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National stereotypes

“Sorry, I’m being a nincompoop”

Ivana Miličević and Kris Marshall in Love Actually (2003)

Just last week, says Celia Walden in The Daily Telegraph, “I was explaining national stereotypes to my 11-year-old”. Probably best not to repeat any of these at school, I told her, but often “there’s more than a grain of truth” to them. Americans do tend to be loud, “or louder than us, at any rate”. Their portion sizes really are “grotesque”. Italians are “hilariously passionate and dramatic”; Parisians really can be “eye-wateringly rude”, though they are always massively affronted when this is pointed out.

Ask Americans what they think of us Brits and they will say we “drink tea and talk about the weather endlessly” (true); we have “terrible teeth” (also true, at least compared to them); we are “polite” (possibly outdated), and “super smart” (just the way we talk, it turns out). As someone who divides her time between London and LA, I’ve been “capitalising on the smart Brit stereotype” for years. The moment I hit border control I catch myself “poshing up my accent”, and it works. Watching a waiter’s face “lift with awe” when I say, “I’ll have the Caesar salad, please” is one of my “greatest daily pleasures”. But it’s the “quaint British archaisms” that really get them swooning. Only on US soil have I ever been known to use the phrases “fuddy-duddy” and “willy-nilly”. And if you ever cause offence, simply bare your “yellowing, misaligned teeth” in a smile and say, “Sorry, I’m being a nincompoop” – and watch them “close their eyes in ecstasy, one hand to their hearts”.