It is good form – and a mark of attractive humility – to be properly set back by set-backs. Small ones will do. This is not a nation of bouncers-back; all obstacles are regarded as major, all defeats as permanent. So people will entertain, as serious propositions, any of the following: ‘He was never the same after his plumbing business collapsed.’ ‘Her life was ruined when she had to go to court on that parking charge, and then her daughter got divorced.’ ‘It finished her off when the corner laundrette closed down.’
In short, Yanks accept few excuses for failure, but see no reason why you can’t begin anew. As often as necessary. There is life after defeat. Brits accept many reasons for failure, but seem determined to go down with their ships. This is because they do not fully believe in the possibility of fresh starts. Something in the national temperament makes them reject alternatives, and forego second chances. The Captain of the Titanic stood stoically on the bridge as she sank, murmuring, ‘be British!’
Exercise 1. Make up 5–7 multiple choice questions about the text to check comprehension.
Exercise 2. Sum up the text in your own words trying to sound as English as you can.
Exercise 3. Give the meanings of the words and phrases below, comment on their register and expressiveness and suggest synonyms of various degrees of formality. Think up appropriate contexts with them:
well-worn (fig) / to wheel and deal / to hit the bottom line / to fend for smb. / a buzz-word / runaway (success) / to strike it rich / to swallow sth. (fig) / to corner a market / grubby and gauche / decorous / unmitigated (success) / to grind to a halt / the rationale for sth. / hard-boiled (fig.) / adept, adj.
Exercise 4. Identify the cultural component of the text and comment on it. An up-to-date dictionary on language and culture or any reference book will help you do it better. Note: you are expected to be able to sort out factual information from the author’s emotional attitude and evaluation.
Exercise 5. Phrasal Verbs Practice.
Write out all the sentences with phrasal verbs and their derivatives, look them up in a recent dictionary and write out more sentences with them. Translate the sentences in writing, possibly with a number of options for different speech situations.
Exercise 6. Draw up a list of foreign words and phrases used in this text and in the chapters above. Explain their meanings, comment on their style and give authentic examples with them.
Exercise 7. What other language from the text would you like to select for intensive study and why?
Exercise 8. As you may know, many celebrities today, anxious to look right or do the right things, turn to professional image-makers and life-stylists for advice. Go through the Russian and English articles on the topic in the Supplementary Materials, sum them up in English and comment on the issues discussed.
Exercise 9. Use your outside reading, personal experiences, TV and video-watching, etc. to support, expand on or question the points and observations made in the chapter. If you disagree with any of the points made in the chapter make sure you use strong evidence to support your argument.
Exercise 10. Write a 350-word commentary explaining the cultural things and stereotypes involved.
UNIT 8. REGIONALISM AND OTHER LOCAL PROBLEMS
(Multi-media support and maps available)
AMERI-THINK:America has five main regions:
1. The East
In theory, this means the Eastern Seaboard states. But what really counts is the New York City / Washington / Boston megapolitan area, combined with certain prosperous suburbs in Connecticut White Plains, northern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Long Island and eastern Massachusetts.
2. The West
For West, read: greater Los Angeles, San Francisco, Marin County, Palm Springs, Scottsdale and La Jolla. Maybe Denver, but no one knew it was there until Dynasty.
3. The South
i.e., Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans.
5. The Midwest
i.e., everywhere else. For purposes of this classification, Maine is spiritually the Midwest. So is Kansas. So is Tucson. Chicago is the high spot, but because it is in the Midwest, few people yearn to live there.
