Not America

As far as cultural exchange is concerned between the two countries, the US certainly is more heavy weight now than the UK. We don't have as much of a cultural export outside of UK rock music, the occasional movie, and BBC TV shows such as Top Gear, or Doctor Who. In the other direction, we are not only bombarded with TV and films to the point of saturation, we also actually have their shops and buying habits being transferred across the Atlantic – case in point, the permutation of the students from the glorious GAP hoody, via Skater Chic, to the current in-vogue Hollister abomination.

As someone who recently was ingrained in the US culture (Texas culture, natch), I can notice these slight transfers more acutely than some, and maybe with a bit more alarm. Why is California surfer style such a boon in the UK when we don't have the weather for it, nor the basis of the culture for it? It's a strange style of imitation when you see children wearing board shorts and Hollister t-shirts walking along the street on a blustery, greying day.

The strangest thing that has not transferred is the actual language of this culture. Recently, I have noticed so many times people using the wrong terms when describing the US, from day to day conversation all the way up to award-winning news and current affairs programs. For all the movies and TV shows that we see on a day to day basis, somehow the actual context of the shows has been lost, like it takes place in a fictional US, or a hybrid country of US-UK, but I'll come back to that.

The most glaring of these was on a BBC News broadcast, on the 6 o'clock news, during the recent Hurricane Irene disaster that struck the North East coast of the States. In one bulletin the newscaster, who I presume is degree educated in geological events to be qualified to be reporting such dreadful occurrences, managed to make two rather glaring mistakes that confused me in the first instance. I shall paraphrase it into one sentence, for parsing and emphasis:

"I am currently standing New York, with the weather currently quite alarming. This is an important disaster in America, right now"

I'd be highly surprised if anyone from the UK could point out what was wrong with that sentence, from the point of view of someone from the States. In fact, in 50% of the instances I'd probably not even notice that something that had been said that was incorrect, but now it's become a bugbear.

See, no one I met in the States ever called themselves "American". To be "from the US" and "American" is quite different and the reason should be fairly obvious – America is much bigger than the US. In fact, of the whole Americas, a total land mass of 42'549'000 square km, only 9'826'675 square km, or 23% of the area, is the United States of America. Not even a quarter – this doesn't mean that the term "American" doesn't apply to them, as it's the given term for people from the US by someone British, but the area is not singularly known as America. This might be splitting hairs, but it's a strange mis-alignment in the American-British understanding.

The worst in my opinion, and one that happens all the time in the UK, is the use of "New York" instead of "New York City". In the mentioned broadcast, the person was standing in the southern tip of Manhattan in the financial district, where the water was slowly rising above the pump walls and into the streets. The caption said "BBC News LIVE – New York", which is correct. But then, when talking, he repeats "In New York" and I pointed it out to Connie that he didn't actually say where – New York is the State, one that stretches from Long Island in the South all the way to the Canadian border, at Buffalo – it's a big State (the 27th out of 50 in order of size). That's similar to someone in the UK broadcasting to the US and saying "I am here, in Europe, and...".

Of course, this is massive levels of pedantry and in day to day life in the UK you'd be hard pushed to feel any different if these things were to change. But after living in the US you notice these things, the little things that have not passed over the borders, and the context that is missing in which the various exports are embedded in.

As I pointed out above, I think that some people, especially the young and impressionable, feel that the UK and the US are synchronised, and that the countries are tied together tightly, much like it would be if the UK was a State of the Union it's self. The commonplace use of US and Canadian slang, the propagation of US hip hop artists, and even the lust after trucks (pick-ups and 4x4s) (which I am guilty of) is a strange product of the US-ification of our major sources of culture. I don't think it's a bad thing, as we have a long way to go to lose our identity, but the small parts that just stick out remind me that this is not the US. Not America.