My awesome library sells donated books on the cheap, and I was lucky enough to find The Anglo Files a couple of months ago. An American journalist working for the New York Times met and married an Englishman in New York City. They return to his native land, and the rest is a very insightful and funny book. As a London correspondent for the aforementioned esteemed newspaper, Ms. Lyall was more than surprised by the general differences between our countries, but specifically, for example, the role of the landed gentry in politics; the sheer number of euphemisms having to do with sex, the sexes and sexual organs; how the view of the press differs in each country; the sheer amount of beer and other alcohol that is consumed; and how to tell the lower classes from the upper classes via dress, language, etc. (Do you say “toilet” or “lavatory”?)
I love London. All things being equal (in other words, if it cost of living weren’t a factor), I would absolutely choose England. Of course, I have only seen London as a tourist; the longest I have stayed there at one time was two weeks – hardly a crash-course in living in The Big Smoke. I love cream teas, the history, the pomp and circumstance. I get my feelings for Old Blighty from my mother and grandmother, long-time appreciators of England and all of its glory. Who watched all of Upstairs, Downstairs and Pride and Prejudice as a kid? I did (along with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers).
Of course, all of the craziness discussed in this dense volume would take some getting used to, especially if you planned on staying there for the remainder of your days. The giggling school boy (who is actually 58) may be a little disconcerting if you are trying to have a serious conversation about female health care. And all of that yelling in Parliament? Nuts. I thought that trying to decipher Welsh was difficult, but there are many English names that defy the rules of pronunciation. And don’t get me started on the confusion regarding all of the levels of aristocratic titles and the rules of cricket. Of course, it’s all told tongue-in cheek, and probably played up for an American audience. You can tell that she loves her topic, warts and all.
I will always look upon Britain with a great deal of fondness, and I can’t wait for my return. And while I know that I will walk around and pretend I live there, I will also have to do the Jack the Ripper tour again. And adopt a hedgehog.
The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British by Sarah Lyall was published August 17, 2008, by W. W. Norton & Company. I purchased this book from our local library.
Genre: Adult Humor Memoir