Thursday, 21 February 2008

Moving to England: Nipples at Nine and All That

When I visited the UK, keeping up with the news was not exactly top of my list. Indeed, there had been a coup somewhere, and HTB and I hadn't had a clue about it. But when I moved here, I found myself with LOTS of time on my hands. What to do with it?

Well, being a recently retired journalist, I took to reading the newspapers. And what a variety of newspapers the UK offers. Unlike the U.S., the local newspapers are either not very good or not very influential. The national dailies are the real players. For the more intellectual members of the population there are in no particular order: The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, and The Guardian. These are broadsheet newspapers, except the Times, Guardian, and, I think, Independent are now tabloid size during the week, the easier to read on the train. Each of these newspapers has a particular slant on the news, and a particular type of reader and that reader has a particular political bent usually. For example, the Daily Telegraph is also known as the Daily Torygraph because of its support of the Conservative party. The Guardian appeals to more left-wing readers who might usually be supporters of the Labour party. The Independent is an excellent newspaper, though boring at times, that appeals to Liberal Democrats and Labourites. The Times, now owned by Rupert Murdoch, is more middle of the road with middle class readers.

I was a bit taken aback by the decided non-neutrality of the news reporting and the habit of reporters putting themselves in the story. I was trained never to do that. The reporter is just that -- a reporter of events. He or she should not editorialize on the news. That belongs on the editorial page. But in the UK, the boundaries between editorializing and reporting are more blurred.

This is never more apparent than in the tabloids, or the red-tops. Red-top refers to the background colour of the name of the newspaper. Papers that fall into this category are the Sun (probably the original), the Express, and the News of the World. On Sundays, there's the Sunday Sport. Many of these feature pictures of topless women. Not all tabloids are red-tops though. Like the Daily Mail. What they all seem to have in common, though, is a reactionary bent and ability to stir things up. You'll see headlines like "Children of Working Mothers More Likely to Fail in School" in these papers. Or "Love Cheat David Beckham Caught Texting Lover." The latest celebrity scandal will feature heavily.

As much as the broad sheets may hate to admit it, these tabloids have a great deal of influence on the news that people read or want to read.

So I would read a different newspaper every day. I couldn't be pigeonholed by my reading choices because I read everything back then. I also read some of the weekly "ladies" magazines. These also have a wide range of titles, from The Lady to Bella to Chat. The Lady usually includes classifieds advertising for lady companions in the old-fashioned sense. Bella, Chat and the rest have stories about women who marry their stepsons or daughter's boyfriends, women who were married to men who beat them, etc.

I would watch TV too. Back then there were four channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, and Channel 4. Channel 4 had a racy reputation of producing programs that were a bit risque. The BBC then and now had the reputation of producing good costume dramas. ITV was the home of the much-loved and much-watched Coronation Street, a soap opera set in Manchester that began many moons ago. I would try to watch it, but it just wasn't to my taste.

Before I moved to the UK, I took to watching old British sitcoms on the Arts & Entertainment channel. These included the classic Fawlty Towers, something called Butterflies, To the Manor Born, Keeping Up Appearances, and Are You Being Served? Too bad they didn't have Only Fools and Horses and Rising Damp, two of the best British comedy programs ever. Anyway, I watched these thinking they would give me an insight into the British people. But just as no Americans are like the characters on Dallas, so no British are like those on Fawlty Towers.

These characters are caricatures, not real people, and it would be a mistake on both sides of the pond to assume otherwise.

Daytime TV had the usual chat shows like This Morning with Richard and Judy, a married couple who somehow defy the odds. She is Mrs. Frump personified. He is Peter Pan, and her toy boy as he is eight years younger. I was quite amused by the people who managed to make a career in TV in the UK. Many news reporters were so ugly that there's no way any U.S. network would have taken them on. That's a shame because they are some of the best TV reporters I've even seen. It was such a relief to get away from the blow-dried Barbies and Kens on U.S. news programs. The UK news had meat and issues and, most important, time. Yes, time. No ads barging in. No 21 minutes to fit all the news, sport and weather. Time to actually give a perspective on an issue.

I soon discovered an interesting phenomenon that I dubbed "Nipples at Nine." Nine p.m. is the "watershed," that is, the time after which it is deemed acceptable to show certain parts of the anatomy and use certain words. A woman named Mary Whitehouse was responsible for this, I believe. She rallied for moral standards on TV. Still, her influence must have been waning. I was amazed by the amount of nudity allowed on TV. No way would that be allowed on U.S. network TV. On the other hand, there was a refreshing lack of violence on UK TV.

