The Anglo files : a field guide to the British

by Sarah Lyall

Hardcover, 2008




New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2008.


Dispatches from the new Britain: a slyly funny and compulsively readable portrait of a nation finally refurbished for the twenty-first century.

Media reviews

Publisher's Weekly
Now she produces the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible genre that dissects British quirks and remarks how peculiar are the inhabitants of that moist little isle. . .But Lyall’s observations are neither overly perceptive nor interesting and much of her material is creakingly familiar: aristocrats, for example, pronounce some words differently than their working-class compatriots, Britons love animals (a special memorial honors animals who aided British troops in wartime) and the game of cricket is boring. . . . it will disappoint those seeking serious analysis or original insights.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Nickelini
After listening to the first chapter of this book, I thought the author was a total moron and that I would listen to the whole thing and have fun writing a scathing, wicked review. But in the end, the whole thing just sort of fell flat and I don't even feel like zinging this one. (And no, I don't exactly think the author is a moron. She's just someone I'm glad I don't know.)

Lyall is a journalist for the New York Times who transfered from NYC to London in the 1990s, married an Englishman, and had two children. I'm not sure exactly what she's trying to do with this book. First, the title is completely misleading, as it's seeming play on Anglophile--one who loves all things English--doesn't fit her litany of complaints about her adopted home, as she shows no affection for the country or the people. (Also, it's not about the British, it's about some English people.) The whole thing is overwhelmingly negative, but in a rather pointless way. She opens the book with a riduculous chapter on repressed English sexuality and how most of the men are closeted homosexuals because they like to dress in women's clothes. Yes, you read that right. She goes on to complain about Parliament, the House of Lords, excessive alchohol consumption, cricket, and bad dentistry (so the dental treatment provided by the National Health Service sucks? How does it compare to the dental services paid for by the US gov't? Oh, right--they don't provide any.) She also complains about bad service--except she acknowledges it has vastly improved, and she complains about the food--except she acknowledges that it has vastly improved. And finally, she complains about the weather, which I find rich considering she comes from a place with insufferably humid summers and inhospitable winters. Other than the chapter about hedgehog aficionados, I didn't learn anything.

With this sort of book, one expects some astute observations and some witty remarks, but there is none of that here. It's also clear that she doesn't understand British humour--to such a degree that she finds it offensive. On the other hand, if you're not going to make a book like this clever, then at least write a meaningful critique. Instead she decided to pick out most of the obvious English stereotypes and say a bunch of negative things about them, which in turn makes her the stereotypical ugly American. I feel sorry for her family--it actually seems that she would like her children better if they weren't English.

Recommended for: not recommended for anyone. Or, maybe recommended for New Yorkers who want to hate-on the English.
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LibraryThing member AwberyWhite
Lyall's "Anglo Files" presents a counterpart to eulogies of Britain that stereotype its cultural eccentricity as positive. Unfortunately, rather than a non-stereotyped insight into British differentness, it reads more like a continual complaint. Lyall complains terminally about the British press and gossip, but sounds a bit like a gossip columnist herself. She complains about snobbery and name dropping, yet most chapters mention distinguished friends and connections.

"Anglo Files" upset me. I would have welcomed a book that realistically and humorously portrayed British culture, warts and all, in comparison with American or other cultures. But Lyall, with an anthropological background, does something a serious anthropologist would never do: she sets up a subjective, implicit standard. This is a consumer's perspective: one who expects priority of attention, takes luxury and choice for granted and sees access to private dental care, for example, as normal. She then relentlessly derides the British for not meeting that standard. They are constantly other, alien, unfathomable and to be ridiculed. This is a shame. There are negative accounts that might be interesting in a more balanced, comparative context, but because anything and everything is mocked indiscriminately (courtesy, appreciation, tradition, for example), they lose the impact they may have had.

"Anglo Files" is a book for an American audience. For a British reader the revelatory tone might jarr somewhat with the lack of revelation. There are certainly some humorous moments, for example the long-suffering cohabitant of a hedgehog rescuer who 'prefers animals in the abstract.' On the whole, I don't think they are worth waiting for.

