Friday, September 21, 2012

British Culture and the History Behind It

Since I arrived in London two things have fascinated me: the way the British dress and British men. Some of you have heard my stories, but here's what I've noticed. Everyone here dresses up and looks fabulous all the time. It doesn't matter whether they are heading to work, the grocery store, or a dinner with friends. Everyone looks like a fashion icon all the time. The time I wore my running clothes to the grocery was both my first and last. Talk about getting stared down!

The second point I mentioned was the British men astound me. They are so much thinner than American men! I have yet to see a fat man in London, literally. They are thin (and quite good-looking), and they also dress up. All the time. The suits they wear to work would put any American to shame. Each suit is perfectly tailored to their body and is perfectly accessorized with just the right colored tie and the perfect amount of shine on their shoes. Some of the men here are better accessorized than I am...concerning. Not to mention their mannerisms that differ greatly from American men: kissing each other on the cheek, hugging their friends, having close contact with other men. I have wondered about all of these cultural differences since I've been here. I've wondered why these cultural aspects are so different here from America? and why, why can I not run errands in my workout clothes!?

Luckily, my British Youth Culture professor cleared all of these things up for me in class this week. In discussing British culture, we discussed these very things I have been wondering about! So now I no longer have to wonder about all these things, and I have a better understanding of British culture - and American culture as well.

What I learned about the "dressing-up" aspect of British culture helped me to both understand the British and appreciate American culture. As my professor explained, one fundamental difference between the United States and Britain is the way we define class. In America, class is not so much about where you've been, but more about where you're going. We base social class on how much money someone makes, and how much "stuff" they have. It's the American dream in a nutshell. No one cares whether you grew up in Beverly Hills or   the slums of Detroit. It's all about where you want to go, who you want to be, and what you can become. This is one aspect of culture that Britain envies about America, because they view class in a very different light. In British culture, social class is all about someone's accent, where they're from, and who their parents are. The way people speak in Britain is a huge part of their social status. George Orwell said, "The British are branded at birth with the ways of their tongue." Basically, as soon as someone opens their mouth and reveals their origin, a social status is placed on them and there is no going back. In Britain, status is all about where you've been, what you were born into. It's a sad reality, but it's a fundamental difference in cultures.

So, the reason everyone here dresses "to the nines" is because they are trying to mask their social status. In dressing nicely, wearing the most expensive most attractive clothes they can afford, they are attempting to give the appearance of a high social status. This is why my workout clothes at the grocery store were such a shock to so many people. They must have thought I came right from the slums! Everyone here dresses to impress, and dresses to hide their past. I, as an American, don't have to dress like I'm wealthier than I am because no one thinks that way. No one would ever look at my lack of accessories or lack of designer bag and think "wow, she's in a very low class." That's the beauty of America, and one of the less exciting realities of the UK.

My next point does not put America in as great of a light as the last one, but it is another fundamental difference in the two cultures. The men here dress in gorgeous Italian suits so they, like everyone else, can mask their social class. But their accessorizing and fashion sense, along with their feminine mannerisms (like kissing their male friends on the cheeks), come from an entirely different aspect of London culture. As a whole, Britain is a much less homophobic country than the United States. In 1967, Britain passed the Sexual Offenses Act which made it illegal to make any public comment that degraded one's sexuality. Following that, in 2005 the country passed a law, "The Civil Partnership Act," which stated that gay marriage is a federal right of any UK citizen. In the united states, gay marriage isn't even legal across the United States. Homosexual individuals underwent torment and abuse for years and years without anyone even making an attempt to stop it. Gay marriage is a federal right. That's how the UK feels about homosexuality, and that is why they are a much less homophobic country than the United States. Because of this, the men in the UK aren't afraid of truly expressing themselves via fashion or mannerisms. They kiss each other on the cheek to say they love each other, and they're not afraid of being mistaken for a gay man. They care about fashion and the way that they look, and no one here believes that makes them gay. And even if someone did mistake them for a gay man? Who cares! In a less homophobic society, the lines between gay and straight men are not as severe. Men in the states think they need to be "manly" and buff, wearing masculine clothes like football jerseys and t-shirts. Here, the men want to look good (and boy do they!). They are free to dress and act as they want, without ever fearing that someone might think they're gay. It's really a beautiful aspect of their culture, and one I think the United States could really learn a lot from.

So there you have it. My enlightenment on British culture. I cannot wait to see what else this class will teach me about both British and American culture! And don't worry, I'll share all of my discoveries with you all :)

No comments:

Post a Comment