One of my first posts on this blog was about how contrary to popular perception, Britain is not the polite and civil country Americans imagine it to be. http://hanrott.com/blog/the-plight-of-british-civility/. In my view, Americans watch far too much Downton Abbey and don’t realise how ugly things have become here. In reality, Britain is increasingly American- your average Brit has far more in common with your average American than with the aristocrats that dominate period dramas on TV. Here are a few examples: (I’ll mention the relatively non-political issues here, and then talk about the Americanisation of British politics tomorrow.)
Fast food. Americans invented what has become known as fast food. KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut are all American. For the most part, Europe has resisted the fast food phenomenon, partly because most Europeans see themselves as more sophisticated and cultured than Americans. Not so in the UK, where fast food has rapidly grown in popularity. In particular, the number of takeaways has proliferated. While these places offer cheaper food than restaurants, they are still more expensive than cooking at home. They are also contributing to a rapid increase in child obesity, particularly in the major cities and working class towns. I believe the solution to this lies in the tax system: tax fast food restaurants and takeaways at punitive rates, in order to tax healthier restaurants and cafes less. I’m not sure exactly how this would work, but there must be a way.
Big cars. There are an increasing number of American-style SUVs and sports cars on Britain’s roads. Nowhere more so than the inner London, despite the obvious impracticalities. These cars are more likely to kill or severely injure pedestrians in an accident, worsen pollution and air quality, and are often a vulgar display of wealth. London’s mayor has recently introduced a charge for old polluting vehicles which wish to drive in the centre of the city. I believe this doesn’t go far enough: SUV’s, pickup trucks and other ridiculously large cars should be banned from driving in our major cities altogether. And after 2025, I would also impose severe taxes on anyone who wishes to buy a car that isn’t hybrid or electric.
Foul language. Now I’m not one of these old conservatives who believes every use of a curse word world is a sign of Britain’s social and moral decline. But as a society, we seemed to have adopted the American habit of using swear words as frequently as we can. This is a completely unnecessary development, which only coarsens the language and the way we treat each other. We should be far more civilised and courteous in my view, particularly around children.
Long working hours. Britain is becoming more like America in its working culture. People are expected to work far too long, even if their contract doesn’t explicitly require it. This causes stress and anxiety, and can be particularly harmful for children who don’t see their parents often enough. America doesn’t impose minimum holidays, nor does it guarantee maternity and paternity leave. After Britain leaves the EU, we will have the freedom to do the same, and I’m very worried working hours will be lengthened in a desperate attempt to stay competitive.
Student debt. It’s well known that American university tuition fees are extortionate. But at least there is a generous system of financial aid to help the worse off. In Britain, fees may be well below their American equivalents. However, they are much higher than anywhere else in Europe, and there is little in the way of financial aid. To make matters worse, the government recently abolished a grant for lower-income students, which will only deter those from working class backgrounds from applying to university. The solution is to abolish universities and courses with poor career prospects, and instead use the money to help poor students studying at the more prestigious institutions. This would result in fewer people going to university. But those still attending will not suffer from financial insecurity.
I’m aware I’ve portrayed Americanisation very negatively here. I must stress that I think there are lots of wonderful things Americans have brought to Britain. I’m a big fan of Netflix and American TV generally. I like a lot of American music. Although fast food isn’t quite my thing, I like traditional American cuisine, particularly the way the Southern states make ribs. American companies, from Google to Bank of America, have made Britain a wealthier place- even if they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. But overall, I’m very critical of the way Britain has so keenly adopted the worst aspects of American culture. Like America, Britain is addicted to debt. We borrow vast sums of money, only to spend it on things we don’t need: big cars, fast food, expensive houses, and in some cases, degrees. We then spend our money the wrong way; our quaint and historical high streets are in decline, their business diminished by American-style shopping malls and supermarkets. This debt-fuelled consumerism is making us miserable. We work long hours to pay our debt off, instead of spending time with friends and family. The state encourages people to take on large mortgages, instead of fostering an affordable rental sector. Epicurus, with his emphasis on simple living and a stress-free life, would have looked at the Americanisation of British culture with absolute horror.