I stopped reading at a chapter that lists the faults of the war generation and their embedded cultural frugality. The following passage, I think, is typical of the book's tone and style. If it amuses you, then you might enjoy the rest, if you find it distasteful, you will probably not enjoy reading more:

"All that privation becomes hardwired in the system. People from the war generation are incredibly careful with their resources. They reuse old envelopes and teabags. They wear their clothes until the clothes wear out. An elderly friend of our family wore, for his entire adult life, the handed down clothes of a relative who died before World War II. According to her former daughter-in-law, the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth is so frugal that she insists on using 40 watt light bulbs in all her many houses...
They care less than we do about creature comforts, such as the necessity of sleeping on mattresses purchased sometime in the last half century. Surprisingly often, Robert and I have stayed in smart houses where, when you sit on the bed, the mattress sags down to the floor, and when you lie down, it folds up like a U, propelling you both into a little heap in the center. It's not that they can't afford new beds; it's that they think it's frivolous and self-indulgent to buy them."
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
Although abandoned is more the mark. I made it to page 50 before hurling this accross the room and into the recycling. This claims to be an amusing view of the English as seen by an American, casting her perceptive eye over the nation.

On the basis of the first 50 pages she is proving neither amusing nor perceptive. Thus far the topics covered include sex (with a diversion into public school, homosexuality and beatings) then parliament (concentrating solely on the poor little women MPs and how they had to overturn a nasty male environment).

I suggest that if Ms (not Miss or Mrs - need I say more) Lyall wishes to understand this country she stop resorting to stereotype and cliche to reinforce her preconceived ideas.
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LibraryThing member wendyrey
Yet another jaundiced American look at so-called British life and views, although it should perhaps be better titled as ' A field guide to Posh South of England life ' and not just posh we are talking serious toffs here. It doesn't go North of Watford except when discussing Royalty (Charles at Gordonston (?sp?)). Books of this genre are supposed to be funny and ironic but this doesn't succeed at being either other than in short bursts and reads as if she really means it.
Has been much better done by others.
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LibraryThing member bragan
Lyall, a former New Yorker who married an Englishman and now lives in London, offers up her thoughts and feelings about her adopted country and countrymen. Oddly, this book doesn't seem entirely sure whether it means to be an amusing, subjective account of one American's perceptions of British culture, a useful overview of confusing cultural differences for Americans, or a serious and sometimes harsh critique of British society. As a result, I don't think it succeeds spectacularly well at being any of those things. She does have a few amusing observations and anecdotes and a number of interesting things to say, and much of the book was an entertaining read. But there are times when, intentionally or unintentionally, it feels as if she's inviting her American readers to point and laugh at the poor benighted foreigners, and that's unfortunate. It's even more unfortunate that the most mocking and condemnatory chapters are the first chapters in the book. Later on, a great deal of what seems to be genuine affection also comes through, but it takes a little while to get over the slightly sour taste.… (more)
LibraryThing member sacrain
I really liked parts of this book -- it was funny, insightful, mortifying and amazing. I love Sarah Lyall's writing style, and I was usually engaged. Except about some of the Parliamentary stuff...ADD took over and I couldn't follow. But I followed their politics more than those in the US.

