Thursday, January 29, 2015

Just How Loud Are Americans? A Brit Explains.

Just as the British are stereotyped as tea-drinking complainers with bad teeth, Americans are themselves often the focus of gross generalis(z)ations, specifically at the hands of their cousins across the Pond. One of these generalis(z)ations (among many) is the notion that Americans are loud and obnoxious—that they are incapable of opening their mouths without bringing themselves, inadvertently, into focus.

But just how much truth is there to this notion? Well, as with most stereotypes, it's all in the context. Indeed, one context often cited by my British compatriots is that of the American abroad—the one who asks for directions to Bucking-HAM Palace, or chats raucously to his buddy on the Underground. American tourists, insist some British locals, are the loudest of them all. 

However, my theory is that such vacationers are not particularly loud at all; they simply stand out in a place like England for the very reason I do in Indianapolis: their accent. There's a certain level of glamo(u)r that comes with hearing an American accent—the perceived brogue of Hollywood—hovering its way across the humble surroundings of a quaint British town. As members of a smaller nation characterized by an underdog spirit, many Brits are not so inclined to admit this—clutching instead to the idea that "Yanks are so in your face." 

But I think we British often mistake directness for loudness. An American in a British chip shop, for example, would be more likely to construct his or her order as "I'll get fish 'n' chips" than use the more face-saving British approach, "can I get fish 'n' chips, please?" In other words, Americans don't seek permission to purchase their food like the British.

However, on the subject of food, there is one contextual setting in which Americans—at least in my experience—tend to be quite a lot louder: restaurants. In the U.K., of course, it is customary to keep your restaurant chatter to a medium level and at a relaxed speed. In the U.S., the engines of dinner conversation are revved up to the max and the words come out at a hundred miles an hour. You can see a microcosm of this every time two Americans are out on a date. I've actually lost count of the number of times I've overheard a guy try to impress a girl by raising the volume of his voice while talking at her rapidly for two solid hours about his company's sales figures. She's not interviewing you. Calm down.

Those last two words—"calm down"—might also be directed at someone whose sports team has just lost a pivotal match. Perhaps this is not the best thing to say to NFL or basketball fans, many of whom support their team with all the vocal tenderness of a drill sergeant. That said, such supporters would do well to beat the volume level of the average (and sometimes above-average) British football supporter. In fact, if you yourself are British and are in the business of putting the words "loud" and "American" in the same sentence, stand on a football and NFL terrace in Britain and America respectively and get back to me with the results. I guarantee you that the British are louder. And drunker.

One other place where the Americans win, though, is the news studio. I'm not sure if it's the production quality or just the general delivery, but American news anchors and guests often sound like those two Americans on a date. Except this time it's not one person talking at the other, but two (or more) people talking at each other. All the while, the din of their voices swarms through your brain long after the TV has been switched offlike the unforgiving hum of a bustling casino. In Britain, of course, news readers project a slightly reserved—sometimes concernedtone, with newsroom debates taking the form of question-and-answer discourse rather than all-out war (note: there have been notable exceptions to this).

Of course, there are many specific scenarios in which the British and the Americans are louder than the other. But if we were to listen in on the mundane everyday conversation of the average American, we'd probably find no greater level of volume than with the average Brit. By "everyday conversation" I mean one that takes place with a spouse about whether he or she enjoyed that bowl of muesli, or with a friend regarding his or her day at work. That sort of thing. 

What I'm saying is that Americans are not just some group of noisy homo sapiens with no off button. They, like anyone else, are equipped with several buttons—each one representing different settings for different situations. They have social rules, just as we do, over when to raise one's voice and when to tone things down. For every loud restaurant chatter, there are hushed library whispers; for every supposed loud tourist there are quieter travelers like Rick Steves; and for every noisy news anchor there are... NPR news anchors. 

What I'm saying is that context is everything.
  
This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

8 comments:

Expat mum said...

Hmmm - I've written about this before but years ago, my husband and I were in a hotel lobby in Paris and decided to play "Guess the Nationality". What we noticed was that the Japanese guests were so quiet they almost looked like they were miming, the Brits and French you could hear once they got right up to you, and the Americans you could literally hear before they had even entered the hotel! No lie.
And yes, the news anchors and their guests are shocking. Despite the facts that they're all wearing mikes, they literally shout. When I switch from an American news show to the BBC World News I always have to turn the volume up.
The main difference between Americans and Brits though, is that they don't care that other people can hear them.

Elizabeth West said...

American here; I found that I did have to adjust my volume when traveling in the UK (or maybe I did it out of anxiety that I would come across as a loud American!). When I got home, people kept asking me to speak up. I think we're just so used to it that we don't notice.

I'd like to sit in an office in Britain and see if there is a difference there--my coworkers are frequently so loud I have to wear headphones to concentrate.

Anonymous said...

As an American who has lived abroad for almost 10 years, I agree that Americans are very loud. Especially tourists. You can always spot Americans a mile away. Rather, you can hear them from a mile away! And yes, they don't care that other people can hear them. It's almost as if they WANT everyone to know their business.

Anonymous said...

American here too; I just returned home from a three week trip to Italy. I do agree that Americans are loud and that you can hear an American tourist a mile away, but I will also say that I heard many an Italian, Japanese and Russian tourist who rivaled the Americans in volume. The big difference I saw in American tourists was in their attire. Baseball hats and bright colored Nike athletic shoes screamed American. As an American tourist, I went out of my way to blend in, and was more than happy to do it.

Anonymous said...

As an American living in Britain for 5 years now, Brits are much louder. So loud I have to close my windows on a lovely day, because they feel the need to practically yell at each other when they talk. Not all of them are like this of course, but it's a big contrast when I visit home and everyone talks at a very level volume, then I come back here and everyone is shouting at each other, yelling, and talking loud enough I can hear them through the walls. So, the stereotype confuses me. I think, personally, we enunciate a lot better, and that makes us appear louder.

Anonymous said...

now that is a dam right lie Anonymous AND YOU KNOW THIS am I shouting enough NOW

Kate W. said...

Anonymous isn't telling lies. In many regions of the UK there are accents far more difficult to understand than those of regions in the US. Furthermore, I have been to UK several times and stayed for weeks at a time. Truth is Brits can be just as loud if not louder than Americans. It really is about context as the writer of the article put it.

Gottfried said...

As a none American I only feel sorry for the lack of awareness of Americans. Their strong urge to be seen and heard by everyone around can only be found by looking into a personality, who has the urge to so.

It is almost like those little dogs you hear barking once they get the chance to tell the world they do exist... but they shut up when the big dog is hanging around.
To be loud is a question of personality not nationality...mostly people who think they are not be seen, if they maintain a more moderate volume in their conversation.
If you are happy and satisfied within your self you don't need the world to listen to you and confirm you like a child who is yelling for moms atteention and confirmation.

I live in the US for a couple years now and keep watching that habit for a while now.
Everyone wants to be special and a star....how petty I feel about that.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...