Monday, June 3, 2013

When Did We Become British?

I have great admiration for our British cousins, so I was sincerely flattered when asked to speak at Oxford University. I of course accepted, and look forward with great anticipation to this fall, when I’ll visit England for the first time.

The seminar will concentrate on higher education and how it is evolving, but I’ll also be interested in doing a little snooping while I’m over there.

I’m going to see if I can find some clues as to why we here in America seem to be reverting to being a part of Britain once again.

Perhaps I’m overreacting, but notice, if you will, that at Wal-Mart stores (at least the ones around south Jersey) you are directed to enter and exit to your left, sort of like driving on the left side of the road as they do in England. But we keep to the right in this country and pass on the left. Don’t we?

I’m starting to notice this tendency in many other places, particularly at Wawa and my local post office, where people increasingly enter and exit using the left side of the double-door. It’s even happening in my church, where the right hand door is often left closed—that is, until I reach the exit. That’s when I go through the right side, which, in this country, is the right side.

I’ve even had (many) people hold the left hand door open for me as I enter a Wawa. Imagine how disappointed they are when I ignore their misguided courtesy and pull the right-hand door open for myself. (Well, somebody’s got to take a stand for American Independence!)

This disturbing, bogus/foreign trend has now reached the entertainment and news media—the two wannabe national style-setters. Movie and television scripts are now peppered with the British police phrases, “He went missing,” or “The child has gone missing.”

As a long-time devotee of British TV, I’m familiar with this syntax. As a long-time American police officer, I can tell you indisputably that that phraseology was never used in Philadelphia.

When I mentioned this to someone whom I heard use the phrase, “The child has gone missing,” she asked me incredulously, “Well, what did you say?”

I told her we said, “The child is missing.” And of course, the more sensible way of asking, “When did the child go missing?” would simply be, “When was the child last seen?”

The respect I have for our British forebears is second to none; I credit our American work ethic and civility to our English roots. In many ways, it’s sad to see both evaporating as our culture becomes more forcibly diversified.

We fought a successful war about 230 years ago to throw off the English yoke of foreign government, while keeping the basics of English common law and English manners. And of course, American English is not vastly different from the Queen’s English. I believe these things have been significant to our prominence in this world.

But our sense of propriety and decorum seems to be eroding. It’s going…going…and may soon be gone. And I’ll hate to see it go. When it does, it will not have gone missing, it will simply be missing from our social structure.

Now, I’d like to wrap this up, because I’m going to visit the loo.

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