BRITS have too little time for America. Perhaps it is lingering resentment at losing a colony. Perhaps it is the narcissism of minor differences. Either way, snobbery towards our transatlantic cousins is one of the few prejudices that remains politically correct – sneering at the land of gun rights, big burgers and blaring ads is practically a national sport.
I’m biased the other way, having married a tea-drinking American expat with a taste for European ecclesial architecture. But spending last weekend in Concord, Massachusetts for a friend’s wedding was a welcome reminder of three reasons America’s commercial republic still deserves Britain’s respect.
1. COMMERCE AND CULTURE
Thanks to shows like Breaking Bad, American television drama is the best in the world. Even if you only care for high culture, Concord alone can boast Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott as local authors. The Peabody Essex Museum in nearby Salem, where Hawthorne once worked in the port’s Custom House, records how the commercial spirit of local seafarers drove exploration, collection and aesthetic discernment. The collection originated in the 1799 East India Marine Society’s cabinet of curiosities, for which the captains brought home choice objects from Asia and Africa as well as Europe.
2. THE BUSINESS OF FOOD
America incubates food entrepreneurs whose products I wish I could easily find in London: Peet’s coffee, Taza stoneground chocolate and Clif bars among them. Innovations like kale chips; terrific, popular brands like Cold Stone Creamery and Wegman’s; and high levels of service mark out the American way of food. And while America’s weight problem is evident, emergent lifestyles like the paleo diet show its citizens self-organising to find solutions beyond a conventional wisdom that has failed so many.
3. LAND OF LIBERTY
Spending Memorial Day weekend in the town where an American militia defeated British forces and launched the Revolutionary War exposed how different the US is from the UK in its ability to celebrate its values. Stars and stripes flags waving unapologetically from lawns and lampposts were a sad contrast to Britain’s habituated cringe, in which the union flag is barely seen.
I’m glad to say that I returned to an exception to that rule this week. My wife swore allegiance to the Queen in front of our national flag on Wednesday. She is now proud to be a dual citizen, both British and American. The best of America’s values, after all, come from its British heritage: individual liberty, the rule of law, the improving habits of a polite and commercial people.
It is easy to sneer, but far harder to acknowledge that America preserves some of Britain’s past virtues, just as its accent is said to contain fossils of eighteenth-century English diction long eclipsed at home. While there’s still plenty to draw Americans to Britain, perhaps the real reason the US puts some British teeth on edge is that its energy and openness recalls a spirit we don’t quite know how to recapture.