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English in New York

AA Gill, the Scottish columnist and restaurant reviewer, has always come across in my eyes as a man who wears chips on his shoulders like military epaulettes, which for an upper middle class lad seems a bit odd. He does not like the English much, does he? Even so, read the article, as it contains some painful truths as well as some unfair bile. He makes the point that the English/British are not always great adopters of life in New York. I have been to the city many times and saw this clubby sort of behaviour a few times. We Brits do not seem to realise how rude we can strike Americans. When I read of Americans being cut short at dinner parties or insulted by Brit tourists, I cringe, even though I tell myself that I am not responsible for the behaviour of my fellow countrymen and women. I feel much the same way when I overhear some idiot in Paris or Milan refusing to speak the local language and assuming that everyone speaks English rather than French or Italian.

I would be interested to know what Jim Bennett, the Anglosphere man, makes of this sort of behavioural friction. It may be just a matter of Gill being an arsehole. But he may also have a point.

33 comments to English in New York

  • Tom Wolfe did a pretty good job of satirizing the Brits in New York in Bonfire of the Vanities when a bunch of them con an unsuspecting Yank into buying their drinks.

    What I find most obnoxious about the whole Brits in the US thing, is they way some of them treat Americans natural friendly attitude with contempt.

  • Dave Moelling

    Remember these are expats (although very long term in many cases). They do not see themselves as emigrants. Unlike expats outside of the anglosphere, there are no language problems to justify the tight clan and the culture is not that alien. This only leaves the worst parts of english culture to emphasize. The attempts to be part of the elite bits of Manhattan culture also play in.

    NYC is a tough town to succeed in the trendy professions. The more down to earth expat usually is well integrated and recieved.

  • SG Farquhar

    I think it’s mostly AA Gill being an idiot. It’s not some Scottish anti-English thing since he’s not actually Scottish, he started calling himself Scottish when he began attacking the English generally rather than restaurants he didn’t like. I’m not saying he’s not Scottish because he’s an asshole and I don’t like him: there are lots of Scottish assholes but AA Gill is not one of them.

  • RAB

    What AA Gill is satirising is himself (unwittingly).
    He has two counterbalancing left wing chips on his shoulders.
    Not because of his deprived background but the opposite.
    It’s like Burgess and Mclain do Manhatten!
    He is a reasonably witty critic who thinks he’s a novelist. Indeed he has published several unreadable titles thus far.
    It is also worth noting for whom the article is written.
    Namely Vanity Fair and the American market.
    Gill like all fourth estaters, if offered money will provide the copy. True or false doesn’t come into it.
    It’s pure polemic.

  • The fact is that most Americans are suckers for a Brit (and especially an English) accent. Add to that the fact that a huge number of expat Brits are in fact wide boys on the make, and you have all the elements of Gill’s venomous little article.

    I’m inordinately fond of Brits myself, all Afrikaner roots to the contrary, and some of my dearest friends can be found lurking in Wiltshire pubs (although they are, to a man or woman, defiantly English, not British).

    But it’s a fact that a nation seldom exports its best citizens (I am living proof of this), and the difference between Brits on their home turf and Brits abroad almost makes one think there are two different nations.

    Huddling together in little social enclaves, buying childhood comfort foods, talking wistfully of “home” and living in an ur-ghetto — those apply equally to most immigrants (cf. Chinatown, Little Saigon, etc).

    The difference is that Brits, when outside their own milieu, take on a strange attitude of diffident arrogance — or, as one Brit said witheringly in Chicago when complimented on his beautiful accent, “Excuse me, but you’re the one with the accent.” Said without a trace of irony.

    To be charitable, emigration is a wrenching experience, and one holds onto compatriots, familiar rituals and foods almost instinctively.

    The difference for Brits is that other English-speakers notice it.

  • Alex

    Since when was getting drunk watching the rugby ‘britishness as a show’?

