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Friday, September 18, 2009

Their Stodgy Old Cuteness

I think it's probably pretty likely that, when most Americans think about English culture, if they ever do, the word "cute" wouldn't immediately leap to mind as an appropriate adjective to describe the British. We tend to think of them as stuffy, boring, uptight-- that's the overwhelming American stereotype (sorry, Sebby-Debs, but it's true). Our minds turn to pomp and pomposity. If we're old enough, we think about the Coronation. If we're not quite that old, we think of Charles and Diana's wedding. If we're younger still, we think of Diana's funeral and, any way you slice those memories and television broadcasts, the word cute is still pretty far afield from what we perceive is the English way.

As many of you know, I am a dedicated anglophile, and my condition as only worsened with age. I first suspected the English of being a cute culture when I began my love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. There, W. S. Gilbert created an adorable world of parliamentary faeiries, sailors who never swear (well, hardly ever), pirates who are duty-bound and weep when they hear someone is an orphan, police officers who are sensitive and sentimental, and Japanese people named "Pish-Tush," "Pooh-Bah," and "Yum-Yum."

Could this notoriously bombastic, proper, conservative British gentleman with silver-colored sideburns and walrus mustache, clad in his dark frock coat and beaver top hat be harboring the trappings of a cute culture in disguise? Mate his precious characters to Arthur Sullivan's sparkling, glittering, whimsical melodies and there can be no doubt.

If you are wanting for further evidence of the covert cuteness of British culture, go into a bakery there and order a cupcake. Just remember to call it a "fairy cake."

Speaking of food, last night my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit a supermarket located in the next town over, you know, where the "goyim" live! She confronted me upon my arrival home from work and announced that we had "NO FOOD!" in the house. Concerned as I was by this bold pronouncement, I was loathe to venture out to the supermarkets located in our Jew 'hood, as yesterday was the day before Rosh Hashanah, and every Jew in the neighborhood would be at the supermarket, haggling over the expiration dates on their mackrel coupons. I couldn't deal with that.

"Let's go to the market in the goy neighborhood. Deal?"


While we were at this supermarket, we wandered into the "ethnic/foreign" food aisle. You've been there. Lots of Goya products-- frijoles, rice-n-beans, taco shells, and then there's the plethora of soy-and-soy-related sauces, bean sprouts, shrimp-flavored chips, ramen noodles, and the odd Indian meal. And, even in the goy market, there was gefilte fish and matzah, for the wandering Jews who happen to wander in.

"Oh my God, Bobber-- look at this!" my wife squealed. "They have a faggy British section!"

My wife always knows just what to say to me.

I stared in disbelief. Kippers. Fucking kippers. Unbelievable.

There was HP Sauce, which I had read about in "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4," back when I was basically the same age. There were Jaffa Cakes, which I had heard referenced in the British mockumentary "People Like Us," a brilliant and almost totally forgotten-about show that I discovered on BBC America in college. There were Ryvita crackers, which Sybil offered to the health inspector in an episode of "Fawlty Towers." There was salad cream, unforgettably offered by Basil to an unctous little bastard in the dining room of another episode of "Fawlty Towers."

Basil: "We don't have any salad cream. The chef made this freshly this morning."

Boy's Mother: "He likes salad cream."

Boy: "That's puke, that is."

Basil{through clenched teeth}: "Well at least it's fresh puke."

As you can probably tell, I was in Brit Heaven. All of my fond, warm memories of the books, TV shows and films I enjoyed as a boy were coming back to me in that supermarket last night.

"Well, we have to buy something from this section," I said to my wife.

What recession?

I settled on the Jaffa Cakes. I don't know why-- I guess because "People Like Us" was the last British program (ahem, "programme") that my wife and I watched together, in which WPC (that's Woman Police Constable, for you yanks) Jane Thorpe offers some Jaffas to her male partner on the force. It's her solemn duty to offer the male constables tea and cakes, apparently.

