Thursday, November 04, 2004

Maybe Britain is European after all

Hi folks, thanks very much for all your interesting responses to the posts below and your associated nice words about this blog. As you know, I don't usually 'do' politics, so I promise I will shut up shortly and get back to music. But first, a few observations...

First, I wasn't actually surprised that Bush won. Kerry seemed like a bit of a nerd and I suspected that he was attracting many 'anti Republican' votes rather than 'pro Democrat'. Secondly, I for one - and possibly many of my compatriots too - will find it easier to accept Bush in the White House this time because he does have a clear majority. Which wasn't the case 4 years ago, when many of us suspected serious monkey business. Thirdly, someone like Bush would never, ever be elected in Britain because our countries, traditions and outlooks are so very different. Bush is far, far right of the British Tory party. Here, people with such extreme views, especially if religiously motivated, are viewed frankly as a little bit odd: endearingly eccentric, perhaps, and admirable for their personal sense of conviction, but certainly not suitable candidates for running a country.

When people complain here about globalisation, they usually mean Americanisation - the predominance in the 'culture' (if you can define it as such) of MacDonalds, Starbucks, American films and American TV. I think that this election proves that such anger is directed at something essentially superficial. We like a lot of these things, with the exception of MacDonalds, because they're rather good. But they're not indicative of the Americanisation of the British people. Some think that we are in America's pocket - a useful little bit of land in a handy spot east of the Atlantic. The widespread sense of depression here yesterday proves that we're not.

A look at your election map is very telling. Huge swathes of red right across the place. And a few little strips of blue in the big cities on the coasts. Well, Britain is a small country, geographically. The vast majority of Brits live in overcrowded cities - there isn't that much countryside left and there'll soon be even less. Also, we lack your religious right-wingers - they exist, but the numbers aren't huge and, as I mentioned, the rest of us regard them as oddballs. Unlike America-between-the-coasts, Britain is mainly a secular country; the bit that isn't is multifaith in the extreme. Here in London we have everything under the sun, from Chassids to Muslim extremists like Abu Hamza (who finally got arrested) and every variety of eastern Orthodox church you can think of. There are occasional spats, as there would be in any such situation, but on the whole we coexist quite happily, share the same basic everyday concerns and balance each other out. The majority of Brits would be very worried indeed if we felt that our prime minister's priority was to make laws centring on religious issues like gay rights and abortion. We'd rather they did something to fix up the public transport system. (Not that they do that either).

In British cities, especially London, we're a very mixed society. On any average trip on the London underground, you can hear about six different languages. The place is full of Eastern Europeans now. The Poles keep the building and cleaning industries alive and standards have soared since they started coming here. The orchestras are full of amazing Russians. My brother's new baby is officially Italian like his mum. Our friends include Germans, Chinese, French, Danish, Swedish, Armenians, Israelis, Australians and, of course, Americans. And plenty others. That's one of the things that makes London so exciting.

Next, it's easy to get around from here. Travelling anywhere from the States, you generally have to cross an ocean. From London it's a short hop to anywhere in Europe. Vilnius, which felt for so long like another planet, is just 3 hours away. Israel is only about 5 hours (not counting return check-in at the airport in Tel Aviv). South Africa and Singapore are about 12 hours each, Japan 10, India 8. So we tend to travel. Tom and I can nip over to Paris by train for an overnight shopping trip, or get a cheap ticket on a budget airline to visit friends in Denmark for a long weekend. if you live in Fort Worth or Kalamazoo, the idea of flying all the way to Aarhus for three days would seem completely crazy. So if Americans from inland areas sometimes strike us Brits as insular, under-travelled and ill-informed about the rest of the world, we can hardly be surprised. There simply isn't anywhere here that resembles Texas, Michigan or Nebraska. No wonder we can't understand you. No wonder you can't understand us.

I've been to Kalamazoo, by the way, and I had a great time there. That's another story.

This could go on forever, so I'll stop now. But in short I feel that what Britain can learn from this election is that we are actually much closer to Europe than to America and growing more so all the time, even if parts of our country would prefer it to be otherwise. And do we have a common language, not counting what passes for 'English' (currently in as dire a state over here as it is over there)? We do. Need I say it? MUSIC.