As I approach the end of my stay in England, I'm coming to some very broad generalizations about the differences between countries and cultures.
Language and Culture
We hear so often that the world is shrinking and that societies and cultures are becoming homogenous. And yet I'm struck by the differences between Britons and North Americans. As I occasionally struggle to understand their accents and to use the correct words (aubergine not eggplant, petrol not gas, toilet not washroom), I'm not even sure we speak the same language.
'Mamma Mia' is a hit movie in England as well as Canada, and Coca Cola is available worldwide, but there are so many distinctions.
North Americans have a sporty casual dress style. Clothes are somewhat tailored, and we wear a lot of synthetic fabrics. English women favour cotton and linen and softer, more feminine clothes.
British comedy is clever and self deprecating. It relies on verbal jokes rather than slapstick. It's intelligent humour but often mocking and it relies on puns and word jokes. For instance, I can't imagine Canadians ever labelling an ATM bank machine a 'hole in the wall'.
Political media coverage appears to be more about issues than personalities with in-depth coverage rather than 30-second sound bites. The Times and the Telegraph are extremely well written, and the journalists aren't afraid to use words of more than one syllable. And, as national papers, they cover bigger issues.
Don't get me wrong. Not all British people are intellectuals. There are football fanatics and lager louts. But they do appear to maintain somewhat higher standards and don't appear to have chosen to follow the lowest common denominator. Is it the remains of a hierarchical class system? Is that bad?
England is such an old country. Both Fosdyke and Sigglesthorne were listed in the Domesday Book so they date back to the early 11th century. Stonehenge and Old Sarum are signs of an even more ancient past. There is a sense of history - a sense of place and of being part of a continuum - that isn't present in white North American society.
England is also a very small country with a very large population. The network of footpaths and the man-made environment of the Fens emphasize the human impact on the environment and again tie in to a sense of history.
In Canada, we have so much space that we only label and identify outstanding geographical features. So the Rockies and the Badlands and the Okanagan Valley are labelled, but we don't label each patch of hills as they do in England (the Lincolnshire and the Yorkshire Wolds). I'm not sure we'd even call them hills in Canada as they are very gentle, rolling hills. But in England geography, history, and habitation are intertwined, and the Wolds are still a more isolated and less populated part of the country.
I'll end by mentioning one of the great advantages of England's smaller size and denser population. I went for a walk today inland along the River Welland. I passed fields of cabbages (they become more attractive with every passing field - the veining in the cabbage leaves is distinctive!), passed two farms, and walked through a field of sheep. It was very rural and apparently off the beaten track. However, after an hour-long walk, I arrived at the community of Surfleet Seas End and a riverside pub called The Ship, which serves very good meals and drinks. What a very civilized hike!