Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Perils of Writing a British Expat Blog

Living in the USA and being a British expat blogger is generally fun.  But there are perils too associated with writing a British expat blog.  Probably the hardest thing for me sometimes is finding the balance between how you treat your homeland and how you treat your host country.  If you appear to treat either of them too unfavourably, people get upset.  Even praising one country can appear to damn the other in some eyes.

I could, of course, make my opinions and humour (humor?) as bland as possible and avoid all possibility of controversy, but that’s not me, and frankly, I personally prefer to read an expat blog where someone actually says something.  Experiencing the expat blogger’s impressions, opinions, viewpoints is the whole point reading a blog, methinks?

I guess one of the things that can make things awkward is that many Americans and Brits tend to have fairly two dimensional views of each other, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, especially if they have not traveled to the other country.  Brits can find amusement in American naivity of Europe, but the British idea of America can be a simplistic amalgamation of New York, the Deep south, and the Midwest bible belt, with no real idea of how these places fit together (or don’t fit together, as the case may be!) 

Some subject areas are certainly thornier than others for a British expats blog writer.  I think at some point I will have post a blog about my impression of American politics.  That is almost bound to annoy some people.  In general terms, I must say that British politics seems rather civilized compared to the raging cauldron of hate that is often modern American politics, where even the blandest of statements by a politician can kick off a fierce argument between left and right.  Americans are certainly committed to the idea of democracy and their constitution, but I am not always sure as an outsider that their system works very well, not at present, anyway.

As well as politics, there are other American and British differences.  The whole concept of America as a nation state is different from most places in the world for a start, including Britain.  You don’t often find me quoting Margaret Thatcher, but she said that Europe is founded on history and America is founded on philosophy and that is absolutely true.  Americans will argue until their blue in the face about what exactly the their constitution means and how much it is fixed and how much it is a living document open to change.  It’s important because in some ways, the constitution *is* America.  If you aren’t in keeping with the philosophy espoused in the constitution, you can be labeled un-American, a concept which is essentially alien to the Brits, who don’t have a constitution and are British by virtue of being born there regardless of any beliefs – sure, you can be labeled unpatriotic in the UK, but you could believe in communism, or some other form of totalitarian system that is contrary to mainstream British values and still wouldn’t be called “un-British”.

Whatever you think of it, America is certainly an interesting place.  Millions of diverse people sharing an area of land with nothing in common apart from that they are all supposed to agree to a few basic tenets.  Going back to Thatcher, she described Bolshevism as a big social experiment.  I kind of think of America that way too.


  1. I understand the cinch you describe: not wanting to criticise another culture, not wanting to criticise your own, but not wanting to end up totally bland.

    My blog used to be called "not wrong, just different", and I tried really hard to observe and not judge the Midwest culture we'd moved to. But I noticed that every now and again, when I did a post that was a real rant about something I hated, it was really popular. Perhaps it was the outburst of all that repressed negativity, or perhaps an honest revelation that people appreciated, or perhaps it's just that Brits love to criticise America!

  2. Always write what you want to express. Free speach and all that. I have lots of moments of ranting as I sit and watch US TV. I then have to remember that its TV and not the real America.
    That said I agree with all you have just written lol!

  3. You know that is rather fascinating--especially what you said about America being founded on philosophy and Britain on history. I love a healthy sprinkling of both!

    BTW, it's true that writing controversial stuff gets you attention and keeps people interested. Don't be afraid to spout off your opinions of either country!

  4. America is supposedly for the people, but its ruled by elites just as Britain is, but the American elites were a slightly different elite with less history, now its all multinational corporations, banks, and special interests, the one thing the people still have is a small measure of influence and the vote, even though this is controlled. America is an experiment still needing to be experimented on, in favor of the majority of people, not the ruling elite. Kevin

  5. Is there an object embedded at the beginning of this blog? If so, it's not working properly!

    I agree with your supposition about the two-dimensionality of both cultures and how they perceive each other. Britain isn't all, 'Cheerio, guvnah' and America isn't all flag-waving apple pie. :-)

  6. I just love, love, love your insights. Keep them coming.

    I've never heard about the US/philosophical & UK/historical. I don't disagree; I just need to give that more thought. Things that make you go 'hmm'. The 'rights' are spelled out in the US constitution, and I think there are no 'rights' on paper in the UK? I think it makes American feel safer to have something written(?). XOL

  7. @Iota - well Brits love to criticize, whetherever they are, be it Britain or the USA! hehe!

