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The first time I visited the US, I ran into trouble at immigration. Half the group I was travelling with decided to get drunk on the plane, which probably would've been fine with all the other passengers if it hadn't been for the unrelenting cackling and yelping and removal of trousers. I was fairly drunk too, incidentally, but only because I was so terrified of flying I'd decided to blot out the whole of reality by glugging myself into an inflight coma. From my slumbering perspective the flight was a warm 15-minute snooze. To the other passengers it must've felt like a 30-year sentence in baboon prison.
Upon arrival, we were identified as troublemakers and hauled off one-by-one for a comprehensive bothering. Instantly I realised my only hope of avoiding instant deportation was to behave like a minor royal – not an aloof, chilly posho, but a genial gosh-what-a-wonderful-country-you-have Hugh Grant-type, one who smiles a lot while using slightly formal language. I apologised profusely by saying, "I apologise profusely." The officer started out prickly – one of his opening gambits was, "You could be spending the night in jail, wiseguy", which simultaneously impressed and scared me – but several minutes of profuse apologies and crikey-I'm-sorry delivered in an embellished British accent appeared to disarm him, and I was released without being subjected to gunfire.
That's my recollection, anyway. Perhaps he just got bored with watching me grovel. But from that point on, my dial was set to 150% British for the duration. I said "Good day" to receptionists and "I beg your pardon" to waiters. At one point I think I even said "Toodle pip" to a cabbie. Incredibly, rather than calling me a dick, they said they loved my accent. The US was a magic country where strangers liked me on the strength of my voice alone, unlike cold anonymous London where, rather than break their stride, pedestrians would blankly step on your face if you were dying on the pavement, quietly tutting at the blood on their shoes.
On a subsequent trip I discovered mockney was just as useful, and deliberately roughed my accent down in gas stations or bars, saying "blimey" and "bloke" and "bleedin' 'ell", even if I was only asking the way to the toilet (sorry, "bog"). This was even more popular than my Little Lord Fauntleroy act. Thank God I can't do a Liverpudlian accent. I'd probably have adopted a Beatles persona in record shops.
But now, as a company with the word "British" in its name pisses apocalyptic quantities of oil into the ocean, and CEO Tony Hayward pops up on the news to make tactless statements in a British accent, anglophilia is shrivelling. Things must be bad when gimpy Cameron has to reassure us that BP wiping its arse on the Gulf of Mexico won't disturb the "special relationship" between the US and the UK. Of course it will.
Never mind that BP is an international company. Never mind that 39% of its shares are held in the US, that half its directors are American. It's got the word British in the title, and that'll do. It genuinely feels like our fault. Like you, I've never supervised the offshore drilling policy of a major oil company, but I can't help feeling responsible. It's like watching a news report in which someone with your surname has been caught having sex with a hollowed-out yam. The disgrace is shared, however irrationally.
And to be honest, the Americans are thus far admirably restrained about the whole thing. If a company called Texan Gloop belched a carpet of black gunk over Norfolk, we'd be surrounding the US embassy and burning sarcastic effigies of Boss Hogg within minutes. And that's just Norfolk: flat earth and windmills. Having vandalised Louisiana and laminated thousands of pelicans, the BP spill now threatens to disfigure the Miami coastline, corrupting its relentlessly cheery blue-and-yellow colour scheme with a sea of rainbow black. Congratulations, people of Britain. Even though, strictly speaking, it isn't your fault.
Clearly a rebrand is in order if we're to maintain any national pride whatsoever. Trouble is, BP's already had one: 10 years ago it changed its name from British Petroleum to BP following a merger with a US oil company. Since that's not enough to dissociate it from Britain, Britain itself will have to change its name. It'll still need to feel quintessentially British, mind. For the tourists, like. How about London Kingdom? Great Crikey? Yeoman Island? Hobbiton? Churchill-on-Sea?
Let's face it: to recoup our cultural value, it's either that or we all head over there and start cleaning the mess up ourselves, while muttering "blimey" and "gosh" and doing our best to be charming. If you've got a fly-drive holiday booked, start practising that Hugh Grant act now. Chances are you'll need it.
Source: Charlie Brooker @ The Guardian
(note to the confused: he's riffing off this teacup-storm)