Paltrow, Paris and God Save the Queen

Susan Scharfman

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Besides tinsel town’s voracious media, does anyone really care about what a Hollywood celebrity says and does? Well yes. Gossip is another form of entertainment. Gossip takes our attention off the horrendous Iraq war, embarrassing Administration and lazy inept congress. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton et al provide us with tasteless comic relief. Mel Gibson and Michael Richards distinguish themselves with racist and anti-Semitic outbursts. And Gwyneth Paltrow, in a state of denial responds to the uproar over her “slip of the tongue” remarks to the foreign press.

"I definitely did not say that I think the British are more intelligent and civilized than Americans. ” Oh my. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

Now I get disgustingly nationalistic when a fellow American maligns my country. I think to myself, if you don’t like it here leave. As with Madonna, apparently Gwyneth did just that, preferring to live in Great Britain with her British husband and children. That’s understandable. Ever the chameleon, Madonna has even taken on the accent. Well, that’s our Madonna. What tickles me is that these two highly talented and intelligent ladies have fallen for style over substance, which manifests as snobbery.

Sir Winston Churchill notwithstanding, Britons are known for their ability to talk eloquently at great length without saying much. Ever ask for directions on a London street? Ever listen to Tony Blair? Impressed with the accent, intimidated by their knowledge of history and issues in which Americans have little interest, Yanks often feel inferior to their European cousins. My grandfather was a British Music Hall song and dance man; ergo I’ve inherited an affinity for people and things English. That gives me the right to say the English can be damned annoying when they deliberately try to embarrass Americans with all that’s wrong with America. They have short memories when it comes to their own brutal and boorish behavior as a colonial power.

Mistaking the British for snobs, Americans sometimes forget there is a big difference between the English language and the American language, even as it is taught and spoken within all fifty states. Southerners don’t talk like folks from New York who don’t talk like folks from Fargo, North Dakota. British humour is different from American humor and it can be pretty raunchy. An Englishman can singularly finish off a bottle of wine before dinner, talk coherently into the night and woo the American listener with his polished delivery (and accent). They do not worry about having to get up early for work. A Wall Street friend of mine decided he’d had enough, and moved to London because the stress and long hours were a having a negative influence on his family.

Gwyneth Paltrow is right when she says, “People here (Europe) don’t talk about work and money. They talk about interesting things at dinner. ” What’s the first thing a stranger at a party says to you? Right. “What do you do for a living?” Or, “I’ve got the skinny on Mudville stock. ” Or, “what’d you pay for your house?”

I’m not justifying Paltrow’s snobbish sounding snub. There’s enough global hostility against Americans without having to hear it from our own expatriates. But for those of us who do not see ourselves as others see us, there’s an interesting centuries old anecdote from the French historian and author of “Democracy in America. ” It may surprise you as it did me.

“As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?” —Alexis de Tocqueville 1831


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