  • Millie Woods

    This same attitude of faux superiority masnifests itself in academia particularly amongst PhD’s in the social sciences. Knowing they are all empty vessels they use arrogance as their default position. People who let this rattle them are spineless twits. The only way to deal with rudeness is to be equally rude. It always astounds Brits in America with put downy attitudes to the natives to be on the receiving end of the treatment they are dishing out. But then I’m a Canadian whose guerilla skills have been developed in the academic world. and not a nice, polite American

  • dearieme

    He’s careful to subscribe to the Americans’ fond belief that immigrants are necessarily (the English/British apart) their native land’s cleverest, most adventurous spirits.

  • Well, my Yorkshire wife would say “But those are the southern English he’s writing about. They’re just as snotty when they come up north.” Which may be so. It’s also the case that New Yorkers are often accused of acting like that whenever they’re in the rest of the States.

    So, I put it down to family squabbles. Cousins bicker.

    The bit about the Designated American Sucker I think dates back to the currency-exchange-control days. Back then you would often encounter, anywhere outside of the sterling area, the dreaded British Exchange Control Sponge. He would be the one at the hotel bar who would start a conversation shortly before dinnertime, and make the big show out of insisting to buy the first drink or two — usually ordering the cheapest house vino and insisting on you having one on him, too. As it got toward dinnertime he would subtly make clear that he just happened to not have any dinner plans, and wasn’t the conversation just so fascinating…until it would be downright rude not to ask him to join you.

    And of course the bit about disappearing to the facilities just before time to pay the bill…yes, that’s familiar. But if his timing was off, there was always “…so kind of you to have asked me to join you…” since he made sure that, technically, that was what had happened.

    Thanks to Thatcherite prosperity and the abolition of exchange controls this type has become a rare and dying breed, and there is no perceptible difference between British and American habits in this regard — except among the people Gill describes, where it seems to have survived as a sort of coeleacanth of social habits.

  • Just a couple of observations:
    1.) The setting is New York, a city that seems to encourage the worst behavior in whomever visits it. Las Vegas at least had the decency to organize an industry around this phenomenon, and are less blameworthy in my estimation.
    2.) The piece is written for Vanity Fair, a magazine whose core demographic enjoys a little bitchiness. Whatever reality may have formed the basis for this article has no doubt been amped up to meet market requirements.
    3.) People who hang around in a particular bar are liable to meet the other people who hang around in that bar. If you find them irritating, try a different bar.

  • Berenger

    He has a point but what he’s describing is not British behaviour, but English behaviour. Southern English.
    The braying, bellowing Southerner can be found all over the UK.

    But AA Gill is not Scottish in my book.

  • I have always thought AA Gill is a prick and he regularly confirms that in writing.

    I started disliking the wanker when he started bragging about fucking “The Blonde” whilst still married to the mother of his two children. He is a piece of shit and having met him once very briefly my dislike grew into loathing. I would not cross the street to piss on him if he was on fire.

  • … though I might go buy some marshmallows.

  • bob

    I would be reluctant to posit a contrary attitude to the majority of the comments above, but this article rings true in many facets regardless of geographical birth or class; with the exception of the upper class, whom if you bore, they fuck-off someplace more interesting (unless unfortunately, they’re family friends).

    In the course of twenty some odd years, I have had to pay for bus tickets, train tickets and had the added indignity of continuously answering for friend’s friends who call acquaintences of mine for a place to bed gratis on the basis of a communal evening in a bar. 12 years on, it is painful to endure: ‘remember X you sent me, who stayed for a month….’.

    In mitigation, there does seem to be a different approach to ‘visiting’ amongst the British vis-a-vis the other English-speaking folk. The brits just appear and bed down for two weeks without any proper planning on the subject; no ideas what they would like to do, particular side-trips they would enjoy…you are the host. You should decide for them. You assume complete responsibility. It is maddening and anachronistic, but apparently a real social obligation, nonetheless.

