A question of scale
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Date: 13 July, 2012
'At the risk of stating the obvious, the UK has an extremely long recorded history, and the US has an awful lot of land.'
Helen Angove is back in the UK for a holiday which gets her
thinking about size
"The difference between America and England is that Americans think that 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way." Earle Hitchner.
We're back in the UK performing our biennial duty of making sure that the grandchildren don't forget what their grandparents look like, and, as always, I find myself musing on the differences between the US and the UK.
And, as implied by the quote above, I have come to the conclusion that it mostly comes down to a matter of scale.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the UK has an extremely long recorded history, and the US has an awful lot of land.
Some of the differences between the two countries are only too obviously to do with scale. The UK feels small and cramped to me now - in British cities the streets are narrower, and the buildings closer together.
Our British wilderness areas are smaller, and it is vanishingly rare to find yourself a viewpoint anywhere in the British Isles where you cannot see at least some farmland - and again, the roads are (much) narrower!
On the other hand, America's strip malls and suburban streets provide none of the solace of a British town, where even in apparently new housing estates you might suddenly happen across a cottage that dates back to the time when the area was an isolated village, rather than part of the sprawl of a contemporary conurbation.
I think that technological differences can also be directly related to scale. Why has the United States not yet followed the rest of the word and changed from Imperial to Metric? Why has it not yet introduced chip and PIN cards?
I can't help but believe that it's the difficulty and expense involved in making such changes over such a vast area.
But you'd be amazed how many of the less obvious differences between the two countries again come down to the matter of scale.
Take, for example, the American system of driving on the right, and the British system of driving on the left.
If you go back to Medieval times in England, travel was a risky business. If a stranger was approaching you on the road, you would want him approaching your sword hand rather than your left hand, in case you were suddenly called upon to defend yourself.
Left hand side
You would therefore keep strictly to the left hand side of the road.
In America, on the other hand, the 1700's onwards saw large amounts of agricultural product being moved long distances by wagons drawn by several pairs of horses.
The driver sat on the rearmost left hand horse so that his whip, in his right hand, could more easily control the team.
He'd want to be able to see anything passing him coming from the other direction, however, so he'd to keep it on his left - by hugging the right hand side of the road.
Smaller Britain did not move such large quantities of product over such distances, and the custom never evolved.
And there you have it. The British drive on the left because of their ancient history, and Americans on the right because of their space.
Helen Angove began her working life as an electrical engineer on the south coast of England, took a brief detour as a pricing analyst for an electricity supply company (which was as much fun as it sounds) and then veered off in a different direction altogether by becoming a priest in the Church of England.
Now, however, she is living with her husband and two children in Southern California and, against all the dictates of common sense, is exploring the possibility of writing as a viable career choice.
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