The only downside of this book is that I'm FASCINATED with all things British, and I borderline covet their lifestyle, history, accents, and culture. So this book was kind of like watching sausage being made. It tainted my imagination a little bit. But I'm sure after some time has passed, I'll have everyone with an English accent back up on that pedestal...… (more)
LibraryThing member shalulah
This book was very entertaining for your average rabid Anglophile such as myself (thought not enough soccer references). It was an easy read, with each chapter tackling a different aspect of British society.
LibraryThing member mstrust
Lyall is an American who was a reporter for the New York Times when she met and married her English husband about a dozen years ago. They live in London, she works for British papers now and her children are English. In those years Lyall has researched the many ways the British and American minds differ on subjects such as education, the legal system, sex and money. She addresses the subjects that have become stereotypes, such as British food, dental care and their dislike for much of American life. She was present when the House of Lords lost their heredity rights.
This was one that I couldn't put down. I found the many, many footnotes to contain almost as much insight as the actual text. Lyall's goal isn't to make the reader laugh, although there is humor, but she's a reporter. She tells the reader, "This is what I saw, this is who I talked to and this is how the situation has changed."
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LibraryThing member nemoman
I liked this book better than I thought I would. I expected a lightweight, humorous look at the Brits. Unlike, say Bryson's books however, this book goes beyond lightweight entertainment fluff. Lyall, although maintaining a humorous and engaging tone, explores cultural differences at a deeper level, ranging from the boorish mens' club that is Parliament to the complete disconnect between the sober Brit who is emotionally repressed to the drunken Brit who is given license to engage in loutish and bizarre behavior.… (more)
LibraryThing member curvymommy
As an Anglophile, I was really looking forward to reading this. It did not disappoint. Written in a friendly, engaging style, it was easy to read and not at all dry. Great insights into British culture - and I have to admit that, while I still absolutely cannot wait to visit England, I no longer think I'd want to live there. :)… (more)
LibraryThing member jmaloney17
This book was a lot of fun. I think any American that loves Brit Lit will like this book. The author is an American living in England with her British husband. She covers a wide range of topics like Parliment, cricket, social classes and food among others. The book provides a background on why the British do some of the things they do. There are a lot of laughs included.… (more)
LibraryThing member Oreillynsf
It's been done before, but this version of "Aren't the British quirky" is a fine read and a funny one as well. Lyall's perspective as an outsider strongly contributes to the humor in this work, and I have found myself searching for more of her work. I liked it. Not what you would call an important book, but a pleasant and definitely informative read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mary_Overton
“Instead of bragging, the British turn to humor and misdirection. If you ask someone, say, “How was the job interview?” she won’t give you a straight answer. She will spin an amusing tale of a deadly encounter replete with gaffes, miscommunication, and uncomfortable silences in which she could barely string two words together, let alone hope to get the job...
“Why do they do this? I think Britons emphasize their faults in part as a way to demonstrate the charm of their self-deprecation. This is starkly illustrated in the personal ads section of the ‘London Review of Books,’ where the lovelorn advertise themselves as aggressively unappealing, even actively repellent....
“The tradition began with the first submission the ‘London Review’ received when it began accepting personals, in 1998: ’67-year-old dis-affiliated flaneur picking my toothless way through the urban sprawl,’ the ad said, ‘self-destructive, sliding towards pathos, jacked up on Viagra and on the lookout for a contortionist who plays the trumpet.’” Kindle location 2492-2500

“Sometimes [the British] could have it both ways: endure the sacrifice, suffer the discomfort and love to tell the tale. One of my personal favorites in the who-cares-how-bleak-this-is-I’m-an-Englishman genre was the Earl of Uxbridge, who fought alongside the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. At one point, Uxbridge, commanding the Anglo-Belgian cavalry, happened to notice that his leg had been blown off by a cannonball. The story goes that he then turned to Wellington and announced: ‘By God, Sir, I’ve lost my leg!’ To which Wellington is said to have replied, ‘By God, Sir, so you have!’ Following the convention that you are supposed to pretend your complaint doesn’t matter, or laugh it off with amusing tales, Uxbridge later had the amputated leg buried with full military honors in France and thereafter enjoyed the nickname ‘One-Leg,’ in the approved eccentric manner....
“But like shopping-free Sundays, all that is receding into the past. In twenty-first century Britain, this idea of accepting your fate without complaint, sacrificing yourself for others, and keeping your troubles to yourself (to the extent that you admit you have any) is going quickly, if it has not already gone.... Perhaps the greatest legacy of the late Princess Diana was to open the floodgates in Britain to naked displayed of unedited emotion....” loc 3824-3836
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LibraryThing member lindap69
skimmed this one (prior patron was a smoker ugh) Fun look at what makes the British British
LibraryThing member snooksmcdermott
Things now are different in the UK from when I spent the summer of 1986 working in London, but the English obviously aren't all that different judging by this book. Most amusing.
LibraryThing member dorisannn
One of those books that provides information about the English attitude and soul; how it got that way and how it is changing. Fascinating and sometimes laugh out loud hilarious. She makes me understand why I love England.
LibraryThing member verbafacio
As someone who has spent several years living in England and still visits frequently, I was very intrigued by The Anglo Files. Sarah Lyall does a great job of demystifying some of the peculiarities of British culture, from politics to class to journalism. Lyall is an American married to a Brit and living in London, and she has seen the cultural differences at close hand. Her descriptions of attitudes about sex had me laughing aloud, and throughout the book I frequently called my husband over to read a particularly amusing sentence to him. Though the book has a light, humorous touch, it tackles fairly complex elements of British society. I now understand the basic legislative structure of the UK, something that has mystified me for years.… (more)


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