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Perceptions from across the Pond

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This is my first effort for Blogcritics and like many a newbie before me it is much harder when you want not only to get it right the first time but to make a little bit of a mark as well.

So I thought long and hard about what I should choose as my subject. A book review? Tempting because that is my first love and ties in with my main internet business at www.seekabook.co.uk. What about technology? I know a bit about that but not perhaps enough to impress some of the plainly well-informed people who have already written. How about politics? Have David Cameron and Nick Clegg made it across the water or would a gigantic shrug be the only response to my writing about Coalition politics in the UK?

All too risky, so in the end I decided on a strategy which would serve to introduce me and at the same time identify some of the many tiny and not so tiny differences between life in the UK and the US.

Years ago, when I was still a practising lawyer, it was often said that trends in the States arrived in England five years later. Well these days, it’s more like five days. For example the latest Sky TV blockbuster Game of Thrones arrives here a day after it is first aired in the States. On the other hand cloud computing has been much slower to gain acceptance over here. Sure, we have Googlemail accounts as a backup to a PC-based email clien,t but there are still some serious concerns about security and data protection over here which are getting in the way.

Films (especially of the blockbuster variety) tend to get released at more or less the same time, presumably because of piracy worries, which, as a direct result of the Internet, are a worldwide phenomenon that affects music and now apparently e-books. We have the Kindle here (a bit belatedly) and the take-up has been strong, helped I am sure by more aggressive pricing in the UK in recent months. When I look at Amazon.com I am always surprised at how expensive e-books seem to be. Surely they should be a lot less pricey than paper and glue?

Over here music bands talk about the great challenge of “breaking into the States”. It has in fact been slim pickings since the glory days of the Beatles but more recently the success of Adele and others suggests the long drought may be over.

When it comes to books I have found it very hard to understand what is happening in the States. I am a big fan of Michael Connelly so it was no surprise to see his name on the Amazon list but most of the others (with the exception of sleeper hit Water for Elephants which I read when it came out five years ago) were names I knew nothing about. Stieg Larsson’s books arrived on page 4 and after him came Jane Eyre, hardly the cutting edge of current British fiction. My conclusion is that we are reading very different sorts of things in the two countries—which is a shame because there are some wonderful novels appearing over here. Interestingly when you look at Amazon.co.uk the books featured most prominently are often by American or international writers. It’s very different if you go into a book shop where more minority tastes are on offer. It may be the same in the States of course. Amazon can distort perceptions.

In politics things could not be more different. We have a parliamentary system, which means that the political party which secures more than half the 652 seats contested forms the government. Last May no party achieved this although the Conservatives were the largest single party with just over 300 seats. The end result was a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, their leader Nick Clegg becoming the Deputy Prime Minister to Conservative David Cameron’s PM. The rationale was that the country needed a strong government to reduce the budget deficit and avoid an Irish/Greek financial meltdown. So far the marriage has worked although there are currently fault lines developing over immigration and Clegg is perceived to be the most unpopular politician just about of all time. We have some local elections coming up in May so we shall see. Meanwhile your president has begun to embrace the idea of deficit reduction and it will be interesting to see how that works out. It’s hard to imagine how countries like ours can go on borrowing without something expensive breaking.

I am hugely aware that I have done little more than scud along the surface of a huge and complex matter. America itself is diverse and that makes any comparison a potentially meaningless generalisation. Still I had to start somewhere.

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About nicholas poole

  • Thanks for this. I very much like the idea of writing about the NHS and I have some recent experiences which will give it an edge, to say the least.

  • “Still I had to start somewhere.”

    Nicholas, I look forward to reading more of your observations from Blighty. As a British expat living in California, I for one will be an audience for your writings.

    Non-parochial viewpoints are always a healthy thing. One of our regular contributors, Kenn Jacobine, writes mainly about US politics from the perspective of an expat (he’s a teacher currently based in the Middle East). His opinions are not exactly mainstream and this results in some quite heated debates.

    If you inject a little controversy into your articles – particularly if you compare Britain favourably with the US, say with regard to its healthcare system 😉 – you’ll give folks something to sink their teeth into, and you will get comments.

    I find it perplexing that Clegg is so unpopular. As the deputy PM he’s not exactly got his hand on the tiller… although I recall that John Prescott wasn’t exactly the most beloved man in Britain when he held the position.

    It can’t just be the student fees thing (I was in Westminster in November and walked down Whitehall about half an hour before that particular demo got ugly). So then what?

    Cameron must be regarding the coalition as a stroke of political genius, since Clegg and the Lib Dems seem to be managing to draw most of the flak away from him.