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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 07:59 PM Thread Starter
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Being British in NY

Letter from New York
Brits Behaving Badly
A tour of such New York British hangouts as Soho House, the Red Lion, and Tea & Sympathy left the author, an Englishman, blushing: what makes his fellow expats such a thoroughly annoying lot?
by A. A. Gill April 2007

This is a true story. A friend of mine, an English girl, moved to New York and, soon after arriving, romantically acquired a local boyfriend. Shortly after that they were both invited to a party. It would be, she was told, fancy-dress. Fancy-dress parties, unlike emotional openness, child care, and pedicures, are one of those inconsequential and nebulous little things that the English take with an infinite, furrowed-browed, death-or-glory seriousness. After many sleepless hours, my friend decided on witty outfits for herself and the boyfriend. After days of construction, they turned up resplendent and a little sweaty as a pair of tomatoes. She had coutured a Gershwin lyric. She was a tomato, he a tomato. (This doesn't really work in print.) It was a tongue-in-taffeta pun. The English simply adore little puns. They were shown into the grand residence and waddled into a room full of Americans wearing black-tie, cocktail frocks, and diamonds. My friend had misunderstood. "Fancy-dress" had meant dress fancy. For any Englishman reading this, stitching a Robin Hood outfit, the American for "fancy-dress" is "costume party." What did you do? I asked my friend. "I laughed and got drunk." That was very British of you. What did the boyfriend do? "He had a bit of a sense-of-humor failure. But we're still friends."

The British have colonized Manhattan, acquiring minute rent-stabilized apartments in the West Village that they pass on to each other like hereditary titles. It's hard to spot the women—unless they open their mouths. But the British men can be identified by their cropped hair, which they shave to obscure their genetically endemic premature hair loss. They imagine it gives them a street-hard look. Most Americans think they look like gay Marines with deformed ears. They wear their blue jeans like their school shorts—too high and too tight, leaving them with severe moose knuckle. They will occasionally wear items of indigenous clothing—a baseball cap, a plaid work shirt—just to show that they're not tourists. But they wear them with irony. Indeed, Brits are rarely seen in New York without their magic cloaks of invisible irony—they think that, on a fundamental level, their calling here is as irony missionaries. They bless everything and everyone with the little flick quotation marks, that rabbit-ear genuflection of cool, ironic sterility. How often their mocking conversations about the natives return to the amusing truth that New Yorkers have an unbelievable, ridiculous irony deficiency, which ignores the fact that a city that produced Dorothy Parker, Robert Mapplethorpe, Abstract Expressionism, Woody Allen, and Woody Allen's love life has quite enough irony to build the Brooklyn Bridge.

Why is it that the English continue to get it all so wrong in New York? There is something particularly, peculiarly irritating about the Brits over here. This is a city that's wide open to strangers, lumpy with a homogeneity of schemers and immigrants, yet the Brits manage to remain aloof and apart, the grit in the Vaseline. Those with the voices like broken crockery, the book-at-bedtime accent, have a lot to answer for. The Brits believe that they have a birth-given sincerity and that it's not what you say but how you say it that matters. And that all silly, gullible Yanks, from policemen to society hostesses, will wave us ahead on life's road when we open our euphonious mouth. In fact, most Americans can't tell the difference between Billy Connolly and Russell Crowe, and why on earth should they? If you really, really want to disjoint an Englishman—ruin his day—then just ask him which bit of Australia he's from.
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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 08:00 PM Thread Starter
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And then there is the air of patronage, combined with an odor of neediness and a thick-skinned, unembarrassable meanness. "Oh God, have you eaten with the Brits here?" a friend asked me. "They'll book a table for six, and then nine of them turn up. Ask for the check and they'll all have to go to the bathroom or smoke a cigarette or make a phone call, and there'll be one guy left at the table. That'll be the D.A.S.—the Designated American Sucker, who through sheer naked embarrassment will pick up the tab, and suddenly they'll all be back at the table, thanking him with their impeccable manners. This will be the only time they've actually spoken to him, because for the rest of the meal they'll be talking about people who they were at school with, who all have the names of small dogs. If there's no D.A.S., they'll hold an auction over who had the steak and two beers. I'm not kidding. You know what gets me? It's not like they're poor. Not really poor, like lots of immigrants. They just think we're lucky to have them. They walk into a room and imagine it just got classier."

The British in New York are not good mixers. We hunker together, forming bitchy old boys' and girls' clubs where we complain about and giggle over Americans like nannies talking about difficult, stupid children. An English girl, newly arrived, has been picked up by the expat coven and asked for tea. And rather nonplussed, she says, "It's sad and sort of weird. This is the way our grandparents used to behave in Africa and India."

