Another recent conversation with the wife:
Me: "What time do you make it?"
Me: "What time do you make it?"
Jocelyn: "Huh? Make what?"
Me: "*sigh* What time is it?"
I never realised that was a peculiarly British expression. Someone should mention that to these German students of English, or they'll be met with bemusement when they try out their new-found language skills in the States.
But I find "What time is it?" to be far too direct, too much of a command, that places pressure on the person being questioned to know the exact time and to divulge it immediately. I much prefer the more passive options available - namely "what time do you make it?" or "have you got the time on you?". Obtuse? Perhaps. Polite? Definitely.
I can envisage posting more blog entries on all these observations of US/UK cultural differences, as they become apparent over the coming years of marriage to Jocelyn. Actually, it would probably make more sense for her to do the blogging on this topic, being the stranger in a strange land, but until that happens, here's a couple more notes on the subject:
As a child in the UK, I remember being bemused in restaurants by the array of cutlery in front of me. "Start at the outside and work your way in" is a maxim learned years before "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (had I known that one as a kid we would have saved a fortune in alarm clocks and home electrical appliances). But Stateside, it seems the opposite is true - cutlery is an endangered species. If you're lucky enough to receive a fork and a knife with your starter, you'd better be thankful, and hold onto them, as a replacement pair are unlikely to be forthcoming with your main course. You want a spoon and a fork with your dessert? Crazy European...
Of course, one of the most obvious differences between our two nations is that the UK is a monarchy whereas the US is a republic. Well, duh! But this has deep implications for our attitudes. Joce and I watch The West Wing a great deal, and occasionally the characters thereon discuss the topic of their favourite former President. Can you imagine Brits chewing the fat debating who is their favourite Prime Minister? It rarely happens - here in Blighty all politicians are represented by the media as being lying weasels, their public-spirited efforts and talent apparently counting for nothing. And how many statues of politicians do you see in the UK? I can only think of a couple that I've ever seen, and only once outside London. No Prime Minister would be given a statue as grand as the Lincoln monument, or have their image carved into a mountainside, Rushmore style. Why would they? We have a hereditary monarchy upon which to bestow such honours, no point wasting them on people who have actually used their skills and hard work to attain high office.
The other obvious difference between our nations that springs to mind is in attitudes to sex, alcohol and violence (specifically, guns). I was most entertained by all the hoo-hah surrounding the "hidden" sex scenes in GTA San Andreas that led to it being pulled from the shelves in many stores. Here's a game that involves gang warfare, murder, gambling, theft and drug abuse.... all of which are apparent perfectly acceptable subjects for kids to see in a computer game, but if any love is added to the mix, it's deemed unsuitable for minors! Joce tells me that the American attitude to sex (and booze for that matter) stems from the puritanical nature of the original protestant settlers. Conversely, guns are fine (and of course explicitly permitted in the constitution) because a militia was required to defend the USA during the revolutionary war. 220 years later, and here we are - guns good, sex and booze bad - essentially the opposite of opinions in Western Europe. One of my colleagues tells me he once had great fun witnessing late-night conversations between American and Dutch counterparts - I'd love to see that culture clash.