.

    I love a British Country pub for a Sunday Lunch. Actually make that English (I live in Scotland and love it but the pubs aren’t as good!)
    I love the period buildings and history in Britain
    I love British literature
    I love British theatre

    I love the huge sometimes vast open spaces in the USA
    I love that children are welcomed in restaurants in the USA
    I love that there are so many LYS in USA
    I love the service (even if it’s not always genuine at least it feels like someone cares)

    I could go on, but I think on balance both countries have strengths and weaknesses and appreciating that is what makes them both great!

  8. Hmm. I am in Vancouver, not the US but still North America. What do I like here and what am I homesick for? I hope that no one takes any umbrage at my comments, these are just personal thoughts and minor irritations of no big import. Let me start with what’s equally good in both countries:

    – lovely people

    – great yarn shops/stores and indie dyers

    – good coffee (as long as you look in the right places, both can have bad coffee).

    What’s equally bad in both countries:

    – necessary yet irritating bureaucracy

    – economic climate and recession (although Canada may be less badly affected than the UK?) so concern about job stability, income etc.

    – working hours and annual leave. It doesn’t matter where you are, how many of us really think that we get enough annual leave, Bank/statutory holidays, pay and benefits for the hours that we put into our work? As for me, right now, I am not allowed to work or study full-time while I am in Canada and it is the hardest thing that I have ever had to do. I am looking forwards to being able to work again. By the time that swings around, I am guessing that I won’t care if I get 10 days off or 20 days off!

    Better in Canada (Away):

    – Cleaner air (certainly when compared with London)

    – Better attitude towards recyling and living greenly

    – TV & Radio: CSI & The Beast – we get to see episodes before the UK! Excellent local news coverage. If there is a cat up a tree in Campbell River, we’ll get to hear about it in Vancouver. (Sadly, it tends to be gang and drug related shootings in Langley, however…)

    – Scallop sandwich from Go Fish on Fisherman’s Wharf, nr Granville Island

    – Lots of space

    Better in Britain (Home):

    – Road rules and driving e.g. Here it shocks me very much how many people drive and navigate junctions with phones glued to their ears. When I was driving (over my 6 months allowance, so I cannot drive here again until I get back in August), I had to drive very cautiously, as you’d be astonished how many ways there appear to be to navigate a roundabout here (I am fairly certain that only one of them can possibly be correct).

    – Supermarkets and food/food supplies in general. I have put on a lot of weight here but that is all about being out of routine, not working, being homesick, feeling a bit depressed, portion sizes, high sugar and fat contents of food plus the goop that food tends to be slathered with here, rather than quality or flavour. Even baked beans here contain more sugar/calories.

    They have Safeways here but I simply cannot describe how bad it is. I cannot wait to get home and step inside Sainsburys, Tescos or (gasp) Waitrose. Just on the basis of a wider everyday choice and overall quality of what is on offer. Oh, and the fact that you can pick up a bottle of vino in the same place as your groceries!

    A lot of meat here seems to be full of water when you cook it. I am not sure whether this is a supermarket thing or a meat everywhere thing but I have not found a decent butcher here yet. The first thing that I would like when I get off the aeroplane and to my parent’s house in June? A decent bacon sandwich made with proper bacon that tastes good and does not vanish in a pool of water and fat.

    – TV and radio – better everyday national and international news coverage. e.g. it took 4 days for the last Palastine conflict to make the news here. Better documentaries, better dramas. I rely on the internet and BBC World to keep me up to date.

    – The weather – Vancouver avarage annual rainful 44 inches. London 23 inches. I rest my case.

    – Key places are closer together, which makes getting to them more attainable. In the UK if you found out that something is going on in another city or even in another Euopean city, the chances are that you could get there if you really wanted to and not miss out. Here distances are huge. If something good is going on in Toronto, when you are in Vancouver, it may as well be taking place on the moon: that is a 4-5 hour plane ride away!

  9. football v baseball? I’m not a “sporty” person, but I had the opportunity to go to a baseball game when I was in LA a couple of years ago and it was fantastic, suitable for the whole family! I feel that football matches in the UK are very male dominated and a little bit intimidating.

