Do Americans understand us?

Have you ever wondered what the Americans think of us? Here in the UK, we spend so much time reporting Americans’ activities in the news, watching American movies and eating their beef burgers that we seem to miss the obvious fact that they spend a good majority of their time marvelling at the UK.

No, really. Every decade or so our pop music takes them by storm, we occasionally dominate their Oscars ceremonies and they even thought that Margaret Thatcher walked on water. But when not being diverted by these things, they spend most of the rest of their spare time worrying about what we eat.

I once corresponded by email with an American lady who’d seen our website and wasn’t sure about our blatantly British food. Her questions were, I thought at first, rather quaint. She then pointed me in the direction of an American’s on-line review of a London restaurant where, I think, horror was the word you’d use to sum up the diner’s opinion. She couldn’t believe that civilised people would eat the food described on the menu.

However, we as restaurateurs have to look at things through our customers’ eyes before deciding that they’re right – or wrong – so I thought it only right that we consider this prejudice from the average American’s perspective.

So, let’s take the normally educated American. You know the one: no passport, believes there’s a baseball World Series, was taught that they won the Second World War – the all-American average dude. Ask yourself, what would that mid-westerner make of spotted dick? While you and I might lick our lips and dream of one of the finer school dinner dishes, it’s likely that cousin Sam will back off, look very, very worried and reach for his guns.

Ok, so you’d talk sensitively to him, coax him back and gently explain that spotted dick wasn’t actually dangerous when eaten in moderation and went great with custard. Because, far from being something that necessitates him having an embarrassing conversation with his children, it was, in fact, a pudding. You can imagine the smile of relief that’d cross his face before his brow furrows, and he summons up the courage to ask about another pudding on the menu: steak and kidney.

Now Americans already reckon we’ve got a weird sense of humour and they think that putting offal and meat together is a Limey joke. But in a pudding? How does that go with the custard?

You begin to see how they don’t consider us quite so normal as we like to think we are.

Then take, for example, bubble and squeak. If nothing else, it’s difficult enough that most Americans find green vegetables a trial, never mind left-over ones mixed with potatoes – which, after all, should only be used for French fries, in large quantities.

And then try explaining to him that Cottage Pie doesn’t actually contain any building rubble. Or describe clotted cream and try telling him it’s delicious, is not cream that’s gone bad and that it doesn’t make you sick. Black pudding is probably already a step too far but then toad in the hole would send our friend screaming into the distance, looking for the first plane home.

While it was once true that the USA and the UK were two nations divided by a common language, it no longer appears so due to our watching too many of their films and TV shows. But the Atlantic provides a significant barrier for many of their diners.

I’m prepared to take up the challenge and see if I can change their minds by slow-cooking a couple of shepherds for a pie and explaining the contents of a knickerbocker glory. But I’m not absolutely sure of success when you consider that, as a nation, they invented the rather attractively-named spray-on cheese.

Previously published in the Northern Echo

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