In its efforts to push back the frontiers of human knowledge, the Yale Daily News has asked me to be its house Englishman and offer my sporadic thoughts on what it is you crazy colonials are all about. So here goes.
First question: What on earth is “muffing a bunt”? It must be important because it was a headline in last week’s New York Times, the world’s most self-correcting newspaper (which indicates that it’s either very honest or very incompetent, or both). And I have to say that its grasp on British culture is perhaps not all it could be. Last week’s Times informed the world that the BBC is known to Brits as “Auntie.” What decade is this newspaper living in? And what do they do with all the news that isn’t fit to print? Sell it to the National Enquirer?
To be fair, you’ve made some real efforts to help me settle in. First, the architecture. In order to feel like a real university, Yale obviously felt it had to look like a real university, so it sent someone over to copy the style of Oxford and Cambridge. The result is a riot of buildings that seem to have been constructed from a set of giant Neo-Gothic college toy bricks. It’s like living in the backdrop of a Disney cartoon. Still, I’m grateful they didn’t send the architect to Manchester University, or we’d all be living in pseudo-late-Victorian red-brick. Think how depressing that would be.
Second, there are lots of people who ask me for money. This is entirely familiar from my time at Cambridge. It’s a bit of a hassle having to cross York Street all the time, but I’m getting used to it. At least here there’s less of a chance that the unshaven guy who wants my change is a grad student trying to fund his research project.
Third, the politics. As in Cambridge, accepted opinion seems to be that Bush is bad and America is not on the side of the angels. There are lots of “Dean for America” stickers in New Haven, and I expect if anybody to the left of Dean joins the 2004 Democratic Party race, there will be a lot of stickers supporting him (or her, in the unlikely event that Susan Sarandon joins in). I notice Joe Lieberman’s posters declare that his team is “on our way to the West Wing!” I knew the show was dropping in the ratings, but drafting Lieberman seems a bit desperate.
Actually, I’m thinking of declaring my own candidacy — nobody would notice another candidate. Ten, 11, what’s the difference? If the ballots are anything like the California recall, most of my votes will be intended for other people anyway. I’m going to start my campaign by saying that Bush tore up the Kyoto Treaty, and then I’ll leave my computer on standby for six hours. I’ll fit right in, and I can hardly be less of a Democrat than General if-only-Karl-Rove-had-returned-my-call Clark.
Having said that, other things are just designed to make me feel like a stranger in a strange land. Notably sport. One edition of the Times last week allotted fewer than 50 words to the Premiership, and that included the terse sentence “Glenn Hoddle has been dismissed as manager of Tottenham, which is 1-4-1.” Fifty words and they bother to give the dialing code?
And incidentally, why are football boots called “cleats”? The only time I’ve previously heard the word is in Tom Lehrer’s “The Masochism Tango” (“so go put on your cleats, and come and trample me”).
And the Americans themselves–well, you’re more or less what I’d been told to expect. That is, you are friendly, ingenuous, committed, hard-working and straight-forward, and totally unlike the English in many other important respects. You are clearly a competitive people, educated to do your best, and if some of you lack a certain insouciance in class that I might be used to from undergrad in England, at least that’s an indication you’re taking your work more seriously than I am.
I hadn’t realized, however, that ruthless discrimination still operates in America. Last week’s Yale Daily News quoted Steven Spielberg (admittedly secondhand) as determining to employ only homosexuals. That promises to make “Indiana Jones 4” interesting. Does he allow bisexuals to job-share?
You’ll no doubt be pleased to know that I find Yalies to be more attractive than average; the undergrads, however — who all look far too young to be here — seem to be bothered by a collective rash of unsuccessful facial hair, the like of which I haven’t seen in public since “Attack of the Clones” was released.
Two final things. First, all those people who said that women would throw themselves at me because of the accent were lying. Second, I’ve been here seven weeks, and I’ve had a cold, just like at Cambridge, so I’m feeling right at home. Thanks, guys.
Nick Baldock is a first year graduate student in the History Department.