I was recently shopping for a greeting card. I am a firm believer in sending and receiving old-fashioned greeting cards by snail mail for almost every occasion, so I wanted a card for my British nephew who was about to take some important school exams.
I made a shocking discovery. Did you realize that in the consumer heaven that is the USA, it is practically impossible to find a card that simply says, “Good luck?”
However, it is very easy to find an extensive array of cards that say, “Congratulations,” “You Did It,” “Well Done,” and other effusive cards that basically say, “You did an awesome job.”
This to me was further proof that the celebration of success — small and great — is a very American characteristic, but it isn’t very traditionally British. It got me thinking again about the way people act both here and back in the land of my birth.
The good ol’ U.S. is full of positive and supportive attitudes and sentiments celebrating individual achievements, and people are proud to celebrate everything from being American (just look at the July 4th celebrations) to winning a football game. This needs no further comment from me as a naturalized American citizen — I am actually surprised that there isn’t a question about football in the citizenship test.
Back in England, people are very careful and sensitive about what would be considered “bragging.” When I met my larger-than-life American husband, he was like a whirlwind — he was more than appreciative and complimentary about any and all of my achievements and, even more surprising, he was proud and vocal about his own. While I now just think of this as healthy self-esteem, he quoted Muhammed Ali to me all those years ago: “It ain’t bragging if it’s true!”
Certainly when I was growing up in England in the 1970s and 1980s we were always instructed at home and in school to be self-deprecating, to put achievements down to luck and hard work and never just down to natural talent.
The British do not traditionally high five, cheer each other, hug a stranger or jump up and down at sporting events. Instead they are more likely to mutter, “Well done,” or “Jolly good show, old chap.”
As for saying that you are proud of someone — when I was a child, this was just not really the way it was. If I had spent a long time getting dressed up for an event, my grandmother, who was a strict woman, would simply say, “You’ll do.”
She would also explain to her friends when they admired my admission into a good university or some business success, “Oh, she really works hard.”
On the other hand, my husband is often exuberant when he tells me how good I look or how well I have done at something — and I appreciate his exaggerated kindness.
Likewise, I am careful to always praise my lovely 3-year-old granddaughter when she does something positive and worthwhile. We proudly display pictures and trophies of her dancing achievements, and we have little stickers in the bathroom to celebrate potty-training successes as well.
I believe the culture is changing in the U.K., and in my opinion, that is a good thing.
Although the British still don’t crown a homecoming king and queen and hug strangers at sporting events, they are increasingly more open about showing their emotions in public and celebrating success instead of simply acknowledging and underplaying it.
As I continue to enjoy my life here, I believe more and more that celebrating the success not only of children but of adults, too, is a wonderful part of the American culture. Everyone thrives on some encouragement, and we all need confirmation that what we are doing is worthwhile and that we are loved and appreciated.
The American tradition of awarding plaques and trophies to celebrate success used to strike me as weird, but I must be going native as I now have my professional qualifications and my Rotary awards displayed proudly on my office wall.
I leave you with an observation often attributed to one of my personal American heroes, Thomas Jefferson: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.