Monday, 21 March 2011

US vs UK

My husband and I enjoy a good debate, about anything really. From whether to butter toast when it's still hot (I'm for, he's against) to the validity of GM food as a solution to world hunger (he's for, I'm against).

The debates can get quite heated because we are diametrically opposed, politically speaking, and it often ends in a draw, with both of us agreeing to disagree. We're respectful of each other's views. For example, I would describe myself as a feminist; Mike is respectful of my feminism because, as he says, he doesn't know what it's like to be a woman. Mike describes himself as a Royalist. I'm respectful of that because I don't know what it's like to be British.

It's not that I'm against British royalty per se. It's just that I don't have a category to fully understand what it is. Not quite celebrity, not quite government. A GMO - Glamorous Monarchic Organisation. In fact, before I moved to England some 15 years ago I only had two images in my head of the British royal family: Charles and Diana on their wedding day and the cartoon image of King George III from the Schoolhouse Rock series.

Fair to say, it wasn't a well-rounded political view point.

I was thinking about this last night while I ironed Mike's good shirt and dug out his clean shooting tweeds. As part of the Estate team, he will be meeting HRH Princess Anne this morning. Her Royal Highness is our visiting dignitary.

If you're reading this and you are an American, you are probably thinking 'Which one is that?' Princess Anne is the Queen's daughter. You might know her as an Olympic Event rider. She wears her hair in a bun. Her daughter Zara is the other British royal wedding scheduled this year. That's all I knew about the Princess Royal. I had to look her up on Wikipedia.

Mike is quietly looking forward to meeting Princess Anne. I'm not a royalist. I think more like Justin Halpern's dad, that it's just one more day I can't wear sweatpants. I can't let the chickens free range either, and I can't go stalking. Secret service don't like to hear rifle shots in the nearby woods.

I shouldn't be so flippant. It's an honor for Mike. Last July, we received an invitation to attend HM The Queen's Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, and we were two of a handful of people presented to Her Majesty. I stood in the middle of Buckingham Palace lawn, in a borrowed hat, having a discussion about grey partridge and labradors with the Queen of England. It was a huge honor though, let's face it, Mike was the welcome guest, I was totally the 'plus one' on that invitation.

The experience reformed my view of royalty. The Queen was the most dignified person I have ever met. She was also educated and witty - she even made a gamekeeping joke. She is obviously really good at her job. That is not a job I would like to do. I'm not a people person, and the thought of spending every day of my life fulfilling social obligations with no hope of retirement would give me apoplexy. I have a lot of respect for the Queen.

So, as I was writing this post, I heard Princess Anne's helicopter coming in to land, in the field just across from our cottage. I put on a clean(ish) coat, went out, and stood to wave to her alongside my neighbors (all six of us). The Princess Royal was just a tiny figure in a white coat.

Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely bit of cultural theatre to watch but I'm not a convert to Monarchy and the associated class system.

I was reading the itinerary for today's visit (I found the puppy chewing on it) and saw that the Princess and her lady-in-waiting were scheduled to have lunch in one room, Lord and Lady were having lunch in a different room, and the Lord Lieutenant (a monarch's personal representative when visiting a county) was having her lunch in a third room. All at the same time. I asked Mike why they weren't all having lunch together. "Protocol I suppose", said Mike. Is the class system so strict that royals can't share a meal with aristocrats, who in turn won't deign to share their table with a civil servant?

Lady S stopped by our cottage yesterday. She wanted Mike to find her some new hens for her garden. On her way out, she took three boxes of eggs and said 'Oh Mike, I haven't got any money for these.' and left. Mike accepts this as a tithe levied by the estate. I see it as taxation without representation. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, too.

I won't see Mike until after he's met the Princess Royal. I hope it goes well. I have to get on and dig the new vegetable patch now. As the princess flies over the house, she may catch a glimpse of a lone peasant working the soil, but thinking revolutionary thoughts.


Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

The cultural differences are fascinating. I imagine that I, as a New Englander, would, like you, find challenges in the cross-over!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Not being raised steeped is such a well-defined class system, I think it's easy and natural for us Americans to chafe against its protocols and mores. I know I would.

My brain comes to the same conclusion as my gut. It seems completely unreasonable for an entire class of people to hold social dominion simply by virtue of their birth. If you like the idea of a meritocracy, you can't support aristocracy.

So why, then, do I think it's so cool that you met the queen?! And talked to her about gamekeeping! And she made a joke!

Maybe it's because I have such a good opinion of your queen. She has always seemed like a dedicated public servant to me. But maybe it's because it's human to be wowed by prominent people, no matter the provenance of their prominence.

gardeneralke said...

What a great post!
I'm also not really able to "get" the kingdom and royalty idea, as I was raised in a socialist country (East Germany)
You really hit the spot there on the respectful way of not getting it. I love your blog and the people and dogs featuring!
Thank you!

Paula said...

All I can think of is Michael Palin yelling, "I'm being repressed! I'm being repressed!"

