Archives: Visiting British student finds Americans “a funny breed”
Originally published on January 29th, 1982 By Debbie Sandford
by The Milton Measure on Friday, October 28th, 2011
As you begin to read this, I’d like you to stop whatever else you may be doing, be it watching T.V., doing your French assignment, or simply filing your nails.
Now imagine yourself plucked from womb-like Milton Academy and transported across two thousand miles of ocean. You are now in a country which you have never before set eyes on, to spend half a year in a place where everybody is a stranger.
“How wonderful!” I thought to myself as I sat in the plane, great hopes of freedom flowing through me. I can be whomever I want to be: I have no ties and no responsibilities to anyone. What I of course did not foresee was that I would create fresh ties within the very first week of my arrival.
The very first thing that struck me about America was those brightly painted gasometers which Boston boasts. The second thing was the space. America is so big. I’m told that in Massachusetts everything is tiny compared with places further west. I can well believe it, but even here the aura of great size and spaciousness lingers.
The atmosphere is loaded with the fact that you can, whenever you wish, leap on a bus and travel somewhere where you can be the only human being within a hundred square miles. Having lived with that for so long you may be unaware of it, and even if you can sense it, it might perhaps seem trivial to you. But, speaking from a foreigner’s point of view, it seems that it is the day-to-day living with this knowledge which grants freedom such importance in the eyes of Americans.
Everyone, everywhere I’ve been, has been astonishingly friendly and open towards me; I’m sure you know that abroad Americans have a reputation for being just that. Whenever the British, including myself most certainly, travel abroad, they take with them a fear of being thought conservative, stuffy and over-reticent. I found that I had to make a conscious effort to open up, simply to keep up with everybody talking to me and introducing themselves.
But you Americans are a funny breed you know: after I’d been at Milton a couple of days and knew some names, people began to close up, bashfully. After, “Hi, I’m so-and-so, so you’re from England, when did you get here, how was the flight?,” people didn’t seem to know what to say to me, nor I to them. Now if an American had been attending a British school, probably nobody would be speaking to him for the first two days, but after that he’d be in.
I was very struck by the informality of Milton; perhaps that won’t come as a surprise if I tell you that I came straight from a school where we had to call all the teachers Sir or Madam. That informality seems not to be confined to the school though, it goes hand in hand with the comparative newness of America.
Somebody asked me whether we have any great national heroes in Britain, like your Lincoln or Washington. I hadn’t considered the matter before, but the only person I came up with was Winston Churchill, and his stature in Britain is far less than that of Lincoln in America.
Instead of popular heroes we retain a list of kings and queens as long as my arm, the names of half of which I can never remember, let alone the use to which they put their reigns. Whilst you stand by your ideals and the people that have fought for them, we cling to our heritage and our protocol.
Milton bears comparison with British schools extremely well. In particular the scope of your curriculum is much wider than that of the majority of our schools, and your facilities are much better. And although everybody seems to complain about the food, it’s really much better than where I’ve come from! The I.D. cards are new to me, but appear to work well.
An interesting pastime when amongst new faces is to try to discover what kind of person lurks beneath that particular face by the questions they put to you. You can dismiss the one who runs up to you crying, “Were you at the Royal Wedding?” for a start! And to save anybody else from asking me whether I’ve seen the Clash, the answer is no, I haven’t. “What interests you?” is probably the best question, albeit the most difficult to answer.
I’d like to say that I feel coming to Milton will be a “fulfilling and rewarding” experience, but it’s difficult to do so without making this sound like a college essay! It’s interesting though, and so far I’ve enjoyed it. Anyway, maybe I’ll see you around.
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