When the wedding was over, I had a big slump. Nothing to look forward to. So I took to watching Oprah in the afternoons. This was before Oprah had discovered her conscience and influence. She still had people on who screamed at each other. Oh, I would cry and cry at the predicaments of these people. I should have been doing other things but I wanted and needed to hear the American accents. Over the next couple of years several U.S. imports would make their way to the UK. ER and Friends were among the first. My hazy, sleep-deprived, new mother mind would come to life during ER. I would never go out on Friday nights in case I missed Friends.

I felt like I had the best of both worlds because I got to watch Pride and Prejudice and other costume dramas as well. When our daughter was a baby our Saturday night treat was a program called Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, an inane game show that only the British could produce.

I was quite resistant to British culture at first. But slowly, ever so slowly, it was wheedling its way into my life and heart.

What should I write about next? Driving lessons? Childbirth in the UK? How and what I did to make myself feel more at home? You decide. Let me know and I will write about it.


Annie said...

You are really inspiring me to do my own 'compare and contrast' post - and I will if I can figure out a way to do it without it looking like I'm comparing US life unfavourably - which considering how much I miss from home, I'm afraid it might come off that way.

A thorough news program is something I do not get here - unless it's happening in America, or involving Americans, it doesn't make it on tv. The recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto was largely reported in the context of how the Presidential Candidates responded to it - which I understand is important for the US voters to appreciate - but how about we get some facts and details in an organized manner first?

Annie said...

Oh - please write about your driving lessons! I was flabbergasted at my 'test' here in the states (which I am mortified to say I still managed to fail first time!!!)

Kaycie said...

Something I'm really interested in is how you adjusted to the shopping (for food and household items). We had a little suite, so I did a bit of shopping while we were there and I really enjoyed that. But, I was shopping for two, and it was a novelty. I remember thinking that shopping for five would not have been quite so pleasant.

softinthehead said...

I want to hear about everything but how you made yourself at home sounds interesting. I too have done the reverse with moving originally to the States although ending up in Canada. It is strange the things you miss, not the obvious at all. When I first arrived everyone "loved" my accent, eventually nobody mentioned it, is this globalization or have I succumbed? I like to think it is the former. Keep in coming, it is fascinating.

softinthehead said...

I want to hear about everything but how you made yourself at home sounds interesting. I too have done the reverse with moving originally to the States although ending up in Canada. It is strange the things you miss, not the obvious at all. When I first arrived everyone "loved" my accent, eventually nobody mentioned it, is this globalization or have I succumbed? I like to think it is the former. Keep it coming, it is fascinating.

ChrisB said...

I think a comparison on driving lessons would be most amusing because conditions on UK roads are so different to the big cities and freeways in the states!

jenny said...

driving lessons would be interesting to know-- geting adjusted to driving on the other side of the road and the other side of the car! And seeing as how I am pregnant, I'd be curious to know about childbirth. How was it different? COuld it have been THAT different from the states?

Flowerpot said...

fascinating stuff wakeup - mroe please. Particularly the driving lessons!

-Ann said...

Driving lessons. I'll be interested to hear about that. I may be writing a summary of my observations on differences in driving between Ireland and the US.

And my number 1 guilty pleasure in life is Pick Me Up, which is one of those trashy weekly women's magazines. It's full of "it happened to me" type stories from regular people - no celebrity crap. And it has great puzzles. (Although the naked guy they put on the puzzle pages creeps Peter out.)

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

OK, I'll start with the driving lessons, then move on to the childbirth then the settling in.

Aoj & The Lurchers said...

What you did to make you feel at home please!

Aoj & The Lurchers said...

Oops! Should have read all the replies first!!

Kelsey said...

oh write about them have to! i just stumbled on this accidentally and love it!

jenny said...

Hey sweetie-- I have an award for you! Come and get it! :o)

Rosie said...

I'm adding my vote to the 'what you did to settle in' camp! brilliant post by the way. Do include how the political system compares when you can.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

aoj: I'll get to that one in due course because it's sort of the most important.

kelsey: Welcome! I will write about all of them. Thanks for visiting.

Jenny: Thank you very much for the award. I'm way behind on acknowledging them.

rosie: I don't know if I'm really qualified to write about the two political systems, but I shall try.