Sex, money and the weather

Well, I guess my choice of title for this posting got your attention. πŸ™‚ I am sorry if you are disappointed that I am not going to discuss the sex trade, but I want to muse upon the subtle differences between countries that can come as a surprise.

When I first visited the US – nearly a quarter of a century ago – I was shocked. I had expected a place that was quite similar to England, just bigger and louder and with different money. What I found was much more foreign than I could have imagined …

The first thing was language. We both speak English, but sometimes it might as well be a different language. It starts with pronunciation. After people stopped commenting on my cute accent, they would realize that they did not actually understand what I had said. We have “tom-AH-toes”, you have “tom-AY-toes” and it all goes down hill from there. Add to this the use of different words and changed meaning of words (like “holiday”) and communication starts to break down. Who was it who said “Two great nations separated by a common language”?

Although the US is a set of 50 individual states, each of which has its own character, there is a remarkable amount of uniformity across the nation. Obviously money, phone numbers, language, customs and fundamental laws are consistent, but also brands of goods are the same everywhere. I recall visiting the East coast for the first time and walking into my hotel room in Boston. It had exactly the same smell as the one I had just left in California three time zones away. One of the great things about Europe (IMHO) is variability. Can you imagine a hotel room in Istanbul smelling like one in Oslo? I think not.

The UK has an interesting position in the world – stuck geographically and culturally between the US and mainland Europe. I have concluded that this explains a well known characteristic of British people. It is to do with attitude and taboos.

In the US, despite the enormous porn industry, people do not talk about sex. On the TV there is plenty of violence, but no sex or nudity. On the other hand, people will happily discuss money. What do you make? What did your house cost? This is an open topic.

In most European countries the reverse is true. People are very comfortable talking about sex and relaxed about nudity (which might explain the much, much lower teenage pregnancy rate, but that is another story). But money is not discussed. People almost pretend that they work for the love of it.

In the UK we sit in the middle. We dare not discuss sex or money for fear of offending someone. We just talk about the weather.

Comments

3 thoughts on “Sex, money and the weather
  • Jessica

    That’s a wonderful description of your US experience. Reminds me of the song “An English man in New York”. Interesting for me as a German is to find out that Americans and British do not consider each other as alike. I guess that is what we Europeans from the continent tend to think…
    Love that entry. Would like to use it in one of my lessons for my students, if I’m allowed!

  • Colin Walls

    You are very welcome to use it Jessica.

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