Britain has always had a disproportionate influence on global culture, with British novels, plays, films and music carrying the country's influence to the rest of the English-speaking world. As a result, however, Americans often have some funny ideas about what Britain is like. If you're an American visiting Britain for the first time, try to avoid falling into these beliefs. If you're a Brit and you run into an American who thinks these things, take it easy on them.
The food is terrible
Americans have always thought of British food as dreadful -- overcooked, flavourless and bland. This may have been true once upon a time, although American cuisine in the 1950s was probably not fantastic either. Today, however, it's completely untrue -- British cooks are as innovative and experimental as any in the world. Like many myths about Britain, this one may originate from the beloved British habit of complaining about the food.
The stiff upper lip
Americans tend to think that the British are very emotionally reserved and stoic. While the proverbial British "stiff upper lip" might once have existed, the modern Brit is just as emotionally demonstrative as all but the most sentimental American. The idea that the British are sceptical of strong emotion flatters the national self-image, but a trip to any football match should dispel it quickly.
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The stereotype that British people have bad teeth is one of the strangest American views of Britain. While British cosmetic dentistry may have lagged behind America's for a while, this view represents not only an exaggerated view of Britain's irregular smiles but a strange willingness to believe that most Americans have great teeth despite evidence to the contrary.
Americans appreciate the pleasures of an ice-cold beer on a hot day, and tend to be suspicious of the British habit of drinking beer warm. Obviously, Brits don't literally drink their beer warm -- ale is supposed to be served at cellar temperature, slightly below room temperature, but far from the icy chill of many American beers. Of course, as all British beer lovers know, the more you cool a beer the less you can taste it -- which might be a good thing with American beers.
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The Queen is everywhere
Brits are peculiarly attached to their royal family, but not nearly so much as Americans are. Most British people can go from one year's end to the next without really thinking about the monarchy, but Americans tend to think that they loom large in public life. Visiting Americans don't really ask every Brit they meet whether they know the Queen.
But they might be thinking it.
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Fog and rain
Americans tend to assume that Britain is a land of perpetual rain and fog, with Brits soaked to the bone most of the time. Again, this might be something they've picked up from the complaints of Brits, who can often feel that this is true. But while Britain might be cold and damp compared to Florida or southern California, most Americans won't find its climate too challenging.
Everyone is polite
Thanks to media portrayals of snooty English gentlemen, Americans have a tendency to assume that the British are very polite. In fact, while British conversation is sometimes a little more formal than American, Brits on the whole are probably less polite than Americans, who tend to at least try to avoid giving offense to people they don't know.
The lovable Cockney
Whether it's Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" or generations of chirpy Cockney orphans in heart-warming movies, the stereotype has persisted in American popular culture for some time. In fact, modern London's population comes from all over the UK and the world, and a Brit with a Cockney accent is just as likely to be a middle-class "mockney" trying to establish some spurious street cred.
Britain is England
It's not that Americans think that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't exist. They're well aware of Scotland, and generally know that the others exists, even if they couldn't tell you much about them. It's just that they have a disturbing habit of using "England" to mean "Britain." Some might grumble that they share this characteristic with the English.
England is London
Even though they don't think that England is the entire UK, many Americans are surprised to find that there's a lot of variation between the different parts of England. Partly this is because of London's media preeminence, but partly it's also because by American standards most of the country appears to be "very close" to London, a perception we'll talk about more in a moment.
It's like going back in time
It's certainly true that the distant past is more present in Britain than it is in the USA, with centuries-old buildings in many towns and some strange customs still surviving for ancient times. But for many Americans, the mere existence of castles and villages means that a visit to Britain is somehow also a trip back in time. To deal with this problem, the simplest thing to do is to take the affected American to Milton Keynes and leave him or her there.
Everything is small
It is true that America is much larger than Britain, with distances between cities that dwarf Britain's by comparison. But as a result, Americans can sometimes assume that all parts of Britain are very close together, and can be shocked by the hours and hours it takes to travel from London to York or a similar journey.
"We saved your butts"
To their credit, very few Americans actually believe the legend that the USA stepped in to save Britain during the Second World War (the main credit for beating Hitler should really go to the USSR) and that Britain should be appropriately thankful. The ones that do are usually too smart or polite to say anything about it. And yet it hangs there in the minds of many British people: the myth that the British believe the Americans believe about the British.