Nothing which is unlisted counts, and only two of the areas above count heavily: 1 and 2 (Sorry, Texas). Forget conversations you’ve heard about rural roots, and respect for America’s heartland ... (i.e., the Midwest). Forget songs about going back to Swanee and midnight trains to Georgia; ditto received wisdom about the recent boom in the Sunshine Belt. Forget publicity about Pittsburgh being the most ‘liveable’ city in the United States, or Seattle the most beautiful. Most of all, forget comments about New York being a nice place to visit, but nobody wanting to live there. Secretly, EVERY American wants to live there – or in Los Angeles. That’s why they all pack up and go there, just as soon as they grow up. Because New York and LA are still perceived as ‘best’ (Sorry, Texas) and the best is what every true American wants to experience. At least once. So he can say he’s been.
Until a few years ago this bias towards the coasts and away from the middle was also reflected in television programmes. The vast majority used New York or LA as locations – notable exceptions being Surfside 6 (Miami), Hawaii 5–0 (Honolulu), and The Walton Family (even if Appalachia never looked like that). Then, with Dallas as a ground breaker, TV moguls discovered the allure of the regions, and became more adventurous about settings ... though choices were made with care. Dallas probably wouldn’t’ve made it as ‘Lubbock’. The Dukes of Hazard, well-situated in Jimmy Carter’s Georgia, might’ve lost appeal in rural Alabama, or southern Missouri. Pretty soon, moguls screwed up courage to boldly go where no one but ski-buffs had gone before. Denver. Whatever next ... . Wheeling? Altoona?
BRIT-THINK:The point is that America’s got magnets at both ends, which exert a powerful draw, and cause epic movements of peoples to opposite sides. You’d think it would droop at the edges. But Americans take the constant shifting and displacement in stride. It does not appear to provoke undue rivalry, or resentment. Sure, Californians wish Mid. westerners would stay out of the San Fernando Valley long enough to steady sky-rocketing house prices. OK, southerners think New York City spends extravagantly on welfare, and ought not to be bailed out with Federal funds. Yes, New Yorkers with 52 bolts on their apartment doors slate Texans who take a handgun when they nip down to the 7–11. (Sorry, Texas.) And certainly, there are racial issues (like busing) which cut across regional ones.
BRIT-THINK: Britain is, of course, much smaller in terms of area – but regional differences are legion ... as well as complex and occasionally explosive (Ulster being only one manifestation). Baffled Yanks should picture an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania, divided into eleven distinct and potentially warring parts, some of which threaten to devolve from the rest, and from time-to-time shoot it out in London. Britain is:
4. The Republic of Ireland
5. The West Country (Cornwall, Devon, Somerset)
6. The North (Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds)
7. The North-east (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and the rest of Geordie-land)
8. The Midlands (Birmingham)
9. East Anglia
10. The South (The Home Counties and similar commuterland)
11. Central London
Each area considers itself unique. Each feels it has certain irreconcilable differences with the rest of Britain. Each lays claim to characteristics so important and distinct, that they must be:
1) acknowledged as ‘special’ by the rest of the nation, and
2) preserved – in all their idiosyncratic glory – at any cost.
It is hard for Americans to believe, but Yorkshire and Lancashire – which share a common border and many cultural similarities – are hotbeds of local animosity over perceived differences. It has something to do with different recipes for Yorkshire pudding.
Curiously, for people who identify so closely with regions of origin, Brits refuse to tell outsiders where they’re from. Two Yanks who meet for the first time will greet each other with, ‘Hi. Where’re you from?’ ‘Chicago’, comes the casual answer. Or ‘Cleveland’. Nothing heavy. But, try it on a Brit, and watch the harmless ice-breaker cause a Big Chill. Instead of replying simply, ‘London’, or ‘Manchester’, he freezes, tongue-tied. You have intruded, somehow, on private matters, and embarrassed him. If he answers at all, he’ll make do with an evasive, ‘oh, the South’. Hard to come back with, ‘hey! I knew somebody on your street’.
This reaction is hard to explain, except to say that – as ever – it has something to do with class-consciousness. Pieces of basic (and apparently neutral) data like:
2) father’s job;
3) school attended
are felt to define status, and make Brits feel exposed. Even (or especially) if your companion has a fine pedigree and an Oxbridge degree, wild horses won’t drag it from him / her. Not until you know each other well. There’s a ring of truth to the old joke, ‘Never ask an Englishman where he’s from. If he’s from Yorkshire, he’ll tell you; and if not, it’s unfair to embarrass him.’