As I looked over the box of Jaffa Cakes, (soft, cake-like circles with a dollop of orange jam half-covered in chocolate) I couldn't help but laugh, right there in the supermarket, thinking that the conclusion I had begun to form about the underlying cuteness of British culture way back in my early obsessional days with G&S was still true today. Here's how the Jacob Fruitfield Food Group (which is based in Ireland, by the way), advertise Jaffa Cakes on the box:

"10 Spongy Cakes with the Squidgy Orange Bit."


I'm sorry-- the squidgy orange bit?

Wait. It gets better.

With this box, you get "Bigger Jaffa" and "NEW recipe with lots more orangey centre yippee!"


I don't know how the English culture, by and large, feels about its inherent cuteness. I suspect it makes certain members of the population a tad uncomfortable. I can imagine Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, all 6'4" of him getting hot underneath his celluloid shirt collar at being referred to as "cute." Maybe only his Lucy could get away with that, but I suspect it's one component of British culture that often flies beneath the radar.

Look at the Japanese-- stern-faced businessmen in black suits walking around with "Hello, Kitty" cellphone charms attached to their Nokias. Cuteness is out there, folks, and it's not just for children. We lose many things in this world when we grow up, and I think that's what J.M. Barrie, another Englishman who was often moved to flights of cuteness, was fighting against as his immortal Peter Pan shouted out, "I WON'T GROW UP!" He was fighting against the loss of cuteness that we so often suffer from as we age. It doesn't have to be.

But, in America, it so often is. Americans, especially men, feel this extraordinary lust for machismo. We need to drive fucking trucks. We need to wear camo. We need to drink 74 ounces of coffee in the morning. We need to eat breakfasts referred to as "The Lumberjack." We need to wear boots, even if we don't work outdoors. We need to wear scruff. We need to scratch our asses and our balls.

I don't know what that's all about, but that's what we're all about. So I guess I'll just sit back with my Jaffa Cakes and enjoy the squidgy orange bit while I sit cross-legged on the sofa with a cup of tea and Utopia, Ltd. plays merrily on the record player.

Join me, if you please. I'll even save you some McVitie's Hobnobs. Be careful, though-- "one nibble and you're nobbled."


  1. i'm an anglophile myself. i finally was able to 5 years ago. it was everything i dreamed it to be. whilst in the faggy British food section i noticed Jelly Babies (Doctor Who!) but i did not purchase them as i read "A genuine English product. Made in Modesta, CA" no thanks

  2. likewise on the anglophile.
    Do you think that means that we would have stayed in the country when those damn colonists were jumping ship?? Maybe that doesn't apply to Mr. Apron and his Jew conk :)

    I somehow think I would have left even still, but it must be said, most things, with the exception of food and probably cars, are better when it's done by the British.
    Acting especially. Brits can act the crap out most of America's finest and the comedy is so much more real and dry and interesting, the true masters of the Sit-com have got to be British!
    Sadly in today's political climate people might call me a socialist or something ridiculous like that for saying these things but so be it.

  3. Being an English person I don't quite understand what the fascination with us is. But then, I'm glad I'm not American, so that may just explain it all.

  4. Jaffa Cakes!!!!! I love Jaffa Cakes. I got addicted to them when I was studying in Oxford. But I am SO sad they changed the tag line. It used to be a "smashing orangey bit!"

    Oh, and have you seen Pimp that Snack? ( Talk about your wacky Brits!

  5. Ye gods... killer, Apron, KILLER!

    A British shelf in the supermarket! Gosh! (I feel the same way when I found a Jewish shelf in our local supermarket, so I can understand the squeals of delight.)

    But yes, cuteness.

    Cuteness comes from confidence, I think. Or, I don't know, maybe it's just some stage of the historic time line. I doubt we were 'cute' in the Middle Ages. We've DONE the whole conquering-the-world thing. Now we've moved onto 'cute'.

    Or maybe it's just that male machismo has been frowned at for 30-40 years now that we're all turning into big faggy poofs.

    Did you like the Jaffa Cake?

  6. I was Yum-Yum last January. It was a delicious time. (Sorry)


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