'The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British' The U.S. may have a special relationship with Britain, but there's a lot that divides Americans and Brits. Sarah Lyall, author of The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, details British people and their character. In one section of the book, Lyall explores Brits and booze.
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'The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British'

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'The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British'

'The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British'

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In the beginning, the U.S. revolted against the British crown. More recently, Britain provided large numbers of troops and considerable support for the U.S. war in Iraq when other European allies were reluctant. That's presumably one way to look at what the two countries call "a special relationship." Another way would be the frequently quoted "two countries divided by a common language." George Bernard Shaw said that. Sarah Lyall offers us clueless Yanks some help with our special friends. She's an American journalist who's written a field guide to the British called "The Anglo Files." That's two words. She joins us now. Welcome to our program.

SARAH LYALL: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I thought your book would be like a nonstop romp through the sillier parts of British culture, and some of it certainly is that. But I did not expect to find some of it verging on tragic, like your account of the Brits and booze.

LYALL: It's a huge problem in British society now, drinking themselves into oblivion. And it's, you know, the flipside of their sort of their conviviality, I think. They don't kind of sit quietly with a glass of wine and just chat. You know, the idea is to as get drunk as you can, as quickly as possible, for as little money as possible.

WERTHEIMER: You kind of blend drunkenness and politics in this book. You explain to us that the parliament is substantially well lit most of the time.

LYALL: Well, not most of the time. When they debate late into the evening, there's a tradition of people going out to restaurants. Or there's a lot of bars actually in the parliament building.

WERTHEIMER: I think you said there are 17 different ways to buy liquor in the parliament building?

LYALL: Seventeen different places you can buy liquor. Sometimes you just - you know, you can buy bottles of stuff and take them home that say House of Commons on them or House of Lords. And they come back in for the late night sessions. It's not, you know, unheard of, for people to be debating, you know, in a more merry state than they would have had it been the middle of the day.

WERTHEIMER: You tell a hilarious story about George Brown as a Labour politician of loving memory.

LYALL: Yeah. He was known for enjoying a glass or two, and the idea was you had to, kind of, get him before lunch because after lunch he wasn't necessarily at his best. The story goes that he was at a reception for visiting Peruvian dignitaries, and he lurched up to a guest who was prettily attired in flowing purple robes and asked for a dance. First, you are drunk, the guest replied. Second, this is not a waltz. It is the Peruvian national anthem. And third, I am not a woman. I'm the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.


WERTHEIMER: I must say, I totally love that. You point out that British newspapers are generally much livelier than ours are, and that British journalists view American newspapers as prudish, overly concerned with facts, basically boring. But you write in your book that they have adopted one custom of American journalism and that is to print corrections.

LYALL: Yeah. It was a new innovation in the last decade or so. The Guardian newspaper particularly said, you know, we're going to take this seriously, and we're going to correct the mistakes we've made, because it's disgraceful that newspapers have gotten away with not correcting their mistakes. And The Guardian has always been kind of lampooned as a newspaper that gets a lot of things wrong. In Private Eye, it's referred to as The Gruniad. You know, a misspelling of its own name. And so, some of the corrections are really quite amusing.

WERTHEIMER: This is page 58, 59. Could you maybe read us a few of those...

LYALL: Sure, of course.

WERTHEIMER: Of those corrections?

LYALL: Some people, for some people, this is the favorite part of the newspaper. They turn immediately to the corrections column. Once the correction columns printed a correction admitting that it had spelled misspelled twice in a single week. Here's some other examples. The great crested newt shown on the front of the society section was, on sober inspection, upside down.


LYALL: We prematurely knighted John Scarlet for the 13th time. And finally, yesterday was Wednesday, despite an assertion that it was, once again, Tuesday.


WERTHEIMER: I - but I mean, we don't even do corrections like in that way. You also deal with strange spelling which, of course, would be ridiculous on the radio. But you talk about the game of cricket - which makes baseball look like a simple rational game - bad British teeth, Princess Diana worship, how to tell one class from another. Do you think that after looking into all of these sometimes very amusing aspects of British institutions and British behavior, do you think you can now sum up the British character?

LYALL: And they decided to do this exercise where they would formulate a statement of values. And they asked for people to give their opinion on what these should be. And this being Britain, everyone immediately ridiculed the proposal and said it's ridiculous. We don't want to have to define ourselves. And The Times newspaper of London decided to do a motto competition, and people submitted entries like, at least we're not French.


LYALL: Pardon the inconvenience. And the winning caption was, no motto please, we're British. And the man who submitted that said, I can't think of anything less British than having to say why you're British.

WERTHEIMER: Do you like it there? You moved to England because you married a British citizen.

LYALL: Yes. My husband is British, and my kids are British now, too. I love it. It's a very interesting place to live. And I think the differences make, you know, for a very lively time. Because it's, you know, as a reporter, you're always looking at things with a bit of remove, anyway. And so, you know, it's great to live somewhere for so long and really be able to get inside some of these issues that seem perplexing.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think you've done it?

LYALL: No. I think it's going to take at least 20 more years, a lifetime of studying, maybe.

WERTHEIMER: Sarah Lyall is the author of, "The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British." Thanks for coming in.

LYALL: Thank you.

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