Toast should be buttered while hot, and GMO's are not the answer to feeding the world because if Monsanto has their way, they'll produce all the seed and we'll all have to buy from them and that is a tune to which I do not want to dance. I'm not counting GMO animals, which I REALLY don't like. Besides which, as a games keeper and someone who is familiar with natural animal populations and the whole balance of nature thing, he should know that feeding the entire world is just something we don't want to do. There are too many people on the planet as it is.

And Lady S's behavior? It's not exactly stealing because you were aware of her taking the eggs, but still; it's almost like a protection racket, except you don't need protection. Well, actually you do. You need protection from egg-stealing aristocrats.

Hazel said...

Well, the first Brit to comment...

I'm with Paula and you on toast and GM as a world hunger solution. Proper storage of the crops the developing world does produce would be more effective, but not as profitable for Mr Monsanto et al.

I have mixed feelings about the monarchy. In theory it is ridiculous that birth puts people in such an elevated position. I believe in a democratic society. But. I love the pomp and ceremony, the horse-drawn coaches, the tradition; I'm not sure if I want an England without Changing of the Guard.

Lady S is taking advantage. I guess the aristocracy is like any division of society, with a varying sense of morality.

Maria said...

Can I be the first half-Brit to comment? half Brit half Spanish, brought up in Spain until I came over here at age 18 and somehow find myself still here 10 years later...

Anyhoo. That bit over, can I say, in our household you could call it Raised Not in the UK v Raised in the UK. My boyfriend and I also agree to disagree over monarchy. I don't agree with the class system, and I don't think it fair that the monarchy be supported by our taxes. He thinks that the UK wouldn't function as well without monarchy.

I also compared UK monarchy unfavourably to the Spanish monarchy, who are much more... discreet. i.e. you don't really see or hear about them much. Depending how you look at it that means they're not much value for money, but it's what I grew up with.
However! having said all that I understand the Queen is good at what she does, as you have highlighted Jen, and I respect that :o) (I'm not a massive people person either..).

as for the eggs... that would make me seethe with frustration I'm afraid.

Kate said...

I'm with Mike on the toast, you on the GMO issue. Also, right there with you on the Chuck and Di, plus Schoolhouse Rock monarchy image. Have you shown Mike the Schoolhouse Rock clips? I think all your Brit readers should at least check out some of the history segments. But then I would say that; they're bedrock pieces of my childhood.

So what was the queen's joke. I assume it's clean enough to repeat for a general audience. Hope the visit of the VD went well.

Kerry said...

This is a brilliantly written post. You should really consider writing a book. Although I can see how the blog format allows you to cover a lot of different themes.
I can't understand the whole lunching in separate rooms thing. Just this morning I was watching the news and they showed Barry Bonds (baseball player) getting into his car and someone opened the door for him and I thought "who the hell can't open their own car door?!" so I reckon I would be anti-monarchy.
Oh- and I know a little about Princess Anne from watching Top Gear. Apparently she used to drive a Reliant Scimitar.

Sara said...

Keeping a detached, anthropological perspective on things is the only way I could tolerate a "Lady" stealing my eggs. An overdeveloped sense of entitlement I keep saying. She sounds like a real...piece of work.

However, I love how you and Mike respect each other's viewpoints, e.g., he's not a woman and you're not English. IMO, royalty are cool, so long as they hold no real power. The Queen supposedly repays the royals' salaries back from her personal accounts and with all the land they own that they let the public use, people they make happy (feel special), tourism/public interest they attract and the innumerable, perfunctory social obligations they withstand...may as well let them stay until they've run their course. What the future holds for them is another question, what with all those toiling field peasants and their revolutionary thoughts and all. Is that what you've been knitting, Mme Defarge?

Kate said...

Forgot to say, about the eggs: Can you just knock the value of the eggs off the next rent payment? That's what I'd do. And I'd probably have said something to that effect right when she took them. But then I'm an uppity American.

Anonymous said...

just for balance - not all Brits support the royal family and associated class system. we simply can't afford them

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Another great post

I'm english (not british) and I spend a bit of time in the US. Looking around new england I saw a class system in action, just signposted differently from the english edition.

The sense of entitlement that the english aristo has is something to behold, along with their incredible ability to distain money when they owe it.

For the record: in favor of the royal family - as long as we're keeping the revenue from all their activities and they are paying tax.

Jennifer Montero said...

Thanks to everyone for all the comments and different perspectives. I love hearing opinions from Brits, English, half-Brits, other Europeans, and uppity Americans like myself.

Sara- Mme DeFarge is currently knitting a tea cosy in the shape of a cottage. Not very revolutionary, but, now I think I'm going to embroider 'Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death' above its little door.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - Queen's joke: I asked her if it was a wild partridge shoot and she said yes, although she puts down a few red partridge to distract any greedy guns. Probably only funny to a gamekeeper.

Though I forgot to mention that, when presenting Mike to the Queen, her attendant said "This Is MIke..blah blah..he was KILLED in an accident last year..." HM looked at Mike who said "I'm feeling much better now Ma'am" and she responded with a wry smile at the 'save'.