  • RAB

    regardless of geographical birth or class;

    You appear to be the same kind of sucker as me bob.
    I frequently find people on my doorstep, that friends of mine in far flung lands, have told that my house is a nice place to be if you’re passing by.So like a fool I let them in and entertain them.
    The last one was called Valerie Kookie (No honestly!) and she was from California and
    “Doing Urup” in about a month.
    That’s the great thing about Americans. They always have a plan and massive naive optimism. They never hang about to bore you, or you them. Onwards and up wards.
    So if any of you are passing…

  • Sunfish

    That’s the great thing about Americans. They always have a plan and massive naive optimism. They never hang about to bore you, or you them. Onwards and up wards.

    Indeed, we are optimistic when we go abroad. In particular, we’re frequently optimistic about the odds that a bunch of Indians in a backwater in Ecuador are going to learn English in order to accomodate a bunch of eco-tourists. Sorry, but I got dirty looks in that town for speaking fluent Spanish (

    That being said, if you’re willing to drink Aguardiente (a kind of fermented sugarcane juice: rum before distillation, perhaps) and play bad guitar and sing worse, you might get along after all. I think folks like it when visitors try to fit in, as long as we’re not obnoxious about it. I love it when people with no concept of altitude sickness, rodeos, or weak and watery beer come here and like it. What grinds my gears are the foreign students who spend two years bitching about how nasty America is and then overstay their visas. If you don’t like a place, DON’T GO THERE! Sunfish stays away from Saudi Arabia and New York City, and people who hate the United States should stick to, well, some place more to their liking anyway. They’ll be happier and so will we.

    So, RAB, if I were to show up at your door with a bottle of something undrinkable, an out-of-tune guitar, and a fishing rod…be careful how you answer, because hitchhiking through all of the sources of my ancestry is in my plans for the next decade or so. “Hi, I think we’re cousins. Remember Grandfather Sunfish? You threw him out back when there were still Bourbons/Stewarts/Romanovs/etc running the place?”

  • Phil A

    Sounds like bile and class hatred to me.

    It’s not a picture that rings all that true in my experience.

    None of the Brits (this includes Scotland) I have mixed with in the Sates mostly, Washington DC, Baltimore, New York have done anything than mix and socialise with their friends and colleagues – In my experience a majority American mix.

    They get on fine together and behave just like everyone else. No noticeable difference.

    The Brits will normally show other newbie Brits the ropes and take them around for a while, explain stuff, etc..

    There are some conventions and social differences that are initially concealed by the fact that we are familiar with the states from TV and Film, they have Masterpiece Theatre and we all speak English. This can sometimes lead to people getting the wrong end of the stick (especially if they are being polite and not commenting on it), but you learn, or have it pointed out, quickly enough.

    Re the accent thing. Mine has been taken for a mild Boston accent most often by Americans with a fall back position of Australian, though it’s a ‘standard’ SE England with a hint of Essex/Cockney.

  • MarkE

    I’ve never lived or worked in the USA, but I have lived in a few European countries and worked with expats. I suspect Gill, and perhaps other contributors here are judging what they see and overlooking the invisible.

    Loud, brash, irritating arseholes are very noticable and embarrassing if they are from your home country. Quiet, polite and well integrated immigrants or expats are invisible. It’s nice to know this but, of course, you are going to be judged against the arseholes, because no one has noticed the others even exist.

  • > I feel much the same way when I overhear some idiot in Paris or Milan refusing to speak the local language and assuming that everyone speaks English rather than French or Italian.

    Hmm. There are a lot of languages in the world. Should we not be allowed to go to any countries the languages of which we haven’t learnt? That seems restrictive.

    Yes, there are people who just assume that everyone should speak English, which is wrong. Then again, there are people who know that English is widely spoken.

    If I bump into a French or German tourist in the UK who’s having trouble with English, I’m happy to help out by speaking French or German to them. I see no problem, therefore, with speaking English when in Spain and hoping someone will understand me.

    Actually, conversations between people who can’t understand each other are one of the great examples of what human determination and cooperation can achieve.

  • Nick M

    I’ve always found that people in America either completely ignore the fact that I’m English (afterall we are not exactly an uncommon species there) or find me rather charming with my Hugh-grantish floppy hair and boyish good-looks.

