This is the season when British students get their exam results. Newspapers all over the country are filled with photographs of white teenage girls jumping up in the air, clutching their school documents, with wild grins on their faces, hair all akimbo.
To an American, this at first seems like a welcome change of pace from a nation of people not known for their emotional exuberance.
But it’s all fake– the photos are posed. It’s an inside joke. No one jumps for joy in this country. Not even the children are meant to express too much enthusiasm, except as a parody. Those jumping students are in on the gag. They pose mid-air for the cameras in a kind of grotesque mockery of real happiness. It’s not that they’re secretly miserable. I guess they’re not. It’s just that they’re going on to British universities, and then soon after, to long careers as emotionally repressed, upstanding middle-class British citizens. This is their last chance to pretend that they can exhibit emotions that are already forbidden to them by their culture of stiff upper-lipness.
I feel bad for those students. They know that there is a taboo emotion out there, called enthusiasm. Their parents, teachers and friends have never displayed it, but they’ve seen hints of it in American TV shows and movies. I want to help them. I’m American- I’m an expert in such matters. We are the land of cheerleaders and Sylvester Stallone movies. For them, for you, I present this guide on how to elicit and express enthusiasm. At first, trying some of these techniques may make you feel like a sham, a phony, a fugazy. But keep at it, they’re listed in order of difficulty, and once you get past some of the basics you may feel a… stirring. At first you may confuse it with the desire for a cup of tea. But no, it’s more than that. You’ll want an awesome cup of tea. “GOD DAMN THAT IS GOOD TEA” you’ll find yourself shouting. Everyone will stare. Let them. You’re the one that’s awesome, not the tea.
Technique 1: The smile
You already know how to do this. It’s the thing you do when one of your friends makes a scathing comment about another one of your friends who isn’t there at the moment. But instead of turning up the corners of your mouth as a sign of conspiratorial suppressed schadenfreude, just turn up the corners of your mouth. Eventually you’ll learn to do this without it being a celebration of anyone getting a comeuppance- you’ll do it just out of happiness. Try it now. Okay, that looks a little insane. Keep at it.
Technique 2: Encouraging comments
Try saying this to someone: “Well done,” or “I’m happy for you.” Make sure to remove all the sarcasm from your voice. If it makes you more comfortable, you can anglicise it a little. Try “Good show chap.” Practice saying it to your TV, preferably to characters on EastEnders, they need your encouragement. You’re doing great! (See what I did there?)
Technique 3: The fist pump
This one’s a bit trickier, but you don’t have to do it as ostentatiously as an American baseball player who has just hit a home run (whatever that is.) Just bend your arm, as if you were making a muscle and do a small, quick dip down. That feels good, doesn’t it. Mutter “yes!” as you do this for bonus points.
Technique 4: Hug
Americans love to hug, and not just our “nans.” We’ll hug virtually anyone. Haven’t seen you in a couple of days. That’s a hugging. You won $3 in a scratch and match lotto game (whatever that is) – that’s a hugging. Advanced users, when seeking a hug from someone, look them in the eyes, and say to them “Come on, bring it in.” You’ll be like the British Vince Vaughn.
Technique 5: Do a little dance
Americans sometimes celebrate things they enjoy by doing a little dance. I know what you’re thinking: “What tosh. Who do you think I am- James bleedin’ Brown?!” But it doesn’t have to be elaborate- just a quick spin and a smile. You’re at the stage when you can start to combine techniques. Smile, then do a little dance, then follow it with a small fist pump while saying “Yeah” or “yes.” Maybe you are James bleedin’ Brown after all!
Technique 6: Can I get a woot?
By now you should be feeling pretty good. Ask anyone around you: “Can I get a woot?” You’re in Britain, so no one will respond. But try again, this time with: “Can I get a woot woot?!” If I’m around, I promise you, I’ll throw my hands in the air like I just don’t care and I will personally yell back “Woot! Woot!” Everyone else can go to hell.
Technique 7: Chant
If you’ve come this far, you’ve shown commitment, so now I’m going to ask you to do something that will make you really uncomfortable, at first. You need to start chanting “U-S-A.” Start slowly at first, but then you need to get louder and faster. I know you’ve probably chanted at football matches, but this is different. Those chants are meant to be clever, communal celebrations of tribalism. Chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” is different. It means nothing. It’s not truly meant to be communal, it’s not meant to be clever. It’s just a primal scream of blind, idiotic enthusiasm. You will find it invigorating. I will join in with you. Every good American will. And then together we can invade Iraq again. Just like our two countries did last time- arm and arm.
Technique 8: Praise Jesus
I can hear you groaning now. But I’m not asking you to speak in tongues and writhe around the floor like a pentecostal minister. Praising Jesus will do wonders for you and your enthusiasm gap, just give it a try. For example, drop to your knees and praise Jesus the next time you get the last chocolate hobnob in the office biscuit tin. You’ll instantly understand why American football players all do this – it just feels good. Praising “little baby Jesus” will get you bonus points, but will also earn you increasingly worried looks from your co-workers who will wonder why you’re so insanely excited over a hobnob. Don’t worry – they’re just haters.
Technique 9: Fist bump, chest bump, head bump
We’re Americans, we’re violent. We like to smash things together, even when we’re happy. Especially when we’re happy. We bump fists. Try it- a short quick tap, fist to fist. Don’t you feel cool? Now try the chest bump. Pull your arms slightly behind your body, and run up to your buddy, sorry, your mate, and do a little jump as you slam torsos together. Yeah. Don’t you feel bad-ass, er bad-arse! Now try the head bump… no, not like they do in Glasgow- you’re not trying to maim anyone- just bow your head a little and press it to your friend’s head. Again, this is the time to throw in some other techniques- such as praising Jesus or chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A!” You’re at least 90% American now.
Technique 10: The high five
The high five is our last, and most difficult technique. What?! But you know how to do a high-five, it’s easy.
No, it’s not. You’re British, if you’ve ever done a high five before, you’ve done it wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Like those teens jumping for joy at their exam results, your parodic and ironic expression of joy via self-conscious, half-hearted high-fives are a travesty. You must unlearn all that you know. The high five is a holy ritual for Americans. It’s not meant to be cynical, sarcastic, wry or knowing. We don’t high five because we think it’ll be funny. We do it because we must. It’s like all that enthusiasm and exuberance that are part of our birthright as Americans must come out in this one particular way or we’ll just, I don’t know, explode with happiness and encouragement and joy. Don’t leave me hanging- give me a high-five! Praise baby Jesus! U-S-A, U-S-A! Can I get a woot woot?
Will someone in this country please give me a woot?