Last weekend, I went to the cricket. Are you laughing yet? Try reading it again but in an unshakable American accent, for that it is how it sounded coming out of my mouth. See? Crazy times.
It was, in fact, my second time going to a cricket match, having been taken last year to the Oval by a colleague on the Guardian’s sports desk who simply could not believe I had somehow made it into my fourth decade without ever hearing the thwack of willow on leather. I might have known the cliches but I sure didn’t know the rules and by the end of the first over I think my colleague was regretting his hospitality because later that week a column appeared under his byline about how annoying it is to bring Americans to cricket matches because they ask so many damn questions.
My friends who invited me along last week were wiser than the colleague because they knew they would not be lingering long with me on the sidelines, forced to endure my sparkling bons mots of the “Wait a minute, they just run back and forth?” ilk because they were actually playing in the game. This meant that I had nothing else to do for six hours on a Sunday afternoon in Shepperton but to sit silently and watch the adrenaline-surging match between the Authors Cricket Club – a revival of the team that originally included JM Barrie, PG Wodehouse and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, now expanded from its brief to include publishers, agents and a Downton Abbey inhabitant – and the Shepperton Ladies Cricket Club.
I learned, as you would expect, many things in those six hours, such as one should never judge a team’s performance by the gentility of their name: those Shepperton Ladies are fearsome.
What I mainly learned, though, was that, contrary to my hopes, one cannot grasp the rules of cricket through osmosis. No, nor through flinty if squinty-eyed observation neither. So instead of talking knowledgably about wickets and stats, as I fully imagined myself doing by the fourth hour, the whole experience was somewhat akin to the (one) time I went to an opera: beautiful, to watch, rather elegant, to observe but utterly, utterly incomprehensible to me.
Despite what the stubbornly unshakable accent suggests, I have lived in this country for almost two-thirds of my life now and have recently moved back after a few years spent in my hometown of New York. It was during that time that I realised how British – well, English, really – I am now. I eat Marmite for breakfast, I can talk for hours about the weather and I am positively fluent in the language of self-deprecation (arguably too much so: one evening in New York a friend asked about my work, my personal life and a book I was working on. Naturally, like any good English person, I casually replied they were all a complete disaster. She phoned, her voice heavy with solicitous concern, the next day with the number for a therapist as she thought I was “clinically depressed”.) However, there are certain things other than cricket rules that I suspect I will never understand.
A. Resentment of America
Now, on the one hand, of course I do understand this. The relationship between Britain and America, from Britain’s perspective, has always reminded me of the one between Frasier Crane and his brother Niles: there’s the big, brassy, embarrassing, famous and attention-seeking brother who hogs the spotlight, and then there’s the smaller, sharper, more self-aware and overly self-conscious brother who is both scornful of his sibling’s shallow fame but also faintly jealous of it and hides the latter beneath snarky jibes. Of course I get it: having lived in America and Britain I can see all too well how America’s cheerful, unabashed tendencies towards arrogance, superficiality and shameless ambition grate against Britain’s preference for self-effacement, awkwardness and grim failure. What I don’t get is why folk in Britain bother getting wound up about it. Any hint of an American tradition coming to Britain – high-school proms, Daily Show-a-like nightly talkshow, will.i.am – and Radio 4 programmes and newspaper articles sprout up most self-righteously debating whether America is “taking over British culture”. Come on, Britain, you’re better than this. Make like Niles and take out your handkerchief, wipe away the germs and walk on past. It’ll probably go away soon.
B. Happy tolerance of physical discomfort
Camping. Music festivals. Beach holidays. Britain, you don’t have the climate for any of these things, as well you know, considering how much time you spend marvelling at your weather. Why do you insist on doing these things in such miserably inclement conditions? Have you never heard of making life easy on yourselves? Just give it up.
C. Certain elements of the pop culture
By and large, I probably do prefer British pop music to American but I’ll never understand the weird British sentimentality for boring guitar rock (see: Paul Weller, Oasis, Kasabian, the Verve). I’m not saying American music doesn’t have its problems (one word: Nickelback) but Chad Kroeger doesn’t garner the unquestioning adulatory press that Weller does.
And, this is a side note, really, but what was with all the long TV show titles in the 1990s? Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Drop the Dead Donkey, Have I Got News For You? Was it to compensate for the paucity of your TV channels? I’ve always wondered that.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.