    But then, I know who to tip and how much. I think much Trans-Atlantic strife could be averted if every Brit getting on the plane to the US was given (along with the visa-waiver form) a little booklet on tipping.

    Gill is a bit of a curate’s egg. He’s generally a twat but I sometimes think he can be very funny. I was impressed by his fisking of wind-power on Question Time once and I actually quite enjoyed his novel Sap Rising. Having said that, I also once read Richard Littlecock’s “To Hell in a Handcart”* although that was shite. Sap Rising appealed to this Geordie who grew up reading Viz back in the days when it was only available in Newcastle. Especially the scene where the Tory politician is raped by an Alsatian.

    Which brings me to point two. I don’t really believe in the North/South divide in England anymore. Newcastle is now full of Southern ponces and London is full of Northern scallies – we’re all too mixed-up for it to matter anymore. I do get a twinge though when some Southerner asks for a bottle of “Newky Brown” in a pub. Oh, the cultural inauthenticity! And I fucking hate the Mackems, Smoggies and Monkey Hangers, obviously. Peter Reid’s got a fucking monkey’s heid.

    *It was going for 20p at Stockport Market.

  • jb

    When I am in Paris or Milan I certainly assume that people should speak English. It is a compulsory subject in their schools, the official language of the European Union and the language of international business. I work for a French company that has no employees not capable of speaking English.

    When I am in China, Vietnam or Thailand there never seems to be any problem with people speaking English.

    One thing I have noticed several times in France is that if I am speaking English to my companions and then speak to a French person they will claim to not understand, while if I am speaking Russian, for example, they are happy to speak English.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Should we not be allowed to go to any countries the languages of which we haven’t learnt? That seems restrictive.

    Yes, it is restrictive and not the argument I was making. Of course a person can go to a country where he or she is unfamiliar with the language. It is the assumption that a local will understand English if it is shouted loud enough that is so rude.

    In the case of nations like Italy and France, the offence is less forgivable because French and Italian are fairly familiar, Latin-based languages. Even if you only know a few phrases, it is polite to address a Frenchman in his native tongue. In my experience, what happens next is that the Frenchman will correct one’s grammar and vocabulary with great enthusiasm.

    It all comes down to manners. And learning a bit about a local language is anyway part of the fun of travelling abroad.

  • Phil A

    Re A.A. Gill ‘s “What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don’t mellow, their consonants don’t soften. They don’t relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.

    I must admit to never hanging around in one of these dumps (Thank God). I could’t even tell you where to find one. They must all be guardian readers ;-)

    It maybe says something more about the author, the places and people he hangs around.

    He is talking about a type of person, a type I guess he hangs out with – and gets stuck with the tab by.

    Not the Brits – or Even English, just a type.

  • I only speak English, and I have visited a lot of places that aren’t nominally English speaking, but language has seldom or ever caused any unpleasantness. (Misunderstandings, occasionally. Situations in which I wished I could more fully understand or participate in what was going on, often. Actually unpleasantness and hostility, not really).

    Just from experience, there are three kinds of places with respect to languages. Firstly, there are places where the locals are mostly monolingual, particularly the older generation. This includes the English speaking countries, France, most of Spain, most of Italy, Japan, Korea, China etc. In such places the fact that you only speak one language is understood and normal, and if you are friendly and patient and you smile, and you express a certain level of small apology about not speaking the local language, you will figure things out through gestures, pointing, and the hope that someone who speaks both languages will be standing behind you in the queue and will step forward and help. (This happens often). Learning local words for “Good Morning” and “Thank You”, can assist, but even this isn’t really necessary if you have the right attitude.

    Then there are places where most people are multilingual as a matter of policy, and even if there is one language spoken at home, everybody learns to speak more fluently at school. These places include the Netherlands, much of Scandinavia, Singapore etc. In such places the languages taught as a matter of policy will almost certainly include English, and in such countries you can just walk up to a counter in a shop and speak English, and nobody will be offended or bothered. If people are highly competent in English and confident of their ability to speak it, then they are unlikely to be offended that you want to speak it to. (Offence at being asked to speak foreign language can often be used to hide embarrasment at not actually speaking it well. This is why the right attitude matters).

