The BBC has a few kind words for my favorite writer. I agree wholeheartedly that there’s something soothing about football results and shipping forecasts. I might have a romanticized view of England, but I always picture a genial nation of people sharing obsessions over train schedules, watching bad television and having a terrific sense of humor about everything.
Coincidentally, I’m finally reading Bowling Alone, a study of the fragmentation in American community life. I’ll be curious to see the reasons given for our lack of participation in politics, clubs, etc.
But aside from that book, we’re clearly not as culturally unified as England. In some ways, that’s good. We don’t have to watch reality TV shows or listen to 50 Cent. It’s also reassuring to know that we Americans don’t all think the same way (a point that often eludes European commentators who don’t grasp that we aren’t as homogeneous as their own countries).
But it’s sad that we can’t have these differences without the underlying unity that England has. Our individualistic streak has some unfortunate side effects — chief among them a lack of respect for others and a lack of good manners. In England, the eccentrics are tolerated quite well, as Bryson is happy to show. Here, our eccentrics are a little scarier.