On a less personal level, ‘preserving regional differences’ is an important cultural concept to Brits ... though no one knows why. If you pressed them, they would cite differences in accent or phraseology, unique methods of thatching a roof, local varieties of cheese or sausages. That’s about it, really. But regional loyalties are felt as deeply in East Anglia as in volatile Northern Ireland, and such things are taken seriously.
It seems that Brits have a kind of primeval fear of being ‘homogenized’ – culturally swamped – first by each other, and then by America. They regard as a threat the slightest ‘foreign’ influence: ‘We don’t say movies here in Scunthorpe. That’s an American word. We say films’. Or: ‘This is Britain. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day or Halloween’. They often reject the mores and influence of London: ‘this is a nice, quiet town. We don’t like to go out to night-clubs like Londoners’; ‘We can’t be doing with all that central heating ... we like our coal fires’; ‘We eat lunch at mid-day and a proper tea, not that fast-food rubbish’. Regional die-hards feel culturally threatened by the growth of McDonald’s.
Much of this is incomprehensible to Yanks, who may think of themselves as ‘southerners’ or ‘midwesterners’, but spend little time contemplating the Minnesotan nature of Minnesota, as compared, say, to Wisconsin. Perceiving yourself as a ‘Scot’ or a ‘Welshman’ presupposes a different level of emotional involvement than ‘hailing from New Jersey’. One reason, of course, is that Americans move around much more than Brits, and regional loyalties are fudged accordingly. In an age when Concorde crosses the Atlantic at the speed of sound, it’s hard to believe that generations of Brit-families feel spiritually bound to the immediate environs of Barnsley. Remember Michael Palin’s line in the Python film, Jabberwocky. Sent off (for the first time in his 22 years) from his native village to one 3 miles down the road, he enthuses, ‘Oh, good. I’ve always wanted to travel’.
Interestingly, the fierce loyalty that Brits feel for regions is reserved by Yanks for cities. Many a heart beats for the Big Apple and all it can offer. So passionately do they love their cities (even the most unprepossessing) that they are moved to sing great songs about them. If you have ever had a look at Amarillo, you will surely wonder why anyone ever wanted to be shown the way to it.
Brits, on the other hand, seldom croon about metropolitan locations, though they are sometimes inspired by the countryside ... ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, ‘How Are Things In Glochamoragh?’ (On second thought, that was probably composed in America). It’s certainly significant that, endowed with a city as unique and spectacular as London, the best they have recently managed is the downbeat ‘A Foggy Day In London Town’.
Anyway, Yanks have proved that love is blind, and when you’re besotted enough, you can sing about anything. Bruce Springsteen even managed one about Asbury Park, New Jersey. Other famous US city songs include:
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (It’s a helluva town)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (So good they named it twice)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (I wanna be a part of it) *as adapted by British Caledonian
CHICAGO, CHICAGO (That toddlin’ town)
SAN FRANCISCO (I left my heart in)
PHOENIX (By the time I get to)
SAN JOSE (Do you know the way to)
TULSA (I was only twenty-four hours from)
AMARILLO (Show me the way to)
MIAMI (Moon over)
KANSAS CITY (Everything’s up to date in)
PITTSBURGH (There’s a pawnshop on a corner in)
ST LOUIS (Meet me in)…
and so on.
There are even ditties about the allure of industrial agglomerations like ‘Union City New Jersey’, ‘Galveston’, and ‘Gary, Indiana’. But, call to mind if you can a song about Birmingham, or Leeds or Liverpool. (Yes but that was Little Jimmy Osmond). Or CROYDON. Maybe it’s just that nothing in this world rhymes with Croydon. Try it.