    Then there are places that are multilingual as a matter of local circumstances, usually because you are on the boundary of different linguistic areas. In a way, these are the most difficult. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was in St Jean Pied de Port, in the Pyrenees on the French side. The Spanish border is only 5km away, and the town is very Basque, so the local speech is a mixture of three languages: French, Spanish, and Basque. I went into a bar and attempted to order the local cider (a Basque specialty), but because I did not know how to pronounce the word “cider” in any of the local languages, I was not understood. (I know enough French and Spanish words to be able to order a beer or a coffee or a glass or wine or most simple food items in both countries, but cider is not something I regularly order unless it is a local specialty). The barman went through his series of languages, and I was clearly expected to go through mine until we found one in common. I could not do this, speaking only English, and I got a certain exasperation at only speaking one language. This was not unfriendly, but it almost had a “What is wrong with you Anglophones?” subtext. (I then managed to inadvertentlty do something really ridiculous, which was that I thanked him with the word “Obrigado”, which of course means “Thank You” in Portuguese, because I had been in a Portuguese speaking country a couple of weeks earlier and it just came out. I corrected myself, everybody laughed, and we got on with the drinking.

    The key issue in all these places is “Don’t be arrogant, smile, and be friendly”. As long as you do that, the locals will be friendly back. It is really simple.

    Back on the subject of this post, when I was in Johannesburg recently I was talking to a local who had spent time in a variety of foreign places. (I knew him because we had both been students at Cambridge at the same time, and we were attending a mutual friend’s wedding). He spend a brief time talking about how assertively obnoxious South Africans are in London, when they are generally quieter and friendlier in South Africa. I certainly have met South Africans who fit the description, but it is not the whole story. These are the ones you notice, and in particular the ones who stick together. Australians can be like this too. The little eclave, assertive national characteristics, and sneering at the locals phenomenon is not unknown amongst other nationalities as well. I would be intrigued to know if the same thing occurs with (say) Argentines in Madrid. I bet it does.

    However, in an English speaking country you have the option of not hanging out with your fellow countrymen if you do not want to. I am an Australian in London, but I don’t really do self-consciously expat things. (I do occasionally when it comes to sporting events. When I do this like many Australians I can be loud and anti-English. That may be more a sport thing than an expat thing though).

    Expatriate communities in non-English speaking countries are different. Not always better, not always worse, but different. It is much harder to blend in with the locals, so probably a larger portion of expats stick together, which in some ways (but not in others) makes the “expat community” more diverse. I can’t comment in the same way I can about London, as I have never been an expat in a non-English country, but certainly I have reached the point where if I were parachuted into a random Far Eastern city, I could just about find an expat bar with my eyes closed, and I know exactly how it would be arranged, with stools around the bar and lower tables further away, some private corners for people who had business to conduct, cold beer in pint glasses (Newcastle brown Ale and Carling in bottles in the fridge, but the regulars all drinking the local draught), Premier League football on the television and burgers and fish and chips on the menu. However, I would meet far more interesting people in such a bar than in the common room of a local backbackers hostel or the lobby of most internationally minded hotels. (Admittedly, also far less interesting people). These days they almost invariably have WiFi, which is useful to me.

    But I have digressed a lot. If this were on one subject I would turn it into a post, but it isn’t so I won’t.

