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A common language should not blind us to the reality of a deepening transatlantic gulf

A Letter to the Editor from Tom Brown

Published: May 29 2004 5:00 | Last Updated: May 29 2004 5:00

From Mr Tom Brown.

Sir, Gerard Baker ("Those linguistic ties that bind", FT Weekend May 22-23) seems to be suffering a bad case of homesickness; otherwise it is difficult to understand how he has deluded himself into believing there is a narrowing gap between US and UK cultures brought about by a common language.

There are massive entrenched differences between the societies and their values, whereas the lack of a common language in Europe leads some monolingual Anglo-Saxons to presume social and political differences between, for example, the Germans and the British, which scarcely exist compared with the transatlantic gulf.

Europeans do not (ordinarily) carry guns, do not routinely execute prisoners, do not have Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, monster homes, cars that guzzle fuel on the US scale, virtually universal male circumcision nor - above all - an appalling level of economic inequality between the super-rich and a working class whose real living standards have scarcely risen in 30 years.

Europeans generally have "socialist" medical, educational and welfare systems that enjoy broad popular support, as do higher income tax levels, and are among the reasons for superior life expectancy and public health in much of Europe. Europeans are deeply attached to their railways and do not regard public transport as something only for social outcasts.

European societies are humanist and secular in their predominant values while organised religion plays a role in US society otherwise only equalled in Muslim societies. As for popular culture, it is scarcely as if the reception of Harry Potter and Coldplay in the US indicates some unique cultural tie: what is probably more telling is that the English original of Harry Potter sold out in Germany even before the German translation was ready.

The US and UK - as well as other European countries - should enjoy strong relations but it is a delusion that "they are just like us", when it is obvious they are startlingly different.

Tom Brown, London SW5 9DN