Jon Sopel- If Only They Didn’t Speak English: Notes from Trump’s America

If Only They Didn't Speak EnglishIf Only They Didn't Speak English 2

I find it really hard not to start all these posts with ‘I bloody love this book’ but as I read recently ‘I unashamedly only write positive reviews’.  This is the whole point of this blog, I just want other people to know about the books that I think are brilliant and bang on about all the time.

Speaking of:

What it’s about:

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, we the Brits were filled with horror and consternation (and I stand by this notion), asking only one thing… how could a man like Donald Trump possibly have been elected as president?! But seriously, how could this happen?!’ Note… we may not be quite so outraged and indignant these days, being somewhat preoccupied with our own political farce, but I digress.

Back to Trump- according to Sopel, this question can only be asked based on the fundamentally erroneous belief that we hold in Britain, that ours and American cultures are very similar.  As Sopel himself puts it “the special relationship is something that concerns us far more than it does them”.  That bit’s in the intro, and I was already finding it really interesting.  The premise of the book is that the British believe that we know everything there is to know about Americans, because essentially they’re just like us.  In ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’, Sopel writes with great insight on some of the most fundamental tenets of American culture, covering subjects such as race, guns and anger with knowledge, candour and sensitivity.  The result is a book that is truly fascinating.

PS.  I actually went to the book launch for this and Jon Sopel was absolutely brilliant.

PPS. If I ever wrote a book I’d want it to be a book like this one.

Just some particularly interesting stuff: 

  1.  Sopel references the novelist and essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates who wrote of Obama in January 2017: “The kinds of trauma that marked African Americans of his generation- beatings at the hands of of racist police, being herded into poor schools, grinding out a life in a tenement building- were mostly absent for him.  Moreover, the kind of spacial restriction that most black people feel at an early age- having rocks thrown at you for being on the wrong side of the tracks, for instance- were largely absent from his life.”  Just an interesting observation that I think questions whether the election of the first black president of the US was as big a victory for African Americans as it seemed at the time.
  2. “Nine out of 10 American adults believe in God… In the US, half of all Americans deem religion to be very important in their lives compared to only 17% in Britain.”  According to Sopel (and I’m sure he’s right but I haven’t checked) this is not only unusual compared to Britain, but goes against the grain for developed countries as a whole as typically adherence to religious beliefs and systems diminish in  correlation with the growth of wealth.   I think this must be significant though I can’t explain why… thoughts or ideas are welcome.
  3. Guns… this is massive, and in my opinion a particularly important example of quite how vastly the British underestimate differences between US and British culture.  Sopel writes: “The argument you will hear again and again is this: America is a vast sprawling country, with millions living in massively remote places, miles from anywhere.  They still have a frontier mentality and won’t- often can’t- just pick up the phone and say, ‘Can the state come and sort this out?’… In Britain’s small, overcrowded island that may a difficult idea to comprehend… But at the back of a lot of American minds is the belief that the only person you can trust to defend your family and your property is you.”







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