There is an odd conservatism in the common perceptions of life in other lands. I grew up among English people who still thought of France—a rather stuffy and puritanical country in the 1960s—in terms of the “Gay Paree” of seventy years earlier, a place of unbridled license and monocled boulevardiers swilling champagne at the Folies Bergère. In the same way, many Americans carry in their minds an image of England as a polite and civilized land, where impeccably courteous David Niven types sit around at their clubs in antique leather armchairs sipping port, while, at the other end of society, stoic cockneys converse in rhyming slang and cheer each other up with cups of tea in the parlor. In fact today’s England is a rather coarse and violent place, whose crime statistics now surpass the United States’ in most categories (homicide being the principal exception). The nation’s everyday culture is...

 
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