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Herewith an English novelist and recent visitor to the United States, Malcolm Bradbury, offers his opinion of American women. One of the deepest traumas experienced by every Englishman who comes to America-and, these days, that's almost every Englishman-is that of encountering, for the first time, in quantity and in her own native habitat, the American woman.
Blind terror, a desire to learn judo, and a willingness to marry any girl who'll sit at home of nights and sew are some of the symptoms usually associated with this confrontation.
Another found American women fickle "You don't really know how well you're doing," he said. Others are likely to brood over an age-old mystery that Europeans have never really been able to solve. They will observe that, though they are, properly enough, fascinated by the American girlthey are disturbed to discover that she grows up into the American woman. On the one hand, you have the young American girl, trim, smart, apparently just unwrapped from Cellophane packing, looking as fresh as a Daisy Miller.
And on the other, you have the middle-aged American woman, with her shrieking voice and parchment skin, growing money-trees, doing plant-prayer, gossiping about her neighbors and scouring through genealogies for a regal connection. All these comments are, of course, classical symptoms of the cultural divide that still separates the two English-speaking peoples, and I propose to take this occasion, on the authority of several years' research, to try to clear up some of the confusions associated with English men and american women Anglo-American male-female relationship:.
A European visitor is English men and american women, in the early days of his visit, to forget this. Yet, of course, years of emancipation have given American womenfolk personalities, opinions, leisure, money, careers and all the other characteristics of male power. At the same time, male authority has been diminished, male spending power has been reduced, and all fathers have been symbolically slaughtered. Thus the female has a rare charismatic power.
I remember once taking a frightened, hasty walk through the New York offices of Vogue, a central shrine of American womanhood. All over the building, career girls sat at their desks, typing and correcting proofs, smart, svelte, each one wearing a hat. I realized afterward that the hats were like those skulls medieval philosophers kept in their studies; they were momento mori to remind them what they really were.
Every country has something that it particularly likes to spend money on. Thus, in Germany it is veal; in England it is dogs; in the United States it is the young American girl. Such girls are a form of conspicuous consumption, like Christmas trees outside office buildings. Because they are the products of such attention, young American girls can be very selective indeed about their standards, their clothese and their boy friends. In the Middle West, this selectivity is ritualized into something called rating dating; this means that a girl dates with men who bring her more and more prestige until finally, as with a thermometer, the mercury settles and she knows who she really is.
This is a form of arranged marriage, in fact, in which the girl herself does the arranging; it would be considered old-fashioned in Europe, where marriage is supposedly for love. This period of choosing is the most important period in any girl's life, and marriage is a necessary comedown. Thus all those middle-aged ladies who, fresh from scavenging through Europe, sit in the bars on ocean liners, tipping waiters and apparently grinding their diamonds between their teeth, are really looking sadly into their drinks and wishing they were girls again.
And thus it is that whenever you speak to some women's club-the Daughters of Benedict Arnold, or whatever it may be-on "Africa-Wither? It is, of course, simply politeness. But as an English friend of mine, with an American wife, put it to me behind some vine plants at a party, "The thing about American women is they don't understand what's meant by 'difficult. She'll get up in the morning and say, 'I've had this great idea; I'm going to have my legs plated with gold. I tell her I can't afford it; it's too difficult, and she says, 'But money is a means and not an end. The high expectations of the American women devolve particularly upon her menfolk, of whom the greatest courtesy is expected.
A man shows his interest in a girl by performing innumerable ritual politeness-opening car doors for her, carrying such small packages as she has English men and american women her, presenting her regularly with gifts, and the like. And so the foreigner is never quite sure whether Americans, generally, are being rude or not. I remember once a New York cabbie said to me, while I was waiting for him to open the taxi door and let me descend, "Whatsa matter, Mac, no legs?
