A friend is off to New York for the first time so it occurred to me to dig out this funny guide to the differences between America and the UK which originally came out in 1986. My copy is the first paperback edition from 1987, which is when I started regularly crossing the Atlantic to see my then girlfriend and found this full of handy hints. At the time David Frost was presenting TV programmes in both countries and commuted each week between London and New York, Michael Shea was a diplomat and Director of British Information Services in New York but when he wrote this book with Frost he was Press Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II. Both men therefore had extensive experience of the differences that you only appreciate really when you live in the country you are not native to.
The joy of this book is it’s not just the linguistic differences that they highlight but history, politics, food etc. are covered, if not comprehensively then at least enough to give a warning to the unwary. Back in 1887 Oscar Wilde said “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.” and it is still very true today. I remember back in the early 1980’s Jane Fonda’s first workout video came out which included the surprising, to British female watchers at least, instruction to sit on the floor and bounce around on your fannies. Americans who don’t know what is wrong with that should know that a fanny moves from behind in America to the front and female only in the UK.
That passage gives some idea of the differences and fortunately the book is not as relentless as that all the way through, the book is equally fair, or unfair if you prefer, in dealing out warnings both for Brits going to America or Americans going to the UK so Brits are warned about the huge size of portions and the sweetness that pervades a lot of American food whilst Americans are equally warned about a lot of British food and heartily recommended to have breakfast three times a day. There are also specific chapters on London and, usefully for my friend, New York which includes a comment on street crime that “they even had a bank robber who got mugged on the way to the getaway car”. As for the cab drivers “Help wanted ads in NY papers claim you can get a cabby’s licence in three days. Most people are surprised they have been driving that long”.
Of course the book has dated, it is after all getting on for forty years old, however as both authors have been dead for a log time, Shea died in 2009 and Frost in 2013 there is no chance of an updated version. There are still enormous differences in language and culture between the UK and USA a lot of which are in this book and still relevant but there are new pitfalls for the unwary traveller to fall into and a new guide is probably called for.
A final thought from the politics section, which still seems relevant, at least in Donald Trump’s mind:
When the President does it, that means it’s not illegalRichard Nixon