  10. I would say British (OK – Anglo Italian) ice cream is the best – my great great grandfather Coppola, and great grandfather Amata both sold ice creams from their horse drawn carts in Manchester (and Reas and Sivoris are still up there with the best)

    US – soft drinks (grape soda, root beer – yum!); chewing gum (why can’t we get Wintergreen in the UK?); Breakfast.

    And the Brits are really good at inventing things for the sake of it, and then watching as another nation spots the commercial potential!

  11. Brits do ceremony very, very well – I’m thinking ‘Pomp & Circumstance’ Horseguards, open carrage, Opening of Parliament, Coronation, Procession of Boats type ceremony

    Brits also have the drop on the US for the abillity to understate.

    US do anything big v v well.

    I have yet to see a nationality other than the Brits where the women can carry off an outfit of hats, raincoats, summery skirts and wellies (Hunters, obviously) with such elan……

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the US does national pride (in a positive sense) better than the brits as the mo.

    So far the US are ahead on moon landings.

    US ahead on Nobel Prizes & Fields Medals, (Trivia fact: Trinity Cambridge has more Nobel Prizewinners than any country except UK, USA, France & Germany, Cambridge as a whole is ahead of France & Germany)

  12. Dee- “Better” is subjective. Certainly, anyone who loves British Television as I do doesn’t need to defend shows like “The Hotel Inspector”, “Fawlty Towers”, all the property shws, and being a Britcom addict, I love it all.
    Americans tend to do things in a big way, be it stores, food,homes, celebrations- and being Canadian, we are somewhat more subdued.
    I love British crisps, candy, tea- and most of all, the sense of humour. Not to mention a fine English fry-up!

  13. How about a perspective from someone who is neither American nor British but has visited both countries? And whose country was a Brit colony for 200 years – and thus, British English is my first language…..

    TV – both countries do brilliant stuff and terrible stuff. BBC series, Dr Who, Lewis, period dramas – Brit rules. And when it comes to crime scene investigation type series, the Brits are so much more convinving with their proper white boilersuits – I am sick of seeing Catherine tossing hair all over the evidence – and thecleavage shown in all the CSIs is ridiculous…. Thrillers, black humour a la Weeds, Law and Order, Life, Lost – what else can I say – America rules:) Literature and movies – again, both have their strengths….

    Food. Well, in Malta we practically lost our national cuisine and it’s only just beginning to reviive thanks to asurfeit of fish and chip shops aimed at the resident military base. But when the Brits do a roast, noone does it better. If it’s stead of burger, noone does it better than the Americans -except it’s too enormous for European stomachs. Coffee – sorry, I never had a decent one in either place except in really expensive Italian restaurants… I don’t like Starbucks type coffees… those are not real espresso and capuccino! Same with icecream. We are lucky here to have loads of Sicilians who married Maltese and make brilliant coffees and granite etc

    Chocolate – sorry, unless it’s Hotel chocolat I don’t like either UK or US. Way too sweet, especially Cadbury and Hershey.

    Manners- after years working in a 5 star hotel, I realised noone could be as politely cutting as a public school educated Brit. No shouting or swearing but everyone squirms. Americans tend to go on being very polite when they;re annoyed…… also admirable to us hot blooded southern types!

    Customer service – America wins hands down. Actually, they probably beat the whole world, except for very expensive designer shops – whether these are in MAdrid, Sicily or wherever, the staff tend to be almost too polite.

    You both do fabulous yarn and yarn shops and yarn sites and books!!!!!!

  14. Funny to stumble upon this three days after returning from a trip to the UK… (my first trip. Fell in love. Would totally up and move to London if it were in any way reasonable).

    I kept a similar sort of mental tally, though it went more along the lines of “Things America Just Doesn’t Understand” which included things like:

    Pub Food in general (American Bar food is nowhere near as good as some of the dishes of Steak and Ale pie that I got to eat… or the pub curry that my fiance’ had.)
    How to laugh at itself (particularly its history).
    How to cook with real ingredients.