  • RAB

    Two of my best friends decamped to the USA in 1975 and I have visited them often.
    I must say that they, at least, are nothing like the prats Gill describes. All the people they hang out with are American.
    I am hopeless with languages. I did French, Welsh and Latin and was crap at them all. The problem with us Brits is that we were not taught languages properly (are they teaching anything properly these days?) How come every Dutch person I meet speaks perfect English?Their teachers can manage it why not ours??
    When abroad, like Johnathan, I try to be polite. We go to Italy quite a lot, and have picked up enough to just about hold a conversation, but when We were first there I had no Italian at all. We got lost in the Sardinian mountains once and asked directions from a very kind and patient man who spoke no English. We eventually got the job done via pidgin Latin!
    Sunfish. I am not noted for my seriousness, but hospitality I take very seriously.
    So if you were to turn up at my door with your out of tune Guitar, you would get a bed, get fed and watered and entertained. We will tune the guitar for you and you can jam with the wife. You’d better be good though! She’s a grade 8 pianist. Pick up Billy Beck on the way, then we can get a real groove going!

  • Larry Anderson

    Hmm.

    Speaking as somone who lives and works in a suprisingly multinational/multilingual small city in the vast hinterland of American “Fly-Over” country, I’d have to say this article doesn’t represent MY experience with British/English expats. Perhaps Rochester is too small for such clannish behaviour, but the Engish/Scots/Irish researchers I have worked with have been pleasant and professional, even if occasionally amused by the behaviour of the average Midwestern American. To some, the “Minnesota Nice” behaviour can seem intrusive.. If we find out your from some place far away, we are likey to engage in what to US seems pleasant, curious conversation (“What brings you here, Do you have family here, How do you like the weather, etc). To a more reserved Brit, it sometimes comes off as a peti-interrogation. I can see how you might feel more comfortable with other expats, rather than unreel the entire life story once again for the next “Oh, your from England” Yank you run into at the bar..

    Larry Anderson
    Rochester, MN

  • jb,

    > One thing I have noticed several times in France is that if I am speaking English to my companions and then speak to a French person they will claim to not understand, while if I am speaking Russian, for example, they are happy to speak English.

    That’s so true. If you attempt to speak English to a Frenchman, he will pretend not to understand a single word; try speaking French to the same Frenchman and he will helpfully insist on speaking to you in fluent English. (You need an accomplice to prove this.)

    Johnathan,

    > Yes, it is restrictive and not the argument I was making.

    Fair enough.

    My point was merely that, overhearing someone talking English to the locals, it’s difficult to tell whether they’re being presumptious or optimistic. Unless they’re shouting, of course.

  • Paul from Florida

    Drinking in pubs, saloons, bars is one of the few things I’ve gotten better at, mostly because I’m too old to fight. Anyways, a friend and I were drinking in a pub in Amsterdam where we met a two Scottish couples. We sent them rounds of beers as we ordered ours. I told a joke that finished with a punch line about Scottish cash tightness . One of the wives said that the character in the joke must have been from…….( I can’t remember, but it wasn’t their town) Anyways, none of the four of them sent a couple of beers our way, and they left after a while. Now we might have been taken as saps, buts for us the laughing irony of telling a cheap Scot jokes and having in confirmed was worth every penny.

    Mostly what I notice about Europeans and Brits, is that they have no spare cash, no pocket money, or as the economist say, ‘disposable income.’ Americans just spend it and go earn some more. Europeans have fewer opportunities to get, so they watch what they spend, if they have it at all.

    About Gill and his article. Screw you Gill. The idea of America is that you can be, or not be, who you want. A bunch of Brits in Manhattan drinking beer in pubs is none of your GD business. If one of them hit the big time, won a $300 million dollar lottery, Gill would be on his knees, Chapsticking his lips up to blow his way into a piece of it.

    What an ass Gill is. He ought to come hang in my dump biker bar( real ones, not new leather yuppies ), where fisherman bring lobsters and illegal by catch to pay for tabs and it’s been know for four or five guys to be sitting that have lost a leg, an eye or a finger to work. Let him come and talk about bad teeth. Of course this is the same bar that the owner has Bloomberg financial channel on it’s own TV, chestnut bookcases, the counties best jukebox and pool tables, and on Monday night the best home made pizza, and the best scotch and tequilas collection for a hundred miles.

