The more things change

Joseph Jefferson as Asa Trenchard

Britons are tired of the vulgar, boorish, greedy Americans:

LONDON (AFP) – People in Britain view the United States as a vulgar, crime-ridden society obsessed with money and led by an incompetent president whose Iraq policy is failing, according to a newspaper poll.

The United States is no longer a symbol of hope to Britain and the British no longer have confidence in their transatlantic cousins to lead global affairs, according to the poll published in The Daily Telegraph.

The YouGov poll found that 77 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that the US is “a beacon of hope for the world”.

As Americans prepared to celebrate the 230th anniversary of their independence on Tuesday, the poll found that only 12 percent of Britons trust them to act wisely on the global stage. This is half the number who had faith in the Vietnam-scarred White House of 1975.

A massive 83 percent of those questioned said that the United States doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks.

A new development in British-American relations? Hardly. The attitude towards Americans is merely a return to the cartoonish view of Americans that has prevailed nearly since the country’s founding.

Here’s a snippet from a play written for the British stage nearly 150 years ago. Its plot involves the introduction of, what else?, a boorish American to his refined aristocratic English relatives. “Asa Trenchard” is the American.

Asa Trenchard Wal, stranger, I don’t know what they’re going to do with me, but wherever they do put me, I hope it will be out of the reach of a jackass. I’m a real hoss, I am, and I get kinder riley with those critters.

Lord Dundreary Now he thinks he’s a horse. I’ve heard of a great jackass, and I dreampt of a jackass, but I don’t believe there is any such insect.

Florence Trenchard Well, cousin, I hope you made yourself comfortable.

Asa Well, no, I can’t say as I did. You see there was so many all-fired fixins in my room I couldn’t find anything I wanted.

Florence What was it you couldn’t find in your room?

Asa There as no soft soap.

Captain De Boots Soft soap!

Augusta Soft soap!

Harry Vernon Soft soap!

Mrs Mountchessington Soft soap!

Florence Soft soap!

Georgina [On sofa.] Soft soap!

Lord Dundreary Thoft thoap?

Asa Yes, soft soap. I reckon you know what that is. However, I struck a pump in the kitchen, slicked my hair down a little, gave my boots a lick of grease, and now I feel quite handsome; but I’m everlastingly dry.

Florence You’ll find ale, wine and luncheon on the side-table.

Asa Wal, I don’t know as I’ve got any appetite. You see comin’ along on the cars I worried down half a dozen ham sandwiches, eight or ten boiled eggs, two or three pumpkin pies and a string of cold sausages—and—Wal, I guess I can hold on till dinner-time.

The play was “Our American Cousin”. It was the play Abraham Lincoln was watching at the Ford Theater when he was assassinated.

So what else is new? The British don’t need us any more to save them from the Germans or protect them from the Russians and the generation that remembered how Americans had pulled the British bacon out of the fire is passing rapidly from the scene. They’re merely returning to the view of us that has prevailed for so long.

8 comments… add one
  • That view is supported on this side, too. Many an American film maker, for instance, has tended to portray Americans as gawking cretins in the face of English propriety.

    While recently there, I found no outward condescension or derision, but we were on our best behavior because, you know, we’re American.

  • When we travel abroad we take some pains to go to places other than where tourists tend to congregate. If I wanted to travel to see other Americans, I could go to Pittsburgh. 😉

  • h, please. Feriner.

  • BTW, EU Referendum is looking at the poll, you might want to check that out.
    Here. And here.

    I find that polls like this one seem sometimes to be produced for American consumption. “O great, now even the Brits hate us” kind of thing.

    Allow me to clarify one thing from my first comment: it could just be me, but I believe that when Americans come in contact with Brits, we tend to overcompensate as we have a rather odd inferiority complex with regards to Mother England. The British are better spoken, have superior manners, etc. and we are intimidated. Wrongly, I think, but there it is.

  • Yeah, I just got back from reading them and No Pasaran, too. I think they’re neglecting the historic and generational change aspect.

    I also think there’s a built-in bias in any poll of this sort. How many Brits have been to the United States? Watched an American news program? Listened to one of Bush’s speeches? My guess is a very small percent.

    And those who have visited went where? New York? Los Angeles? Florida? Scarcely representative.

    They’re getting their information spoonfed to them by their own press who are, perhaps, less than unbiased.

  • Ian Campbell Link

    Dave, do you think a Brit would be more impressed if he went to the heart of the Bible Belt (aka KKK Land)? The area that suppresses truth in the name of the literal “truth” of a 4000-year old creation myth badly translated three times by different people, all with an axe to grind?

    Do you think that the average Brit (of the ones that think at all, that is) are impressed by the fact that Americans claim triple their share of irreplaceable resources, and waste most of it driving ludicrously large vehicles?

    I think not.

    As a matter of fact, I have listened to some of Bush’s speeches. He sounds barely articulate, and it is obvious that he will say literally anything, do anything, to further his narrow political goals – including putting the whole of the rest of the West at severe danger from terrorism. He is also willing to cave in to the worst sort of fundamentalist Luddites for the same purpose.

    Was a choice between Bush and Kerry really the best you could do?

  • Actually, I do, Ian. Most Brits that I know who’ve visited the Deep South have been impressed by the kindness, courtesy, friendliness, and gentility of the people there. Why, there are places in that poor benighted area where people still take in strangers in trouble and give them a hand.

    Americans claim triple their share

    That’s an interesting formulation, Ian. What is anyone’s share of anything? What they want? What they need? Who decides? Or is it what they’re willing to pay for?

    Or do you just think that everything should be divvied up equally to everybody regardless of need, want, or ability or willingness to pay? I assume you’ve studied economics: is that the formula for optimizing welfare?

    Was a choice between Bush and Kerry really the best you could do?

    Honestly, I didn’t care much for either candidate. I’m a Democrat and I did not vote for Kerry in the primary elections—it was obvious to me that there was no way he could win in a general election.

    But, unfortunately, the best candidate rarely gets on the ballot. Just the ones who have enough organizational backing and this time around it was Bush and Kerry.

  • ed in texas Link

    I find it odd that these polls seem to pop out around the 4th of July. It’s like an anti-holiday framing.

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