    @Bill T - thanks for commenting! You are the man from Twitter, yes? Except you use a different name in Twitterland, just to confuse me! hehe!

    @Abby R - America is a unique place in the way that it is set up. The US and Europe operate in a similar ways in practice, but there are also fundamental differences between people and state. The American and French revolutions took Europe and the US in slightly different directions, methinks! Putting my philosopher's hat on, I'd say Rousseau's social contract is the basis of what dictate's the relationship between people and state in Western Europe.

    @Kevin - the American economic system has been successful, but I would agree that there can be tensions between the interests of corporations and the wider public.

    @Xysea - There's nothing embedded, I think it's just stupid Google, Blogger's been dodgy recently!

    @Happy H - there have been movements over the years in the UK that have campaigned for some sort of formal constitution. Recently, however, we adopted the European Human Rights Act which effectively serves as a kind of constitution, as it guarantees certain basic rights and takes precedence over British law. (See my comment to Abby R for my philosphical view on Rousseau's social contract and the relationship between state and people in Europe! hehe!)

  8. Sometimes is better to keep some thoughts for yourself, that is for sure.

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  9. Great post! It's interesting to read your viewpoint. As a Canadian, we kind of fall right down the middle, sharing The Queen with the Brits, but also so similar to the US in many ways. We don't show our patriotism as proudly as Americans do and our politics are fairly sedate. We don't have the history that the UK does so I suppose we are a land of diverse immigrants that share a similar philosophy. :)

  10. Do the canadians have a constitution? If they do, they don't go on about it as much as the Americans! ;-)

    I heard quite a bit about the Canadian view regarding the US as I worked with a Canadian before I moved over here. Nightmare stories about Canadians falling ill whilst visiting the US without adequate insurance mainly.

    I did a lot of reading of American history before I came over to Florida.

  11. Interesting post Paul, even if a bit of it went over my head (I'm not particularly savvy in politics with regard to any bloody country, including my own)...but I have to say that I've always admired the 'hand on your heart' sentiment and devotion to the constitution that Americans exhibit. In Australia, we tend to be 'knockers' other words what we don't agree with we criticize or 'knock'. Our governing system is based on the English 'Westminster' system but we have preferential voting...something that was just put forward to the English public in the form of a referendum...which by the way had a chance in hell of thing I have learned whilst living here is the English don't embrace change...comes down to the history thing you mentioned me thinks! Robx

  12. Most of the time the Brits are pretty conservative and don't like change, but then, occassionally they are radical for a burst, like voting in the labour gov after World War II, getting rid of Churchill and bringing in the NHS, state pensions etc. Thatcher was also a very radical period too.

    There is a lot of crappy stuff in the UK, though, like the House of Lords that should have been abolished years ago and replaced with something better and modern. As a system, the Aussie system on the surface seems more appealing to me. Plus I share the Aussie skepticism of the royal family.

    I was more positive about the American Constitution until I came to live here. Now my feelings about it are more complex and mixed. Americans argue a lot about what certain elements of the constitution mean and what can be changed and what can't (as soon as it was written, people started making amendments).

    But at the end of the day I think most people would agree that the American constitution is a necessity. The constitution is the lynchpin that holds a young and very diverse country together and links it to its idealistic roots. And that was always the intention of it.

  13. I've always been curious as to why Churchill was not re-elected when he seems like such an inspiration to the world today. Insight?

  14. Churchill in some ways is more revered in the US than the UK. In the UK, although he is seen as one of the coutry's greatest war leaders, domestic factors and his maverick personality meant that he wasn't as popular in peacetime politics.