There’s a famous quote, of uncertain origin that says Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language.” I was reminded of this after talking to my Uncle Simon who has recently returned from his first visit to the United States. We were swapping our impressions and our likes and dislikes. Like me, he really enjoyed the general positivity of Americans, compared to Europeans. who tend toward the more pessimistic end of the spectrum.
The first time I was in States it was for work purposes. One of the older men I was working with said to me during the course of a very casual conversation that he lived in Santa Monica. “Oh, I’d love to go to there” I said to which he replied, “If you came to Santa Monica to visit me and my family it would be dream come true for us.” I was just about to burst out laughing, slap him on the arm and call him a cheeky bastard when I noticed he had a look of complete sincerity on his face. It was at that moment I realised that between Americans and Brits, there lies a Great Bullshit Divide.
When you’re speaking to a nation who like to look on the bright side, bubble over with optimism at the slightest provocation, it’s really tricky to figure out where the sincerity ends and the bullshit begins.
There is just no way a person would say this to you in Britain after meeting you for a few days unless they were taking the piss. After the “dream come true” comment, I frantically looked about for a translator to no avail; I looked back at the American, my mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. All my sarcastic, cynical, down beat personalities had a confab but came up with no advice on how to proceed. I had no idea of how to respond to such unabashed enthusiasm. I had been lulled into a false sense of security, not realising that while we shared the same words, we definitely weren’t speaking the same language.
And if you have any of your own cultural observations based on huge sweeping generalisations, it would be a dream come true for me if you’d share them.