The Diary: Oh, how the Brits love to knock the Yanks

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Some years ago the American television programme The Muppets enchanted children and adults on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most sympathetic of the floppy creatures was Kermit the Frog, a savvy but sensitive soul who occasionally sang a doleful melody called "It's Not Easy Being Green". The world is a tough place, Kermit lamented, especially if you're green.

I thought of Kermit last week, because sometimes, in Britain, it's not easy being American. Occasionally you find yourself standing out in a crowd when you really don't want to, or you find the conversation drifting around to your obvious American-ness when you would just as soon discuss something else. But the British do enjoy pouncing on Americans, and suddenly there you are - defensive, impatient and green.

And so I found myself a little on guard as the clock ticked down to Oscar night. The British were again working themselves up into a frothy state, and there would be hell to pay if they didn't win their fair share of the little golden statues. Curious thing, this British attitude to the Oscars. The press annually expends huge amounts of heated energy dismissing the whole affair as nothing more than crass Yankee commercialism and glitzy Hollywood hype. But when someone British walks away with an Oscar, the place goes wild in a paroxysm of delirious triumphalism. All the crowing seems, well, downright American.

The atmospheric build-up was a little different this year. The dark clouds rolled in earlier than usual and there were already flashes of lightning on the western horizon. Things American have definitely been out of favour lately.

A while ago, for example, people here were pretty upset when the States slapped a 100 per cent duty on cashmere imports in retaliation for the European Union's long-practised procrastination over bananas. Penalising cashmere does seem a little unfair, I admit, especially since Americans don't grow any bananas but do wear a lot of pullovers. From the American point of view, however, it's been obvious for years that you have to take steps just short of a nuclear strike to get the EU to do anything serious about its agricultural trade.

THERE'S ALSO been a lot of talk recently about Genetically Modified Organisms, and you get the impression that the British think there is an American conspiracy afoot involving masses of mad scientists in underground Midwestern laboratories tinkering with tangled chains of DNA and growing tomatoes as big as the Millennium Dome. There is no credible evidence that GMOs are bad for you, nor have Americans, who have been consuming GMOs for years, begun sprouting strange bodily appurtenances or started turning green. But having made a hash of BSE, and having given the world its first hand-made sheep, the British are understandably sensitive on this score.

And then there is the more ticklish matter of Genetically Modified Orgasms. Just like Americans, the British have watched the impeachment of President Clinton with mounting confusion and dismay. Washington seems to have turned into the political equivalent of The Jerry Springer Show. But prurient curiosity has been just as intense on this side of the ocean as on the other side, and ITN shelled out pounds 400,000 for a wee glimpse of Monica in the flesh, so to speak.

I missed the television interview when it was broadcast, but my friend Jon Snow sent me a video copy, and on Tuesday evening my wife and I settled in for a good gander. I found Monica surprisingly intelligent and articulate and unsurprisingly giggly and shallow. Poor Monica, I fear, is trapped for ever in the corridors of Beverly Hills High School (which, incidentally, is one of the best secondary schools in America), and she was at her most revealing when she confessed to Jon that she never really fitted into Washington because people there, like, weren't interested in clothes. Your heart goes out.

Anyway, the British disapprove of all these tasteless American shenanigans. Cluck, cluck, they say. But having furrowed the national brow, the British public then proceeds to lap it up just the way the Americans do (though in this case they don't have to take any responsibility for it). And when Monica and her Mortonised book flew into Britain a couple of weeks ago, she was piped into Harrods like a visiting royal and she was solemnly received into the scholarly sanctuary of All Souls. Et tu, British?

BUT MONICA was nothing compared to the high-dudgeon fall-out after the Lewis-Holyfield fiasco. Americans at their worst, stormed the British. The fix was in. We was robbed. And hang the British judge who called it a draw. By mid-week, however, a money-spinning rematch had been agreed.

I had watched the fight. Frankly, I expected Lewis to end up on the canvas, but I must concede he probably won the bout on points. That said, however, Lewis's cautious exhibition in the ring was hardly the stuff of champions, and I suppose I was relieved that Evander hadn't bitten off anything belonging to Lennox.

SO THE touchy Anglo-American stage was well and truly set for the Oscars. On Radio 4 I heard sour grousings that the Spielberg epic Saving Private Ryan failed to portray accurately the deliverance by Royal Navy seamen of American Rangers ashore on D-Day. Oh, oh, I thought, British sensibilities are in a precarious state.

But, happily, the British did win a lot of Oscars, thanks to the inspiration of the up-and-coming author Bill Shakespeare. And, even better, the fashion clanger of the Oscars belonged to the hello-sailor outfit worn by Minnie Driver. All this was front-page news on Tuesday morning. Britannia rampant on a Californian field. I was glad. The British make wonderful movies and the United States had managed to slip through another delicate moment in transatlantic affairs. A narrow escape for Kermit.

By Thursday, of course, most of these little imbroglios had paled. Nato aircraft and cruise missiles, largely American, attacked Yugoslavia in force. The raids continue. Now flickering on our television screens are the Day-glo pictures of explosions on the territory of a sovereign European state. I am alarmed by this and full of apprehension. We have militarily internationalised the Balkans (read "Americanised") with no convincing political objective. We have given the Serbs licence to rampage through Kosovo. We have rewritten the Nato charter. We have alienated our "strategic partner", Russia. We have offended the UN. What if all these bombs and missiles don't work? Do we know what we're doing?

Raymond Seitz is a former US ambassador to Britain and author of `Over Here' (Weidenfeld).

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