Getting to know your British 21st century class system as an American (you have learned it, right?)

yahooavatar15Hey, don’t think that I am ‘rising above my station‘, but I want to share with you a little something that mystifies my American self (and is starting to scare me) about after living in Britain for 5 years. Wait, ‘mystifies’ is a polite word. I should say that my own self is starting to annoy the hell out of me. I am getting my own goat. I am ticking. my.own. self. off.  Help! As a member of the ‘upper-to middle-middle-class bordering on spiralist-meritocracy’ echelon, I am starting to become class-conscious. Has it happened to you yet? Be warned!

I am becoming a person that like other Brits, can “identify” class ranking like a stinky fish in a garbage can. I wanna say that I don’t care about class and all that hoopla but yet here I am thinking about it more frequently then I ever did living in America. Its infilatrating my brain! Got a Cath Kidston diaper bag and Molton Brown in your bathroom ? Oh, I detect a Yummy Mummy! Got a gold earring, have shaved stripes in your eyebrows and are wearing white Ted Perry trainers? Oh, that could be bordering on chav territory. Got a posh neutral accent and wear a cravat? Mon dieu, he MUST be a public school boy! Drive a white va…. ok you get the idea… and I can’t help myself. Have I been subliminally trained ? How in the world did I learn all this??

Something I just cant get used to here in Britain is the class-system ruckus. Words like working class, middle working class, the underclass, the middle middle class, the working blue collar, the noveau riche, the Old Boy’s network, wag, public school,  state-schooler, Mondeo men, Chavs, Neds, scallies, the rah, the essex man… ahhhh…..my god there are a lot to learn! Enough to make my head spin trying to keep it all straight. God save me before its too late!!

The Scottish and English Divide: a single male Scot 'tells all'

yahooavatar15On occasion us 3 American ladies at She’s Not From Yorkshire post interviews with random Brits. This week, Owen, a single (take note, single ladies, take note!) Scot gives us his opinions on the fabled  Scottish and English Divide– and  everything else from visiting England’s chippies to the Simpson’s…

Tell our lovely readers a little bit about yourself.

I am male, Scottish, and born and largely bred in Scotland -  I have recently started regularly visiting various English towns (several in the picturesque north-east) but also mainly London and the Midlands. Thus I may not be wholly typical of most Scots/English! I am a newly thirty-something, newly-turned homeowner (just pre-crunch), who is trying to find some drive to finally de-clutter all previously acquired possessions and rediscover youthful ambition in order to decide where I want to go in life – or to just confirm that I am happy plodding along in my new little house!

And your work?

I have a good job,  if a little lacking in prospects, but also outside interests which compete for my attention and I probably should organise both better!!

What is the main difference between the English and Scottish in attitudes (if there are any) from your point of view?

I believe stereotypes have some use and do exist to an extent though I realise the dangers of generalising too much!  I would say the English can be a bit “chipper” – if that’s correct, more up-beat, possibly more confident without a bevvy in them first – though that is not possibly wholly true.  The Scots can be very proud (as can the English) and certain sections can be noisy and boorish in equal measure!

How so?

The Scots are always the underdogs which possibly seems to cause them to give up in sporting events and on balance England has often been seen as superior in many things e.g. football, rugby and cricket.

I’ve heard that opinion from my English boyfriend, too.

But, that said, Scotland has given the world numerous inventions and can stand as proudly as England (perhaps more so – my history could do with brushing up!) in terms of the number of pioneering people and inventions originating somehow from Scotland.

Yes. Like the Alexander Graham Bell chap.

It might be worth noting that several pioneering Scots (e.g. John Muir) made their fortune in the Americas – either through voluntary emigration or perhaps earlier through forced emigration by clearances. It is not as black and white as English land-owners and red-haired bearded randy drunken Scotch Picts, however!  Several land-owners may well have been Scottish – there are also some divides between English north and south and Scots lowlanders and highlanders. Several, perhaps slightly anglicised, land-owners (possibly simply through having business interests in London rather than any particular English favouritism) may have been hard on their more native Scottish tenants.  Thus it is as always a complex picture.

Do you feel out of place when you are “Down South?

