Sarah Lyall is an American, but she lives in Britain. She is also married to a Briton, and has worked as a journalist in Britain for several years, so she’s in a pretty position to write a book on what it is that makes the people living on that small island so unique. I was intrigued by the idea of this book after hearing the author interviewed on NPR, and I was not disappointed. I think what is most fascinating to me is that you’d think Americans and Britons would be so much more alike than we are, based on that common history and everything. From the beginning, Lyall does a great job of getting at the heart of what makes the average Briton tick and how that’s different, in general, from what makes us tick.
She discusses boarding school, the craziness of the government, the weather, socioeconomic class structures, the tabloid newspapers and fast food restaurants. Don’t know anything about cricket? She doesn’t really either, but she’ll let you in on what everyone else says. There is a fascinating chapter all about dental care and the sad reality behind the stereotype. She’s also got a chapter all about the sexual repression/fervor that exists under the surface (may be a bit much for some readers).
What I appreciated, beyond the witty tone and excellently balanced factual/anecdotal information, is that you can tell she likes her adopted home. She sees a lot that is good and helps us as non-British readers understand why sometimes things seem a little off to us. I certainly gained a greater appreciation for that stiff-upper-lip mentality — even if I’ll probably always prefer turning on my heat rather than sitting in the cold.
Rated: Moderate. There are a couple of uses of strong language and a chapter that discusses breasts, sex and homosexuality with some candor. If you skip the chapter called Naughty Boys and Rumpy Pumpy, it would be rated mild.