I have lived in San Rafael for 20 years, but by now you have probably gathered that I am British, simply by my accent. Ever since I arrived here, Americans have told me almost daily that they love my accent.
Apparently when Americans hear a British accent they assume the person is well-educated, sophisticated and refined. Conversely when the British hear an American accent, for the most part they associate it with a populace that is brash, crass and lacking class.
On a recent trip to England with my French husband and American-born daughter, we were questioned by friends about American culture. My daughter was asked whether she found Americans superficial and insincere, without class and refinement. Somewhat tactless, I thought, as my daughter has a distinct American accent and describes herself as half French, half British but wholly American. They ranted against Americans' propensity for airing their dirty laundry on the international stage, the sycophantic waiters who hover at your table, and shop clerks who wave you off with the ubiquitous "have a nice day!" They scoffed at the American tradition of standing in silence, hand over heart, for the "Star Spangled Banner."
Despite our disparate nationalities, all three of us defended our "Americanness," lauding stateside service compared to the British "like it or lump it" attitude, the mea culpa of the U.S. psyche, and particularly patriotism at public events.
We debated what constitutes class: is it a way to dress, a family history or a private education, does it belong exclusively to the landed gentry with inherited wealth? Personally I think not. True class is about altruism, a social conscience, being environmentally responsible, kind, inclusive and patriotic.
I love Britain. It will always be home. But I wonder if we Brits will lose our outdated perception of class as fast as we lost our Empire. Probably not. Not as long as Americans help perpetuate British pride and prejudice by indiscriminately praising everything British. It may take another century, or maybe another world war, for Britain to appreciate a true "class act" from across the pond.
With a Perspective — the very British — soon to become American, Kate Constantin.
Kate Constantin will become an American citizen later this year.