Thursday, March 22, 2007

British Invasion, take 17

A.A. Gill rats out his fellow Brits taking up residence in New York in Vanity Fair:

The British have colonized Manhattan, acquiring minute rent-stabilized apartments in the West Village that they pass on to each other like hereditary titles. It's hard to spot the women—unless they open their mouths. But the British men can be identified by their cropped hair, which they shave to obscure their genetically endemic premature hair loss. They imagine it gives them a street-hard look. Most Americans think they look like gay Marines with deformed ears. They wear their blue jeans like their school shorts—too high and too tight, leaving them with severe moose knuckle. They will occasionally wear items of indigenous clothing—a baseball cap, a plaid work shirt—just to show that they're not tourists. But they wear them with irony. Indeed, Brits are rarely seen in New York without their magic cloaks of invisible irony—they think that, on a fundamental level, their calling here is as irony missionaries. They bless everything and everyone with the little flick quotation marks, that rabbit-ear genuflection of cool, ironic sterility. How often their mocking conversations about the natives return to the amusing truth that New Yorkers have an unbelievable, ridiculous irony deficiency, which ignores the fact that a city that produced Dorothy Parker, Robert Mapplethorpe, Abstract Expressionism, Woody Allen, and Woody Allen's love life has quite enough irony to build the Brooklyn Bridge.

What's with you Bits and irony? We get irony, its just not an obsession.
Why is it that the English continue to get it all so wrong in New York? There is something particularly, peculiarly irritating about the Brits over here. This is a city that's wide open to strangers, lumpy with a homogeneity of schemers and immigrants, yet the Brits manage to remain aloof and apart, the grit in the Vaseline. Those with the voices like broken crockery, the book-at-bedtime accent, have a lot to answer for. The Brits believe that they have a birth-given sincerity and that it's not what you say but how you say it that matters. And that all silly, gullible Yanks, from policemen to society hostesses, will wave us ahead on life's road when we open our euphonious mouth. In fact, most Americans can't tell the difference between Billy Connolly and Russell Crowe, and why on earth should they? If you really, really want to disjoint an Englishman—ruin his day—then just ask him which bit of Australia he's from.

Or ask him about his dental plan.
If it were just you that the Brits annoyed, I wouldn't really care. What I mind is that they've re-created this Disney, Dick Van Dyke, um-diddle-diddle-um-diddle-I, merry Britain of childish grub and movie clichés, this Jeeves-and-Wooster place of mockery and snobbery, and I'm implicated, by mouth. Made complicit in this hideous retro-vintage place of Spam, Jam lyrics, bow ties, and buggery. These ex-Brits who have settled in the rent-stabilized margins of Manhattan aren't our brightest and our best—they are our remittance men, paid to leave. Not like the other immigrants, who made it here as the cleverest, most adventurous in the village. What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don't mellow, their consonants don't soften. They don't relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.

Well, the English got stuck with Madonna, so we're even.


Blogger erp said...

I don't know if others feel the same way, but it's confusing to me when Brits come here on their own, you know, not for a job, not because they want to marry an American, but just comes here to live.

It's understandable when people come here from all other parts of the world, even Canada, but why leave the UK to live here. I don't get it.

March 22, 2007 5:57 PM  
Blogger Mike Beversluis said...

Hmm, hanging out with jerks in NY is probably more to do with being a Vanity Fair writer than being a Brit.

Also, asking a Brit to do an American accent is always a good idea. If they're good at it, it's funny, and if they're bad at it, it's hilarious. Eg, Hugh Laurie in House trying to sound black.

March 22, 2007 7:29 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Ah, the poor English remittance man. We don't see him much up here anymore, but we sure used to. Arguably he created Canadian nationalism single-handedly. The closest proximity today is the fellow with the florid face sitting beside you in the pub during the World Cup. He's been here thirty years without doing much of anything, but his accent is suddenly indecipherable and he watches with an intensity that turns pugnacious when any colonial has the temerity to express any opinion about anything. And yes, he is careless about whose round it is.

Surely this is the bane/glory of the Anglosphere. No sooner have we celebrated the common heritage and commitment to freedom and democracy in moving platitudes than we open a cold one and start fisking one another mercilessly. Not for us the hypocritical and artifical affinities of the EU. Can you imagine Brit, American, Canadian and Aussie historians getting together to write a common history book for the kids?

Anyway Duck, at least there is a little colour to all this. You could be stuck with a bunch of Canadians who are all the epitome of niceness and inoffensiveness, but who still, no matter what you are talikng about, find a way to mention that the UN has once again announced that their country is the best place in the world to live.

March 23, 2007 3:29 AM  
Blogger monix said...

Please don't confuse Brit and Expat, they are not synonymous. We poor Brits who live at home actually don't know who we are any more.

March 23, 2007 4:57 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

AA Gill is himself the most (deliberately) combative, foppish, cut-glass accented Brit imaginable.

March 23, 2007 6:19 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


Same reason Americans come and work over here: work, money, change, adventure.

March 23, 2007 6:27 AM  
Blogger erp said...

... but brit, here we think of the UK as the superior culture, at least the sort that moves across the pond does. Moving in the opposite direction somehow goes against the CW.

monix, you're right to use "expats" instead of Brits. I should have known better.

March 23, 2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

But not everyone likes cricket, cathedrals, costume dramas and cold drizzle.

March 23, 2007 9:20 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I did notice that Gill took extroadinary relish in his denunciation of the expats. I think that Brits have honed the art of the putdown to extroadinary heights. Whereas Americans take satisfaction with one word invective, and Ann Coulter jibes pass for witty putdowns, the Brits create minor literary masterpieces to deliver their insults.

March 23, 2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger monix said...

Expats and, even worse, ex-expats require very lengthy put-downs to cover all their obnoxious behaviours. Sadly, they don't even notice as no-one else's opinion matters to them.

March 23, 2007 10:20 AM  
Blogger Nazim said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 23, 2007 4:19 PM  
Blogger Ali Choudhury said...

It's A A Gill. The man does nothing but whinge. He reviews TV shows in the Sunday Times and I can't remember the last time he liked anything

March 23, 2007 4:20 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Mapplethorpe was an ironist?

You could have fooled me, but then I'm an American.

March 23, 2007 5:13 PM  

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