A 4th of July Abroad

While today is just another regular Monday morning for our British peers, for us American students abroad it is a day of patriotism and celebration. Back home in the States, our Independence Day is usually spent with family and friends celebrating our freedom through lighting fireworks, eating barbecue, and drinking beer. While it is no guarantee we will be able to replicate that celebration in London this year, one thing is for certain: our earnest patriotism exhibited today will cross the British.

In the “Humour Rules” section of Watching the English, author Kate Fox describes a rule in British culture about the importance of not being earnest. “Seriousness is allowed, earnestness is strictly forbidden,” Fox says. “…One must never take oneself too seriously. The ability to laugh at ourselves… is one of the more endearing characteristics of the English.” She juxtaposes English frivolity and self-deprecation with the attitude of Americans: “The sentimental patriotism of leaders and the portentous earnestness of writers, artists, actors, musicians, pundits and other public figures of all nations are treated with equal derision and disdain by the English.”

English cynicism or apathy has manifested itself throughout our time here. In the Euro Round of 16 football match, when Iceland scored what would prove to be the game winning goal against England, the onlooking fans in the pub did not respond with jeers, but self-deprecating laughter. In daily conversation, the British constantly bemoan their dreary weather. The political earnestness of the LEAVE campaign ultimately led to a Brexit — would Britain still be in the EU if the seemingly majority, status quo REMAIN camp had the same mentality?

The English can scoff all they want, but I prefer earnest idealism of the American dream to the “muddling along” of the British reality.

  • The Brits are quick to have at laugh at themselves in sticky situations. David Cameron even made light of his resignation speech, peppering it with jokes here and there. I have never been one to take myself too seriously, but I do believe there is a time and place to be earnest. Passion and earnestness drive the capitalistic United States, especially in large cities such as New York and Chicago. That being said, I do believe we could take a lesson from the Brits and tone it down some. Nationalism and solemness can sometimes reach over-exaggerated levels and come across satirically in some cases. I think not taking ones self so seriously almost makes an individual more relatable to the general audience, making people more likely to genuinely listen to what they have to say, rather than not being able to take them seriously.

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