Here’s a display for Trojan condoms in a drugstore in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Take a look:
Notice anything, except the overcharged claims? Not really.
Now, take a look at a Trojan condom machine in Cambridge, England.
Well, for one thing, it’s much more understated, but it’s a machine, not a display, so it makes sense that it’s less prone to advertising and color.
But take a look at the top line.
OK, so Trojan condoms are #1 in America. But this is England. Why should anyone in England care that Trojan condoms are #1 in another country?
Simple: Americans are considered sexier than the British. And so their condoms are also sexier.
We’re working off some major stereotypes here, people, but the fact is that the denizens of the British Isles are not generally considered sexy (sorry, fellow Brits). Even the BBC says so.
Brits are generally considered polite, restrained, and, well, not terribly sexy–again a huge stereotype, but with truth to it, unless of course you look at some British football fans who could never be described as polite and restrained. Or in any way sexy.
But the fact is that the advice to newly married women consisting of, “Close your eyes and think of England,” originated in England, not America. It had been erroneously attributed to Queen Victoria but was actually said, although in a slightly different form, by Lady Hillingdon in 1912. But the phrase did capture the popular imagination, originally said with serious intent, and later with mocking humor.
The English/American dichotomy on claims to sexiness might have officially begun when American GIs arrived on English shores in January 1942 to help in the war effort. At first, the Brits were absolutely delighted because it meant that they were no longer the only nation fighting the Nazis. But after a while, when the GIs started to conquer the women of England with chocolates, food, and silk stockings, the complaint against the GIs became that they were “overpaid, oversexed, and over here.”
Although America is in so many ways a far more Puritanical country than England–more traditionally religious, more prurient, more socially conservative, and much less able to view sex as the Europeans do as a normal part of life–it’s also more “out there” in terms of sexual swagger.
Take a look at that absurd piece by Seth McFarland in last week’s Oscars. It was juvenile, embarrassing, and sexist–a perfect example of America’s uneasy tension between sex as both prurient and over-the-top.
What do you think? Do England and America both deserve their reputations, or have things changed?