New York's grand British club, the social embassy, is Soho House. Go up to the bar on any Thursday night and see the serried, slouched, braying, bitten-nailed ranks of them, all in need of a toothbrush, a cotton bud, and a dermatologist. Nursing beers and a well-thumbed ragged project. They're all here not making a film, not writing a book, not selling a sitcom. Don't tell me about your latest script. You're not a film writer. You're a handyman. You've never made so much as a wedding video. You do a bit of decorating, some plumbing, and you house-sit plants. There's no shame in it. It's what immigrants do.

In the Red Lion, a bar on Bleecker Street, half a dozen televisions pump out the Rugby match between England and Scotland. It's 9:30 in the morning and the place is packed with geezers and a few chubby-cheeked, ruddy rugger-bugger girls. They're a particularly big-boned, docile, good-natured type, who look like members of some alternative royal-family-pedigree breeding farm. The blokes are necking pints of Guinness and projectile bellowing. It's uncannily like being back in London. The only difference is that half of them are England fans, and half Scotland. If anyone walked into a Scottish bar back home wearing an English accent during this match, they'd leave wearing their nose as an earring. And it strikes me that there's something unreal about this. It looks right and smells right. It even sounds right. But it's not right. They're all playing extras in their own me-in-New-York movie. They're putting on the Britishness as a show. They're going through the motions only because they're here.

As we kick back into the street, I notice a man in a kilt. For Chrissake, who moves to America and brings a kilt? Did his mother say, "Farewell, son. Make something of yourself in the New World. Have you packed your native costume, just in case?" Just in case of what? Just in case we decide to re-invade Canada? Just in case he finds a girl with a thing for men in frocks with no knickers? Just in case there's an England-versus-Scotland match on the satellite television in some fake pub? Other countries keep their quaint ethnic customs, their special days. But somehow Diwali, Panamanian Martyrs' Day, or Jewish Family Friday Dinner seem quaint and diverse, while a drunk Scots banker in a skirt in the early morning is actually pathetically annoying.

There is a little parade of adjoining storefronts in the West Village. One sells fish-and-chips. Another is a little café called Tea & Sympathy. The third specializes in English comestibles, the sort of thing that Englishmen abroad are supposed to yearn for: Bird's custard, Marmite, Bovril, Jammie Dodgers. The window looks like a pre-war Ealing Studios film set. Nowhere in Britain has looked remotely like this in living memory. Inside, four young Englishmen from the Midlands are reminiscing over lists of Edwardian boiled sweets, like a spoof of High Fidelity. With an intense reverie, they fold me into the conversation for a balming moment of confectionery nostalgia. "So, Victory V's or aniseed balls? We were just discussing Curlywurly versus Caramac." After we've all had a suck on the humbug of Blighty's tuck box, one of them asks, "Ever tried an American sweet? First time I ate a Hershey's bar, saddest day of my life." I managed to get out just before I turned into Oliver Twist.

If it were just you that the Brits annoyed, I wouldn't really care. What I mind is that they've re-created this Disney, Dick Van Dyke, um-diddle-diddle-um-diddle-I, merry Britain of childish grub and movie clichés, this Jeeves-and-Wooster place of mockery and snobbery, and I'm implicated, by mouth. Made complicit in this hideous retro-vintage place of Spam, Jam lyrics, bow ties, and buggery. These ex-Brits who have settled in the rent-stabilized margins of Manhattan aren't our brightest and our best—they are our remittance men, paid to leave. Not like the other immigrants, who made it here as the cleverest, most adventurous in the village. What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don't mellow, their consonants don't soften. They don't relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.
A.A. Gill is a V.F. contributing editor and author of A.A. Gill Is Away (Simon & Schuster)
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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 08:40 PM
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Yes, well A A Gill has always been a silly arse and I can see he continues to wear his badge with pride.

Stereotypes eh? I have longish hair, no blue jeans (tight or otherwise), would not be seen dead in a baseball cap (at any jaunty or ironic angle) and the only person I know with a dog's name is called Rex and is a proud American who I believe lives in Michigan.
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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 08:44 PM
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AA Gill is an arse of the highest order. A Scot who shoots down Scotland whenever he can. A Britain who shoots down Britain whenever he can.

Cheap journalism disguised behind clever writing.
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 08:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tazio
AA Gill is an arse of the highest order. A Scot who shoots down Scotland whenever he can. A Britain who shoots down Britain whenever he can.

Cheap journalism disguised behind clever writing.
We got a couple of people like that over here, too. Filmmakers, mostly.
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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 09:24 PM
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My systems architect team still holds the NYC record for getting kicked out of an Irish Pub [McGee's on W.55th]. Complete command failure on my part.

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Being smart is knowing the difference, in a sticky situation between a well delivered anecdote and a well delivered antidote - bear.
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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 09:38 PM
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Gill's another cunt.






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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-24-2007, 09:42 PM
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Gill's another cunt.
.
But he's a clever cunt so lots of people fall for his shit.
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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 03-25-2007, 06:46 AM
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