Anyone who follows me on Twitter and Facebook knows I’ve been all over Mitt Romney’s Magical Mystery European Disaster Tour which started off to the worst possible reviews with a gaffe filled first day in London. In short order, he managed to insult most of the nation and piss off two leading Conservatives — the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister — both of whom delivered scathing on-camera retorts. Then he blabbed that he had a meeting with MI-6, the British agency so secret it wasn’t officially acknowledged until decades after it was formed and which there is still a convention that it not be referenced by politicians. He went on to talk about “looking out the backside of Number 10”. In British parlance, backside equals arse and Number 10 is often a synonym for the Prime Minister. In addition, someone we would say is “full of sh*t”, the British would say is “talking out his arse”. So Romney managed to say to our closest ally that he was talking out the Prime Minister’s arse for him. As Twitter and Facebook lit up both sides of the Atlantic, Romney carried on by forgetting the name of the British equivalent of John Boehner and calling him “Mr. Leader” and referencing “the Nation of Great Britain” (there is no such country). Here’s a good round up from a British source of his comedic first day in case you were under a rock on Thursday.
But my point in this post is not to rehash what Twitter and the British press have dubbed The RomneyShambles. The point is that none of this needs to have happened. Brits love to gang up and make fun of Americans. I’ve been married to a Brit for nearly 30 years. This is the country I live in, Baby. If Mitt had just called me, I could have gotten him in and out of London smelling like a nice steamy cup of Bovril with a side sandwich of Marmite. Yes, both of these alleged foodstuffs smell disgusting, but the British love them. My point again: I know the territory. Mitt, call me, email me, friend me on Facebook. I’m the perfect candidate for that highly paid “Special Relationship Advisor” you so desperately need.
To prove it, let me tell you exactly where and how you went wrong.
1. A good part of British humor involves a nasty-edged laughing at the discomfort of the powerful.
We have to thank our German friends for coming up with Schadenfreude — the intense pleasure in watching the misfortunes of others. But the British have wholly embraced it. And they kick it up a notch by aiming their schadenfreude at anyone who’s famous, rich or powerful. So, if a man slipping on a banana peel is funny to us, a man in a top hat and tails slipping on a banana peel is even funnier to the Brits. If that man is the Prime Minister — British comedy gold. So Mitt, as an incredibly wealthy man who wants to be President and who has a demonstrated air of “I know better than any of you”, you were a walking target before you ever got off the Heathrow tarmac. Clearly, Mitt, no one told you this. But a few hours of watching Monty Python or old Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore skits would have given you a heads up.
2. The Brits think they are superior to the rest of the world and they don’t care what you think of them. Except if you are American.
Brits lump anyone who had the misfortune not to be born in Great Britain in the category of “Johnny Foreigner”. They don’t care what such a person says or does or thinks of them. They are suspect, they eat funny food and they don’t know how things are done properly. Unless you are an American. Here’s where it gets complicated. Of course, the British are convinced they are superior to Americans and taught us anything we know that is worth knowing. But they have the sneaking suspicion that we don’t quite understand just how much we owe them and how “Brit-lite” we really are. I learned this as an exchange student in London. Every cabbie, every man in the pub and everyone who heard my American accent wasted no time telling me how awful and substandard everything was in America compared to England. I quickly learned not to argue. What the Brits want is a little deference shown immediately. I know this would be very difficult advice for you as I sense you are a man who thinks everyone should show deference to YOU. I would have advised you to take a page from the Queen and pick an innocuous subject as your standard line of patter. The Queen always remarks on the flowers. You could have endlessly complimented London’s gardens. They really are lovely and the British like hearing appreciation for their green and pleasant land.
3. The British LOVE horses. Embrace Dressage!
One of the more disturbing gaffes you’ve made is when you started walking yourself away from the fact that your wife’s horse is competing in the Olympics. You said you “don’t know when the event is and won’t be there”. I suspect you worried that being televised watching the effete and elite sport of Dressage will further cement your reputation as an out of touch rich guy. Complete miscalculation. No American will be watching Dressage. I doubt it will even be televised. It’s going to be 24/7 Beach Volleyball and Gymnastics over here, so unless you are ogling lyrca-clad rear-ends, we Yanks won’t even see you. But while we may not watch Dressage, many Brits and Americans are husbands and many are wives. Husbands know that if their wives have a passion, and they reach a milestone in that sport or interest, you bloody well get your butt out of the Barcalounger and go cheer her on. Wives know that a husband who can’t be bothered to support them on something like this..well, let’s just say I hope you have a comfy couch in one of your homes. On the International Relations side of this gaffe, the Brits love horses and horse events. They’d like you more if you showed up at Dressage. They also love dogs. Showing up with Smooth Fox Terriers might just patch this one over. Send the private jet back to San Francisco. I just happen to have two cute Foxies who are willing to accessorize you and are ready for their international close-ups.
4. The British media is like a pack of rapid dogs. And there’s no calling them off.
Here’s the part of the vortex of shame that you didn’t count on. The British media loves to tear people down, even the people they built up in the first place. And once they hate you, there’s no stopping them. Unfortunately for you, this doesn’t just apply to the tabloid press, but also to the respectable dailies. Of course, the tabloids are going to continue to hound you with headlines like “Mitt the Twit”. But the great British papers have a long and proven track record of investigative journalism and the staff to continue that tradition. Long after the tabloids have moved on to their next target, I suspect the Times and others will be doing the kind of in depth research into your bank accounts and analysis of your politics that the American media has so far skimmed over. The problem is that, in this age of feedreaders, a lot of us use the BBC and the better British dailies for our main news sources. And we post to Facebook. While I would have offered you a lot of strategies for NOT pissing off the British press, I’m not sure how much damage control I can do now that they are at your throat. Can you get yourself invited to one of Posh and Becks’ parties?
5. Americans think they are superior to the rest of the world and they don’t care what you think of them. Except if you are British.
Look, you don’t need me in Poland or Israel. You can probably bumble all you want, they can be insulted all they want, and Average Joe Lunchbucket won’t care. Because they are foreigners. And every American knows they’re just jealous of us. But earning British disdain is a different kettle of kippers. See, Americans DO care what what the British think of them, and I’m not just talking about the demographic that Tivos Masterpiece Theater. Both our countries are under several shared delusions: that we still rule the world, that everything innovative still comes out of our countries, and that we are still predominately White Anglo-Saxon countries. When we look at “TV Britain” — that mythical land where everyone has nice pronounceable names; lives with a sweet nuclear, traditional family complete with a lovely granny wearing pearls; speaks perfectly enunciated English; and gardens a lot — we see the myth of what we think we still are. So we want them to like us, to really, really like us. If some Americans ever saw the real Britain, which is rife with unwed mothers and unmarried couples, where socialized medicine has been around for decades, where Tikka Masala has long outsold fish and chips and where the population is a crazy kaleidoscope of ethnic diversity, they would run screaming for their old taped Agatha Christie episodes. But since those are the roughly 40% of Americans who probably don’t have passports, there is no chance the scales will fall from their eyes. And those people will care that you’ve pissed off the people we think are the only reliable allies every time we have to go straighten out Johnny Foreigner with a few bombs or a quick invasion.
So Mitt, you really stepped in it this time. But I still think I can help you. Thirty years with a Brit has left me with a few tricks up my sleeves. I know you have a tricky history when it comes to dogs, but some of my damage control will involve terriers. Call me.