It’s A Culture Thing

Despite living five years in America’s Mid West, there are two aspects of US culture I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. They’re both so totally opposed to every grain of the Britishness that has permeated my body and soul over fifty odd years.

Just what is it about sitting out on the front porch that Americans find so all-embracingly attractive? Everywhere I go around town, Americans are out sunning themselves on the porch in full view of all passers-by. To say nothing of the cars, taxis, buses and trucks spewing out exhaust gases almost at their feet.

It’s so illogical to the British mind, flaunting oneself before the rest of the neighborhood. No, we like to sit outside, but in the back of our properties where privacy reigns supreme.

Which brings me neatly to a second facet of American life that is so utterly perplexing. Americans have a definite down on fences. Presently, there’s much ado in the halls of power about America’s borders. Politicians, sensing a plethora of extra votes come election time, are screaming out for fences running the length and breadth of the nation, to keep out those pesky Mexicans, Canadians, and other renegades desperate for an undeserved slice of the American Dream.

But, would an American ever dream of building a fence around his house? Not in a million years. Mid West America is just a series of grassy fields with houses dotted all about them. No boundaries; no fences; no privacy. It’s unlikely, in this pious section of the Bible Belt, that anyone would ever consider, even for the mere fraction of a second it takes to contemplate sin, sunbathing in the altogether. If they did – forget it! The result would be a rapid haul before the local judge, followed by a spell in the county jail for indecency. They would have stripped off before the world; bare, for all to see – from their unfenced back yard.

There is a saying in Britain: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” What applies to family, is also true of neighbors. Move to a new neighborhood and the people round about may be wonderful, or they could be downright awful. Either way, we British don’t like the idea of having them imposed on us every time we step outside our door. That’s why we have six foot high fences or hedges all around our properties. It’s not that we’re antisocial, it’s just that there are times we don’t require sociability thrust upon us. Americans seem to need constant social contact. It’s perhaps why they organize such grand family gatherings at Thanksgiving, or other holidays.

Come to think of it, that’s another aspect of American life I find perplexing. What is this great need to have “the family” constantly around?

After all, as the saying goes – “You can’t choose your family……”

Perhaps we British are antisocial, after all.

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5 Replies to “It’s A Culture Thing”

  1. Ha, I knew if I read long enough, there would be something I don’t agree with you! Those people on front of their houses must be the case in the old neighborhoods for nothing like that exists anymore in the newer ones and especially in the west. This to me has created more inward looking communities whose members hardly know what’s happening in and around them. The common experience of people walking on sidewalks, getting together in a neighborhood park or exchanging friendly hellos to passers bye while sitting on the front porch can now be mainly found in syrupy and nostalgic plays only and obviously in your burgh. Houses have become compounds resembling circled wagons and you enter into them at your own risk. Modern city planning sucks big time!

  2. Pekka – Aha! At last we can fight! I’m not sure where you’re living, but I guess the reference to “in the west” means somewhere around that place called California? It’s hardly America, is it? I mean “real America”. Seriously, I agree with you that modern city planning, almost anywhere in the western hemisphere, stinks to high heaven. Certainly, that’s true of large towns in Britain. Here in the mid-West, houses are more spaced out (probably not for long, as more and more land gets grabbed for ethanol production) and a few picket fences (at least) would add to their charm. I know the “front porch thing” is about sociability, but it’s just not the British way. I often feel quite uncomfortable walking down the street with a dozen pairs of eyes following my every step. But then, I’ve always been an anti-social bastard!

  3. I am lucky enough to live in a gorgeous part of France, have 16 acres of land, no neighbours BUT i still have fences and will plant some hedging soon!!!
    Perhaps this is a truly odd british kind of thing?

  4. I was born in the wrong country obviously. California drove me insane because it’s illegal to build a fence (in the front yard) in most places. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to sit out front, I’d have 20 foot high stone walls if I could.

    It isn’t that we are a sociable people, it’s that we feel it’s our imperative to spy on our neighbors and dictate to everyone about how they should live. There was a case in Las Vegas last year where a man sued his neighbor for having a carpeted walk in her backyard. It was there because her dog is blind and used it to navigate but this man decided it was “unsightly” and not allowed. Mind you this was a backyard surrounded by a 6 foot high solid fence. Try that with me and he’d have been peeking over the fence at my nekkid bum the first time, and my loaded shotgun the 2nd.

  5. AP – of course, it could be a remnant of Empire, staking out our boundaries and gloating over how much land we’ve acquired, but I just think its our British reserve. Not antisocial – we just like to keep ourselves to ourselves.

    NYM – I’ll bet you could find a good dollop of British ancestry in your family if you dig deep enough. We’re heavily into mooning, too – though mainly from football coach windows.

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