Please see the link at the end of this post. It goes to a Mental Floss UK article by James Hunt, explaining something most Americans find confusing.
Some of us are sophisticated with our ancestry, and some of us are not. I blame my lack of sophistication on the fact that I’ve never so much as applied for a passport.
Still, I’m learning the dialect used by people in the country where most of my father’s family came from: England. The internet helps, when I find a website that’s trusted to post accurate information. The out-of-print reference book British English A to Zed by Norman W. Shur also comes in handy (you can still find used copies online).
I read history, keep track of posts on The Guardian’s site, and build my vocabulary by looking up unfamiliar words and phrases when they turn up in song lyrics or in a book. As skeptical as I am about the BBC’s recent journalism, it’s still useful for finding small cultural differences that are worth noting.
All of that was useful when I spent a year researching George Michael’s work for an essay, George Michael: An Appreciation. To read the 4,000 word essay, you’d have no idea it took a year to prepare. Part of the warm-up to writing the text involved scrutinizing small details, including things that didn’t make much sense to the average American. I’m happy with the results, but disappointed about screwing up the year of a Graham Norton interview (if the information I found later can be trusted, it took place earlier than I thought).
If you read my blog posts, you’ve seen how I focus on the way the National Health Service (in particular, NHS England) has deteriorated, due to lack of funding and the threat of privatization.
I don’t know if my intense reactions to problems on a separate continent have anything to do with my ancestry. Maybe, and maybe not. It could be I’m just a bored American looking for something less familiar, and getting terribly upset when people who live in the location of my interest start to lose something as vital as the healthcare they used to enjoy.
It isn’t lost on me that Theresa May and Donald Trump share some of the same political opinions. Theresa May is less crass with her wording, but it’s no secret she’s in denial about NHS England’s problems, and she lacks empathy with immigrants. Prime Minister May and President Trump uphold their respective political parties’ views, and vulnerable people suffer because of it.
During the 1970s, I knew an American who had a medical emergency while on vacation in London. He was taken to an NHS England hospital, and received high quality, respectful treatment. When he was discharged, he inquired about the bill. He felt confident his insurance would pay it, so no worries.
Even after he explained that he was not a citizen, someone at the hospital assured him the care was free because it was provided on an emergency basis. He was a little bit embarrassed to take advantage of another country’s hospitality that way, but at the same time he was impressed that a health system in Europe offered something practically unheard of in the United States.
If what I read is correct, the emergency care would still be provided free now. However, it would be in a hospital which is under tremendous financial strain, with lower staffing levels than he experienced during the ’70s.
I don’t idealize the region where my ancestors lived. I know there’s crime, as well as poverty, addiction, cultural intolerance and other things I see in my neighborhood in San Francisco — another place which is often overrated by people who haven’t lived here.
I believe I’m in this — intellectually and emotionally, if not in person — for the long haul. I want to know how things are done in that neck of the woods.
Whenever I write about this topic, it can be difficult even to find the right name to refer to the region. Many Americans use the names “England,” “Britain,” “Great Britain” and “United Kingdom” interchangeably, which is good for a laugh or a disgusted sigh on the other side of the Atlantic.
Americans assume people in that region have heard so many of our embarrassments they must think we’re pretty dumb. And we are. However, we have to be realistic and attribute this awkwardness to inexperience.
It works both ways.
A message to people in England-Britain-Great Britain-The United Kingdom and any other English speaking community in the area I refer to in these sweeping terms: When in the United States, please be alert to something which will cause red faces if you’re ignorant of the local vernacular: If you’re hoping to remove a pencil mark from a piece of paper, under no circumstances should you ask to borrow a rubber.
You should be able to figure out that one yourself.