Thursday, October 30, 2008

Weighty Americans

posted by Brit

Apparently there's some sort of election looming, so America is much on our television screens. Simon Schama has a somewhat lopsided and smug but deepish history going on, and Stephen Fry has a somewhat lopsided nose and a snug but shallowish Sunday night travelogue. (Shallow Fry for an hour? There's a joke in there somewhere - I'm sure Ian Russell could do something with it. Find it yourselves, please. )

Fry's programme ostensibly aims to capture the true America behind the myths and the cliches and the prejudices. People are always trying to do this. But what we mostly see is a lot of Stephen Fry 'gamely trying his hand' at things for which he is physically and mentally unsuited. It's enjoyable enough if you happen to like the company of Fry, which I mostly do. His only significant insight though was: "Whatever you try to say about America, the opposite is also true." This is correct, and explains why everyone can always find something to fall in love with in the States. Unfortunately, the opposite is of course also true, so it also means that anti-Americans can always find something to hate and America can never win. (For example, liberal Europeans sneer at America's Bible-bashing conservatism and sexual prudishness; whereas Islamic fundamentalists conversely hate it because it's all porn movies and Baywatch).

Neither Fry nor Schama, however, has thus far managed to make one particular stunning observation about Americans. It is one which has struck me on many occasion, and it is: their extraordinary interest in, and ability to estimate, weight in pounds. Show an American a truck, or an Agnostic Bus, or the Conservative Party front bench, and he will immediately tell you that "it weighs about 2,200 pounds" or whatever. American crimewatch appeals will state that the "suspect had a shaved head and weighed 190 pounds", whereas British ones would surely only mention "medium build". Similarly, at any kind of American zoo, farm or wildlife display, somebody will always ask the on-hand expert: "Scuse me ma'am. How much does that animal weigh?"

Nods and low whistles of appreciation will invariably greet the answer.


  1. 13 and a half Stone, now that would be a well built suspect, for a man. On the other hand, a women of that weight would be best placed in the Big Girl section. While in the past we tended to the Hundredweight for cattle.

  2. Although you once accused me of being a milkmaid on Nige's blog, i have to admit i'm really enjoying your posts, Brit.

  3. Me too - and I'd just like to add that whatever you try to say about Stephen Fry the opposite is also true.

  4. and me , Brit. The old weigh 'em up by their weight syndrome, comes from the Americans pragmatic side, manufacturers par excellence. Schama is wasting his talents with tellydocs, he could make an absolute fortune doing voice overs / audio books etc, as indeed has the velvet tongued Stephen.
    One of the (many) downsides of a lifetime in manufacturing is the, some would say disturbing, tendency to assess the world in terms of its dimension, mass and material content, confronted by Goethe my reaction would be 'five foot four, maybe four and a half, eleven stone two', not 'blimey, must ask him if Young Werther was really about himself'.

  5. 300 Pounds of (Heavenly) Joy! I can't see Howlin' Wolf singing in stones (though kilos might work).

    That Stephen Fry - I had him in the front of my taxi...

  6. When you say that you had him ian...........?

  7. One for the evolutionary psychologists, perhaps. There must be some reason for this strange proclivity. My guess is that it is random drift from Germany where apparently they like 'em precisely plump. A greater likelihood of surviving the winter, perhaps.

    Much the same could be true of the British eye for class and the French eye for whether the next chap has more money than you have. Both were pretty good ideas when the wrong answer could mean getting beaten up or having a bloke make off with your head.

    The Fry is not for me. Someone has put sugar in the oil which is not hot enough anyway. The USA surely offers a bit more than a few grannies. At least the Schama has plenty of salsa piquante.

  8. Thanks guys - much appreciated. I'm keeping it light for the weekend. Meatier material next week. Possibly.

    Good theories, malty and Mark.