I don’t feel hugely out of place when south of the border – oddly I am possibly more British than Scottish (although I feel one ounce of guilt with that lack of Scottish-ness balanced by one ounce of it being perfectly reasonable to be British and a mistrust of blind nationalism.)

I am aware of being a Jock – however I have been called Scottish in England (not sure it matters so much in London – except for Scottish bank notes)  But significantly (and possibly due to a slight twang in my accent from my years in the Midlands) I have been called English when in Wick! (Wick can be a wild place on a Saturday night). I have however been considered to have a broad Scottish accent by a posh Liverpudlian girl so it all gets a bit confusing.

Give us an example.

I don’t really notice being a Jock in London – though I do notice it a bit more in other parts of England.  I was at a fish and chip shop in the Midlands last year and when asked about salt and vinegar I was taken by surprise (as if they don’t have salt and vinegar in England) and stammered out “aye, a wee bit” – since I was speaking to a more working class fish shop operative (ok they may have been a middle class student I suppose but it was the outskirts of this small town away from the college. Upon returning to my guests house I was given my order which was identified by “a wee bit” !

How about that Scottish money people always moan about accepting  in England?

On balance though I only really notice people occasionally pretending to complain about Scottish money… generally less so now.  Ironically that has only been an issue in London when I’ve dealt with foreign bar staff.  Doubly ironic given that the Prime Minister and Chancellor are both Sots – the point I always have ready to fire at them if they complain.

Why do you think that the English and Scots don’t get along?

There is a some degree of rivalry and mutual resentment/mistrust – most commonly however which appears thankfully only as light-hearted rivalry. I don’t think they seriously hate each other – not when considered intelligently – more likely there are isolated cases of racism towards other nationalities like ones I have sadly witnessed where I live in Glasgow. There is friendly rivalry although there are instances of more serious stuff but I think that is people’s nasty behaviour coming out with the Scottish-English thing rather than being inherently anti-English.

But how about you personally?

I can’t claim to be immune from a borderline racist slur (if just thought) but this is just a way of making the pain or frustration inflicted by the other person’s behaviour or bad driving seem less…

That said, any deep-seated subconscious resentment (which is hard to shake off over many generations) can be traced back to the Highland Clearances and attempts by the centres of power in the south to subjugate or whatever the heathen people of the north.

The subsiding of any justified bitterness has of course been hindered by things such as the Poll Tax experiments, perceptions of Scotland’s supposed oil being raided – (more likely by Norwegian, American and other companies than England!) – and last but not least the Scots’ ability to wallow in sentimental self-pity! Look at the portrayal of the Scots in the Simpsons – it’s not that far off!

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(If you have missed previous interviews in our interview series, you can click here .)

Controversy in Yorkshire

yankeebeanWell, it seems us Not-From-Yorkshire girls are starting to cause a bit of a stir!  I must admit, when we were plotting this blog over dinner and drinks, I thought it would probably happen eventually.  I’m only slightly surprised it took as long as it did…

I know first-hand that it only takes a few slightly off-center words about America to get my hackles up.  Whether or not I like America and all of it’s choices and ways, it’s my home country and I’ll stand up for it (within reason).

Me and my awesome not-from-yorkshire ladies (if I may be so bold to speak for us all) love many many things about Britain, otherwise we’d hit the road!  But we’re also exasperated or annoyed by a lot of things, too.  It would be the same in any other country (or planet for that matter) – you take the good with the bad.  But we need a place to commiserate with each other.  A place where we can be brutally honest and not give a gale-force-rip what other people think or say – otherwise known as Shenotfromyorkshire.com – WOOHOO!! :)

Two of our recent blog posts have resulted in some mild heat.  Yankeebean’s American-ness vs. English Chick’s English-ness made Mertonmum compare our blog with Iraq and Vietnam (!?!) and Builders in Britain, The Facts made Pattycake wary of Yankee bloggers.

This made me wonder…  Are we giving Americans a bad name?

After thinking about this for approximately 3 seconds, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is ‘no’.

This blog is our chance to vent in a ‘casualty-free-zone’.  We have a safe place where we can bitch about everything that we find hard and/or frustrating about leaving our home country behind and trying to shimmy into a new one.

You know the phrase ‘When is Rome, do as the Romans do’?  Well, I don’t flippin want to!  It makes me feel like I’m forgetting who I am and I just won’t do it.