As my English friend pointed out, "The thing about Americans is that they're so nice. But sometimes it sounds so like other peoples' being nasty that you have to be very careful indeed. Thus it is that the American woman who, at a party, analyzes your psychological make-up, questions all your standards, doubts your virility and accuses you of moral corruption-leaving you finally in a discarded heap by the wall-is not in any way trying to be rude. Quite the contrary: She is being very polite and social, because she is creating a relationship.
As an American femme fatale once said to me, "I always think hostility is so much more friendly than total indifference. The curious mixture of toughness and hospitality that has the Englishman rocking on his feet is characteristic. My English friend summed it up by saying, "They want you to know they're hospitable, but on the other hand, they don't want you to think you can take them for a English men and american women.
Hence Americans have to be very rude before they are actually being rude. So often they are simply being nice. The interesting problem is that of discovering how to know when they are really, actually being rude, personally rude, to you.
The trouble for an Englishman is that finding out means watching, questioning, prying-and that is, after all, very rude indeed. I have read Mr. Bradbury's article with English men and american women and dismay. My first impulse was to put on something frilly, retire to the kitchen and stop all mental processes, in order to avoid those accusations of rudeness and regain, in his eyes, my femininity.
But, on second thought, I cannot believe that a man, even an Englishman, really enjoys being admired by women with no taste. Bradbury doesn't believe it either: One of his most sympathetic characters turns out to be a young girl with spirit, intelligence and a graduate degree. So I have some hope Mr.
Bradbury will understand that I am not trying to pay him back foror discourage English tourism, or upset the NATO alliance or, worst of all, be unfeminine when I say that visiting Englishmen are no roses either. It isn't always easy to feel feminine and nonrude beside a man who wears slope-shouldered jackets nipped at the waist, speaks with an Oxonian lisp and says he's "tiddly" when he means he's drunk.
Of course, we realize that the fault is in the eye of the beholder, that some residue of our frontier tradition makes us feel the difference between men and women should be accentuated. Moreover, postwar Englishman are as tall and sturdy as their vitamin-fed American counterparts, and that's a blessing. It is difficult to feel feminine with a man who weighs less than you do and has smaller feet. But visiting Englishmen-especially those from, or pretending to be from, the upper classes-might bear in mind that the effete English prototype causes just as incredulous a reaction here as does the loud, cigar-smoking American in London.
A British general once said that, had Americans been the colonial power in India, they would have intermarried English men and american women disappeared within 50 years. It's probably true that our melting-pot culture has made us look upon adaptability as a virtue. That explains why, faced with a visitor who clings to his own customs with the same stubbornness that made him wear a dinner jacket in the jungle, we judge him rude.
In fact, Englishmen seem to be constantly complaining in a very genteel way that no one here knows how to queue properly, or that drinks have ice in them, or that hotel managers just won't lower room temperatures to a decent 60 degrees how did they ever survive the tropics? Englishmen also tend to import their highly developed class sense intact without considering that, though we are full of status consciousness ourselves, we like to be less obvious or more hypocritical about it.
We therefore resent the Englishman's assumption that a working-class background his or ours is a disadvantage in "society," that "no golf green is decent until it's been rolled for years," and that it's uproariously funny to call charwomen cleaning ladies. While I don't go along with Mr.
Bradbury's American informant who found hostility charming, I do think that the Englishman's horror of asking questions can make him seem uninterested to the point of rudeness. It's just possible that, English men and american women Mr.
Bradbury's bachelor friend asked his American girl a question now and then, she might not have married someone else. All right, so we have some tribal dating customs every country has peasants; ours have money ; and English men and american women talent for asking awkward questions "Aren't you glad you're not a first-class power?
The thing is, we mean well, and if we react badly to criticism it is only because our basic Anglophilia makes us take English criticism more to heart than any other. But if our affection for the British has withstood the burning of the White House, the sale of buses to Cuba, Richard Burton, and the Beatles, it's likely to withstand anything, including a fit of pique at being called rude. Return to the Books Home .English men and american women
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