    I doubt Gill has ever been drinking in Homer Spit, Alaska, either. Hard bartenders and bars. I was in a saloon talking to a guy and he said he was a millionaire and I sort of doubt him. Nice enough guy but dressed like he scraped boat hulls for a living. He rolled back his sleeve and exposed a huge, ugly gold Rolex with the diamonds. Then he pointed out the six other guys of his crew that were drinking on him. He had a couple of huge four door, 4×4’s in the lot. He told me since the economy was so primitive and mineral, timber or fish based, and many guys are self made and that you can’t tell who’s who, and there’s no point in dressing up anyways in Alaska and nice cars just get beat to shit. He was right and it was true.

    Gill really is the one who hasn’t left wherever he came from. Vanity Fair is the intellectual equal, maybe, of People Magazine, but with better pictures. With the exception of Christopher Hitchens and Dominic Dunn and maybe another, the writers are a waste of time. It’s a coffee table magazine for class posers. Gill fits right in. It was a mean and nasty little article. Gill made his little viper bones. What a fag. What a perfect VF writer.

  • Robert

    I had the amusing experience in China recently of being spoken to (in Mandarin) in a loud, firm voice in the clear expectation that the hairy foreign devil obviously understood because only a lunatic would come into a store in a provincial town otherwise.
    I was rescued by the bilingual secretary to much friendly laughter on both sides.
    Got some nice jade pendants.
    So you see, its’ not just us; the concept is universal.
    I found that having even a few words and trying to learn got you very far indeed.

  • JB

    As an American living in nyc my experience has been different. My friends and I have always had a good laugh at the Brits we come across here and I usually feel sorry for them. They seem lost and confused (and yes many of them do look like gay ex-marines).

    Furthermore, New Yorkers are a pretty savvy bunch and if you go out to dinner with someone and run out on the check you won’t be invited out again. Anyone that does this is engaging in social suicide. Maybe this is why they end up hanging out with only other ex-pats.

  • Last summer I was in Italy for the first time, and was amazed by how many similarities there are between English and Italian. I managed just fine. Many (not most) Italians speak some English, and if you make an effort to attempt at least some very basic Italian, and are genuinely nice, they are immensely flattered, and go out of the way to help. On the other hand, an American guy (who happens to be not a very nice guy) told us that when he approached someone for help by opening with the usual: “Do you speak English?”, the Italian guy retorted with a sneer: “No, do you speak Italian?” I thought it was apt. Not very friendly, but apt.

    In Greece, though, almost everyone speaks decent English. That is just as well, because I did not find any similarities between it and any other language I know (although in theory there are supposed to be).

    Last, but not least: when in Turkey, do your best to not get involved with bureaucracy, not the least because those people barely speak any English at all. This means that if you need to check in/out at a marina (and you do), HIRE SOMEONE to do that for you.

  • Saif

    Reading Gill is a bit like masturbation. Enjoyable at the time but you may feel ashamed afterwards.

  • Douglas

    Gill is an English guy writing about the English abroad. I’m also English and have come accross plenty of English people abroad, although not in New York.

    As such, his comments are not concerned with English people who go to New York and fit right in, but instead are directed at the sort that go there and affect a degree of social superiority. It’s reinforced by the existence of British shops, but mostly it’s just a cast of mind that infects alot of English people. They go abroad and hang out with other English people, swapping tales about their experiences and playing the same social games they play at home. They don’t really leave England at all, regardless of where they end up, they just go to other parts of the world as a way of feeling superior to other English people.

    I think it happens to other people in different ways. Australians, for example, come to London in large numbers and either fit it pretty easily, or become more aggressively Australian than they were at home, affecting a habit for drinking more beer than they are used to, and dividing people into ‘mates’ of one kind or another. Some of them even get a bit chippy, and start blaming us for Gallipoli as if they remember it themselves.

    I therefore contend that A.A.Gill’s article was both highly amusing, and largely correct. If I left England, I can’t imagine why I would want to hang out with other English people. If I need to be around other English people, I can just stay here, and if I did leave, I would try to fit in a little better than some of my compatriots manage. I certainly wouldn’t attempt to trade off being English and swap tales of gullible natives.