American New York Times journalist Sarah Lyall begins The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British with a David Letterman-esque “Top Ten” list about the top ten signs that she had finally adjusted to living in Britain after marrying her English husband Robert. Lyall’s book is like a crash course in the British psyche, delving into everything from Mrs. Thatcher to hedgehogs and how they reflect British values, traditions, and ways of life. As an American woman with an English husband and two daughters born and raised in London, she has a unique perspective on British life. She is a foreigner who has come to live in the UK as an adult and has since immersed herself into daily activities as if she herself were a native. The Anglo Files is both a field study and a personal memoir, with valuable tips and points embedded into seemingly random anecdotes. So, as a way of conveying this information in a Lyall-approved manner (also in honor of Letterman’s upcoming retirement). I’ve decided to structure this article like a “Top Ten” list with some explanations as well. Here we go:
Top Ten Things I Learned From The Anglo Files:
10. Despite what you may think, Brits are actually quite loud and obnoxious. Lyall talks about how obvious it is to “spot the Englishmen” when they are abroad, especially in mainland Europe. When it comes to their beloved football, British people make themselves heard, drunkenly and disorderly screaming and yelling and chanting for their teams as if the players can hear them through the screen. I’ve heard far too much from drunk Brits on the Tube.
9. Class is still totally a thing. Lyall highlights this messily intertwined issue of class and education here in the UK and how a Brit’s schooling can ultimately come to influence that person’s future career (i.e. why every major party leader in Britain went to some posh boarding school like Eton or Harrow). Even the way a person speaks can bar them from climbing up the ladder. I know this is all true in the US as well, but, the extent to which it’s apparent in the UK is pretty scary.
8. They believe they have a “duty” to look after Britain. It’s as if the Queen has bestowed an OBE upon every single UK citizen and charged them with protecting their land. Some see this duty as upholding tradition; others as inciting change. You’ll find supporters of both stances here in the UK and, at times, like Lyall says, clashes between the two can get quite ugly.
7. Regardless, change is difficult for them to embrace. Sure, they talk all about “inciting change” all they want, but, when it comes down to it, most would rather stick to tradition. As Lyall points out, as much as everyone is fed up with the practically useless titles like “Earl of Sandwich”, they’ll never do anything about it because Brits love to live in the past, and change is hard. So why waste the energy?
6. Being verbally boastful or arrogant is very un-British. You know how people like to think that Brits are always super polite and humble? Well, not exactly. Most of the time they’re just manipulating language to give themselves a subtle pat on the back or give you a back-handed compliment. Lyall states that, for the British people, self-satisfaction is teetering on their worst nightmare: being American.
5. The British know how to laugh at themselves- sometimes rather harshly. As someone who works in London, I’ve had first-hand experiences of what Lyall write about regarding British humor. A lot of the time it’s self-deprecating and, to the untrained ear, it can seem quite mean, especially when they make fun of you. But, it’s just the way Brits know how to laugh; nothing personal.
4. Brits know how to differentiate between “a trickster and a hero”. The book illustrates this point with the story of how the British people laughed and threw eggs at David Blaine when he did his big hanging over London Bridge illusion, which is a pretty dated notion nowadays. So let’s update it with a more contemporary reference: Honey Boo-Boo. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my British coworkers ask me why that family is famous. And I tell them: I honestly don’t know. I guess having fame-less celebrities is an American thing.
3. They LOVE their animals. There’s a well-known story that Lyall recounts about “the hedgehog people” off the coast of Scotland, who back in 2003 fought back against the government to prevent a widespread extermination of their beloved creatures. The Queen has her hoard of corgis that follow her every move. Brits just love animals, definitely more than they love humans.
2. The British lack of enthusiasm can be attributed to lack of light. The book compares the British “moodiness” with “the perky American enthusiasm” and sunlight as the root cause of both dispositions. And I have personally found this to be true. Some days I do feel that “natural melancholy” when the London sky is gray is cloudy (Lyall also talks about how one in fifty Brits have diagnosed Seasonal Affect Disorder [SAD]). But mostly, I hear my coworkers praise me for my bubbly personality and optimism because, even when I’m a little down, there’s still something about my inherent “Americanness” that they seem to recognize.
1. “London is a very big place.” From Highgate to Waterloo, Edgeware to Cockfosters (that’s a real place, I swear), every section of London has its own unique character; I’m still finding new places each day. Even Sarah Lyall is still learning more and more about London as she explores it more with her husband and children. I guess it goes to show that maybe you never really stop being a tourist, that there’s so much more to learn about than you ever imagined.
- sunshower in Bedford Square: Kerry Candeloro