I was born into a family that loves being American. From generations of military service to cheering on any and all the Team USAs, if it is something that shows any level of pride in the United States my family is right there. Heck, my dad was even born on Independence Day, so when we celebrated my dad we were celebrating America as well. In light of all this it was of some surprise to my parents when I told them, at the ripe old age of 12, that I lived in the wrong England. We lived in the state of Maine, which is part of the region known as New England, so when I said to my mother that I was supposed to live in Old England she thought I was joking – I was not. To be honest I do not know where my affinity for England came from, but I suspect it was because I thought people with an English accent were smarter than people from the United States.1 Of course all of this was based in stereotype, but as a kid in Maine that was what I had.
With age my preference for things English has only grown. My preferred spectator sports (soccer, rugby, and cricket) are of the English variety, though you could argue they are more international than English now, but they have roots there, so I am calling them English. English parliamentary style government is more interesting, and possibly fair, than American style representative democracy. And the NHS is, from this American’s perspective at least, a thing of brilliance. I have, no doubt, idealized all these things because I lack actual experience of them.
The brilliance of Terry Tan and Orin Hargraves’ books is there ability to dive beneath the skin of the area beyond the football and the crown to show a little bit of what makes it tick. Much like we learned in The Culture Map each culture comes with its own preferences and habits, but culture is also the average of a series of eccentricities found through out a place. Tan and Hargraves do admirable jobs of finding those things within the greater English society and bringing them to light.
The willingness to go deeper than the top layer of anything is a skill that needs to be honed. It is easy for a person like me to say that I am an anglophile because I have not seen the less desirable parts of English society. Given the nature of our world today the ugly bits are easier to find without actually experiencing them, but still you only really discover them if you have a desire to see them.
Relationships are very similar in that the shallow relationship is without risk and generally enjoyable – or so I have been told. But it is when you take the chance to get to know a person warts and all that you risk finding personal injury. This is the challenge of hospitality. Working on the line at the soup kitchen is a great thing, but it is without a lot of personal risk. Welcoming a refugee into your home or community holds more risk in that you have to be willing to expose your truest self to welcome them.
I am honestly looking forward to our time in England, but I hope to get to know a part of England that is more raw than what is on display in The Great British Baking Show. But more so I am hoping to become the kind of person who is willing to put personal safety aside to welcome another human being into community.
1. “Why Do British Accents Sound Intelligent to Americans?” Psychology Today. Accessed June 12, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-minds/201609/why-do-british-accents-sound-intelligent-americans.