Cultural Creep and Curiosity

One of the earliest memories I have of my Great Uncle Arthur is of him telling me that I shouldn’t use “Real” as an intensifier as it was an Americanisation and I should use “really”, I may have rolled my eyes at him, obviously I wanted to use ‘real’ because it made me sound American and according to all the TV I’d imbibed Americans were inherently cooler than Brits. I think I was about six or seven.

Last week one of the people I support was being very excited about the fact that today is the Fourth of July and Independence Day. When I asked him what Independence Day was about he mostly talked about fireworks. One of the experiences I’m very glad to have had in my life is to have been in the US for Independence Day and to have been invited to a family party and see a small town celebration including a parade in Connecticut. There was street food followed by a piñata and a BBQ and at night fireworks. But back to the guy excited about fireworks, he has learning difficulties and was genuinely confused when I explained there wouldn’t be fireworks in the UK as it was a US holiday. He spends a lot of time online and I like to imagine that before the eternal September maybe the internet didn’t assume itself to be default white American male but maybe that is just in my mind.

In anycase it’s that thing of English being the common language and the cultural defaults creeping in from the most widely spoken version of English. I kind of hate unspoken defaults and I find it fascinating how much cultural confusion and general culture shock I had in the States due to my assumption that it would somehow be easier because of a shared language. It was the rawness of capitalism out there and without any decorative softening that I found hardest, and I don’t think I’ve had the words to express that properly until now. I’ve mentioned the newspaper headlines that made me twitch but without any real understanding of where the twitch was coming from. Having had fifteen odd years of making American friends and watching American TV I’ve got a bit more of a handle on it or I think I have. It’s being able to directly compare the iterations of RuPaul’s drag race more than anything else honestly. Because Brits don’t play for cash prizes, that’s the price of being on the BBC, our Drag Superstars play for the glory of it – a RuPeter Badge and a chance at a contract out there in Cool Land (the USA).

It stops us from thinking ‘mo money mo morality’ is the upside of that but the downside is there’s some inherent applications of – I dunno, classism? Like if there’s no chance of winning cash (on the original USA version there will be occasional cash prizes over the course of the series as well as sponsored products) then can you really afford to do Drag Race if you’re poor? But then can you ever afford to do anything without starting capital – and if that’s an unspoken reality then is anyone going to even notice that particular inequality? That’s the upside of the naked capitalism of the states and the downside of the UK being a capitalist society but finding it uncouth to speak that truth too loudly.

This blog really is going all over the place isn’t it?

Im also thinking about teaching English in Japan also meaning that I was correcting assumptions about the UK and most of those assumptions were about assuming that culturally we were the same as the USA. Just like the guy I support was assuming we’d obviously celebrate Independence Day because he could read about it. I did try to explain that the independence that was being celebrated was independence from the UK but I’m not convinced it went in.

Sometimes my job is real complicated.

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