Michelle Malkin has much good sport with GwynnethPaltrowGate here.
Now, I know I’m going to regret saying this, but Gwyneth–spoiled-rotten showbiz airhead that she undoubtedly is–is on to something. No, of course Brits are not more civilized, intelligent, or sociable than we Yanks. They do have a thing that we don’t have, though, and it makes for fun dinner tables. Honestly, if I were to summon up the ten most memorable dinner-table experiences I’ve had, every one of them would have been Brit. And no, I’m not talking about intellectual high fliers–some of those dinners were with very ordinary people.
Look, there are pluses and minuses to living anywhere. The pluses of living in the USA far outweigh the minuses. I speak as one who’s put my money where my mouth is, having spent untold time and trouble to settle in the USA and become a good American. The minuses are still there, though, and one of them stops American dinner parties from being as much fun as British ones.
What is the missing factor? As near as I can put my finger on it, it’s playfulness. There’s a spirit of play, of childhood silliness, in Britain (I may just mean England, but leave that aside) that is missing here. We Americans take ourselves too seriously. This is by no means an original observation of course–which only goes to show that there is something in it. I’ll confess, I often find the awful plonking earnestness of my fellow Americans a bit wearing. I get the urge to tip a bowl of jello over their heads.
I could point to all sorts of indicators. There are those competitions you get in British literary magazines, for instance–I wrote about them here. All right, the New Yorker has recently started one, but it’s a feeble thing, and will never rise to the place in US culture occupied by the New Statesman competition over there. Then there is the contrast in legislatures. The House of Commons is not infrequently a laff riot, with members interrupting and heckling each other, flashes of wit puncturing pomposity, and so on. In the House of Representatives, the congresscritter just gets up, drones his way through a dull, dull speech that no-one ever bothers to listen to, then sits down. B–o–r–i–n–g. Americans can be funny, and we can be witty (not the same thing), but we are hardly ever silly.
On the other side of the ledger: The cult of diversity seems (I haven’t spent much time in Britain since the 1980s) to be killing off this difference. A lot of the fun of British life used to consist of scoffing at foreigners, whom we all understood to be comical half-wits. (George Orwell had much to say about this in one of his essays. And here’s my Dad, circa 1960: “Foreigners? Bloody fools, for all I can see.”) Now of course you can’t do that, at any rate in public. Although, to the (arguable) degree that the PC/diversity business is of US origin, this is an American blight.
And the USA is not altogether a silliness-free zone. I cherish the memory of the late Willard Espy, who wrote some wonderfully silly light verse. I note with interest, though, that he was a native of Washington State. The Northwest is the most “British” part of this country–if memory serves, it very nearly ended up in Canada–so perhaps that accounts for the anomaly.