I wear the scarlet ‘A’; I am an American in St Andrews. Being an American in St Andrews is like being Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. I too walk around a small town with a scarlet letter attached to my person. Though my ‘A’ is not literal like Prynne’s, it is displayed every time I speak and interact with others in the Bubble. Like Prynne as well, I mostly blame the society within which I live as to why I feel a genuine anxiety about the ‘A’ I possess.
It is all too easy to blame the stereotypes that exist within St Andrews. Maybe it’s me, but there is a perception in St Andrews that being American and being incredibly stupid are intrinsically connected. There have been far too many times when I have told a story about the misdeeds and/or academic performance of a particular person and the first question my interlocutor asks me is: are they American? There is a sense that Americans do not know how to function socially or academically. These types of stereotypes help nobody. Just like that Dara O’ Briain sketch where he likens national stereotypes to adjectives being pulled out of a hat, it is completely correct that there should not be such preconceived notions concerning Americans as a whole.
There is a reason why most Americans in St Andrews are different, and it is not because they are academically and socially inept. Rather, it is because we have different cultural and educational backgrounds that have given us different impressions of how the world works. As a child I watched a television programme called ‘Gullah Gullah Island,’ which featured a large yellow frog, and it made an impression on me that no other childhood programme did. Most Americans will know of ‘Gullah Gullah Island,’ and the impact that it had on their childhoods. I’m sure it was immense. However, when I say this to Brits, they are confused as to why there is a yellow frog and why it would feature in a television programme. Equally, I am confused by Postman Pat, and do not understand when Brits hum the theme song. At school, I did not take A-Levels, nor did I take GCSEs; rather, I took Advanced Placement courses and had to take the dreaded SAT Test. This makes us different, both educationally and socially. It should not, however, presuppose an idiocy on my behalf because I have not done things that Brits or Europeans have done. Politics is another aspect which becomes irreconcilably tangled; it becomes reticulated in ways it shouldn’t. America might have voted in George W. Bush (twice), but a large minority voted for the other guy, just like in most free elections. America has great poets and artists and thinkers just like anywhere else —and is that an iPhone in your pocket?
So Americans are different, I do not deny this. But how different are we, actually? There are many cultural similarities: the English language, the Special Relationship, films and television programmes. Need I even mention the immense mutual regard both sides of the pond for programmes such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Friends? Many of us knows the casts, and most of us can quote scenes and even lines from these shows. Educationally, why can we not look upon the fact that we all go to —and were all accepted to— the same University, which despite the price differences has universal academic standards for all nationalities? Ultimately, I think it is time to ignore the differences that make the British and American identities unique; differences that may lead, unjustly, to the perception that Americans are ignorant and dumb. Instead, I think it is time that, through the acceptance of cultural and educational similarities, we embrace an appreciation of the differences that make us unique, leading to an outcome which places Americans, North Americans, Europeans, South Americans, Asians, Africans and Australians on a level playing field. After all, whether American or European or otherwise, we’re all looking for a 2:1 in the end.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures