LEADING ARTICLE:Yankee Doodle dandy for Britain

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The Independent Online
Those who are hooked on Chianti, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and baguettes may not believe it. If you live in a home decorated in Provencal pastel shades, with Matisse prints on the walls, Spanish ceramic tiles on the kitchen floor and bunches of French lavender secreted in every corner, you may be surprised to learn that half your fellow Britons do not feel European at all. In despair, British Europhiles may reach for a duty-free bottle of Jerez or Metaxa upon learning that, according to a BBC poll, America, not France, Italy or Germany, is the place which their compatriots are most likely to regard as home from home.

But, if you are surprised, you have merely been fooled into thinking that the British desire to reconstruct Continental holiday bliss in these colder climes has held back the cultural tide from across the pond. It hasn't. And the evidence is so obvious, we sometimes don't even see it.

The wholesale importation of American ways is so complete that we can easily forget their foreign origin. Who now recalls, for example, that jeans were rarely worn here before the1960s when they arrived from the US after a century's wear? Now we've got American football on television, CNN, Baywatch, and burgers supplanting the chippie at every street corner. Superstores, which destroyed American downtowns in the Fifties, are today poised to do the same to British high streets, while our traffic-choked cities are becoming submerged in LA-style smog. Against all this, what chance does the migration of pavement cafes, tapas bars and bodegas have of swinging the cultural contest in Europe's favour?

Our common language partly explains the success of US imports in Britain. But an equally important factor is that America is, as the writer Gertrude Stein once commented, "the oldest country in the 20th century". In other words, the ideas that caught on there first - mass production, mass consumption and mass rule (democracy) - are of the modern age and are the foundations of a global culture. Their impact can be felt not just in Britain but all over Europe. Drive on the outskirts of any French city, through a sprawl of shopping complexes and you could be in Dullsville, Iowa.

Where then does the British love of America leave the great European project? Healthier than you might think. Back in 1986, when the Thatcher- Reagan love affair was at its peak, The The's hit album Infected lamented that "This is the 51st state of the USA". But, of course, that can never be. History, never mind geography, makes it inconceivable that Britain could be subsumed into its former colony.

Yet if we feel more at home with the American way - pluralism, a melting pot of different cultures and decentralised political institutions - there is another path we can pursue to achieve it. There is a place much nearer to Britain where such values are cherished and in which we could play a full and powerful role. It's called the European Union.

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