Now I’m not a sucker, I adjust in the ways that are absolutely necessary.  I know how to queue like a champ, I’ve adjusted the volume of my voice to better match the locals, and MAN-O-MAN, can I ever talk about the weather in awkward social situations.  But there are some things that I won’t (or can’t?) just turn off.

So, while I’m sorry for offending anyone that reads this blog, I am most certainly not sorry for writing it.  If you’re not a fan, just click that little red ‘x’ in the top right-hand of your screen and it will all disappear… but thanks for reading!  ;)

Dear Mr. British Music Director at Posh British Academic Institution….

yahooavatar15Dear Music Director of a Posh Academic Institution in Yorkshire,

My name is Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire, and I write to see if you have any availability to teach harp in your music department. I hold a Masters Degree in harp performance from a Royal School and have numerous experiences in teaching at higher institutions worldwide.  As well as a dedicated teacher, I am an experienced harp performer as you can see by the numerous recitals and masterclasses listed on my CV, which I have attached for your perusal.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kindest Regards,

Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire, Mmus

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SILENCE . Waiting. SILENCE. More SILENCE.

So. I. called. The new American gal freshly moved to Yorkshire needs to work, you know?

3 weeks after letter was sent.

ring ring

HIM: (In posh Queen’s English) Hello?

Me: (With American Accent) Hi, I am just calling to follow up on a letter I sent 3 weeks ago. You see, I am a harpist that has just moved to your area and have heard such great things about your music department. Would you needing any harp teaching this year?

Him: No. We are not interested. Then SLAMS DOWN PHONE.

Yes, readers, that was the conversation.

Me: Big sad Crying ensued… how dare he be so rude and hang up on me like I am some sort of annoyance! I am not some bum looking to clean the loos! Not even a chance to have a decent conversation!

Note to self… don’t ever deal with him or his music department again!

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Fast forward to last week, which is 2 and a half years later:

Dear Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire,

We have never spoken before which is why I wanted to be in touch and introduce myself. My name is the posh music director at the poshest school in town. As you can see from our website, we are leaders in music education and are a progressive institution. Would you be interested in doing some teaching at my posh academic institution in Yorkshire? If so, please let me know, we will work around your schedule. We have heard so much about you, and your reputation is well-known. I do hope you would consider working with us, and can’t wait to meet you.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Warmest Regards,

The Music director at posh, Academic institution

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Dear Music School Director at  posh Academic institution,
Thank you for your email.
I must say I was most surprised to receive it, as we had spoken briefly on the phone when I arrived in Yorkshire 2 and a half years ago– you do remember that we have spoke before? I sent you my CV and then phoned you as well. At that time you made it very clear you were not interested in my services. You actually hung up on me.

Since our last conversation I have taken up the post as principal instructor at another posh academic school (a rival) and I cannot help you at this moment.

With Regards,
Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire,  Mmus

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SILENCE (possibly forever from him!)

This incident just happened last week, fellow readers… and writing and then sending that letter never felt better.The rule of karma is active and alive in England… do share with us your British karmic experiences  too!

Am I responsible for this?

pacific birdOver the weekend, we went out to eat with some friends.  I have no idea how we ended up talking about this, but the subject of Where’s Wally came up.  One of the friends around the dinner table has been to the US and feels like he knows a lot about it.  He knows enough to have noticed some of the differences and he has a tendency to ask me about these things.  I think the first time I met him he asked me to explain why The World Series is so named even though it isn’t a global competition.  I just said something about Canadian teams (I don’t even know if that is true) and changed the subject.  I don’t know why it bothers me that he does this.  I think it is the way he singles me out with this childish grin on his face like “I win” because he has discovered American arrogance and is the first person ever to be clever enough to ask me about it.

So, back to Where’s Wally.  He turned to me and said “I’ve heard in America you call it something else, like changed the name.”  I said “Yeah, it’s Waldo.” “Waldo?  Why Waldo?  Why did they do that?”  (insert grin)  All I could say in return was “Well, why Wally?”  My point was, why is anything called what it is called, how was I to know?  What I wish I said now was “I must have been sick the day we had that meeting.”

The whole thing was silly, and it is silly that I care.  But these things bug me….