US CULTURE

Welcome to the American Link. This section dedicated to the language and culture of the United States of America. Rather than trying to be a traditional guide, this section is a collage of different, controversial, sometimes conflicting views from different authors, for there are as many Americas as the cultures that inhabit it, and the people who have lived in there. We think the articles about the American language show how difficult it is to pin down The U.S. into one, uniform culture – the diversity of the people who live there is also apparent when we delve into the immense world of non-standard varieties of American English. It took years to research into that, yet we believe we have only scratched the surface! We hope you enjoy the ride!

How to Scrape Skies by George Mikes (1948)

(On board the R.M.S.. Queen Elizabeth, May 1947) ‘It is not easy to spot America. In New York you will be told that New York is not America. Should you then ask any question concerning the Negro problem in the south, it will be instantly explained to you that the south is not America; New England is so terribly English (because they say tomarto instead of tomayto and sometimes potahto instead of potayto) that it cannot possibly be regarded as America; the Wild West is too wild, the Mid-West is too Mid-Western, and Hollywood – well Hollywood, of course, has never been America. In general big cities such as Chicago, (pronounced Shicago) Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco etc are not America because America is essentially a rural country; on the other hand, the United States without these vast cities is just not America.

You will find it equally difficult to find an American. People, all of whose great grand parents were born in the United States, will explain to you that they are Irish, Dutch, or Swedes. (Everybody is something else.) The only people who call themselves Americans straightforwardly are those who became citizens five or ten minutes ago.

However, only the superficial observer will be misled into believing that there is no such thing as the United States and the American people. They do indeed exist. They have produced the American constitution, the American way of life, the comic strips in their newspapers; they have their national game , baseball – which is cricket played with a strong American accent – and they have a national language, entirely their own, unlike any other language spoken on this earth.’

Time and Space

‘When you are dressed, start rushing. Where to does not matter – but rush somewhere, because everybody else is rushing all over the place. There are express lifts and express subway (that is to say underground) trains in America, there are places where you can have a four course lunch in 90 seconds and there are shipbuilding yards which produce two fifty thousand ton battle cruisers or liners every hour; babies, in the upper income bracket circles are produced in three months’ time. The production of cheaper babies still takes a little longer.

The American grocer knows but little of the pleasures of an English shopkeeper who may discuss the weather with every single customer for three quarters of an hour on end, while a peaceful and understanding queue stands by, each one awaiting his turn for a friendly chat.

If you believe that London underground is crowded in rush hours, you are mistaken. At 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. on the Bakerloo Line between Piccadilly and Oxford Circus you will find a hermit-like solitude compared with a New York subway at the same period of the day. There people will placidly sit on your head and settle on your shoulders as pigeons do in the Piazza San Marco in Venice; elderly ladies will crawl about your knees and it is quite customary to find a few odd children in your pockets. …

Nobody is angry or irritated. People enjoy themselves and smile kindly. They understand a guy who is in a hurry.

They work in a hurry, talk in a hurry – in brief, stacccato sentences – sleep in a hurry and even drink in a hurry, gulping down impatiently an amazing number of Manhattan cocktails, dry martinis or straight whiskies. They do not enjoy the drink itself, they drink with a purpose: they wish  to become reasonably drunk within the shortest period of time possible.

Then you have to get used to the size of things. The Empire State building has 102 stories and Rockefeller Centre has more inhabitants – or rather more people working in it – than many large and famous cities in Europe. Texas is three times the area of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, although the United States itself is only the third largest country on the American Continent.

The sugar bowl you find on your table is a skyscraper in itself. You can see matchboxes which would put a smallish cabin-trunk to shame and each individual match would be quite suitable for use as fire wood in England. If you order southern fried chicken in a restaurant they give you so many pieces that you simply cannot believe it is not southern fried ostrich and you feel disgusted with yourself when you eat it all. The Sunday edition of a newspaper is not unlike a full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Coney Island has enough amusement places on top of one another, in a many miles long row, to keep a small Balkan country amused for seven years on end.

How to be Snobbish

Many Americans dislike the English because – they say – the English have an uppish and superior attitude towards the rest of humanity…In America this superior attitude is quite unknown. Nobody looks down upon the rest of the community. The ancestors of these people came over on the Mayflower. One of these Mayflower people once boasted to a refugee about his ancient roots in America, upon which the refugee retorted: ‘But I came here when there was already a strict immigration control in force.’ Another person once remarked: ‘My ancestors came over on the Mayflower.’ To which another replied: ‘And my ancestors were on the reception committee.’ (He was an Indian.)

Furthermore all white people look down upon mulattoes; all mulattoes look down upon Negroes; all Negroes look down upon Mulattoes; all people of Scandinavian origin look down upon Germans; all Germans loo down upon Central Europeans; all Central Europeans look down upon Italians, Spaniards, Armenians and Persians; all Italians and Spaniards look down upon Central Europeans and Irish; all of them look down upon Jews; all Jews look down upon everybody else; all Americans look down upon New Yorkers; all New Yorkers look down upon Mid-Westerners and Westerners; all Northern people look down upon Southerners; all southerners look down upon the ‘Yanks’. All emigrants look down upon the refugees (an emigrant is a refugee who arrived before 1933, a refugee is an emigrant who arrive after that date). All refugees look down upon those who arrived in a later ship and if people came in the same ship those who got off first look down upon the newcomers whose luggage was examined a little later. 

All those who are ‘citizens’ look down upon those who have only just go their ‘first papers’. Those with their first papers look down upon the pseudo-visitors who are trying to settle in the United States. 

It is easy to see that the people looked down upon most by others in the United States are Yiddish people speaking Negro Jewish refugees with expired visitors’ visas.’

American English

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