A War Bride's Guide to the U.S.A.

06 July 2011

A War Bride's Guide to the U.S.A. is an enlightening collaboration between Britain's Good Housekeeping magazine and the U.S. Office of War Information that sketches out differences between the British and Americans. With the era's characteristically bright but unbudging assertion, it advises British war brides in sundry practical matters including manners, humor, homemaking, traveling, making friends, and citizenry. It is particularly interesting to read the guide as an American, for it offers an opportunity for Americans to eavesdrop on a conversation between Brits and observe American culture flattened and generalized as an exhibit.

For instance, did you know that kidding is a particularly American form of humor? "There are some kinds of spoken humour that you must learn to take calmly," Good Housekeeping warns British war brides; "Exaggeration, of course, you know about, and learning the American language includes recognizing what is true and what is too absurd to believe. Kidding is perhaps harder to get used to, but you have to learn" (p. 13). The good folks proceed to delineate two varieties of kidding, including mimicking, a "subtle form of flattery," and insults, which can be used to express both affection and anger (p. 13).

Another enlightening section provides book recommendations that illustrate the gamut of American scenes including the Midwest (Lewis's Main Street, Cather's My Antonia, Ferber's Cimarron), the Northeast (Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Carroll's As the Earth Turns, Smith's A Tree in the Yard), the South (Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Rawling's The Yearling, Miller's Lamb in His Bosom), and the West coast (Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men).

The guide is supplemented with a handy glossary of British and American terms and extracts from Good Housekeeping featuring poems, stories, and editorials about war brides published throughout the war years. Copies of the guide are readily available online, but you can see the glossary at American War Bride Experience, which, from the looks of it, is a rich site featuring reminisces, newspaper articles, photographs, and additional resources.

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