Americans can be forgiven if they think that Great Britain is a charming country of gracious people, majestic castles, green gardens, gentle manners, afternoon tea and impeccable style and demeanor.
After all, this is the image – a myth, really – that mass media has been feeding the public for decades ("Masterpiece Theatre," Agatha Christie, James Bond movies, even "Monty Python’s Flying Circus," etc.).
That is, Britain is the land of eccentric detectives, country pubs and, oh yes, long-haired (but essentially harmless) rock-and-roll bands.
Even the punk rock movement of the 1970s was viewed in America as a kind of “charming English eccentricity.”
But nowhere does the fawning by Americans over all things British come to a greater crescendo than for the royal family.
The hysteria in the U.S. for Kate Middleton (and even her sister, Pippa) was matched only by the insane clamor for Princess Diana 30 years ago.
The fact is, as the current disturbances clearly demonstrate, that Britain is a hard, grim and rough nation that has long been scarred by social inequalities, violence, drug abuse, gang warfare, racial tension, the collapse of manufacturing and, now, an economic crisis that threatens to tear the country asunder.
However, this is nothing new. There were similar riots during the long hot summer of 1981 (the same year that Prince Charles married Princess Diana), followed by periodic disturbances in subsequent years.
Did that change Britain’s pristine image overseas?
Hardly – notice the intense attention given to the latest (and greatest) royal wedding of William and Kate (two people whose lives are so remote from the average person in Tottenham or Hackney that they may as well be living on Saturn).
But I understand the Americans’ endless fascination for Britain – after all, it is their "mother country," and they share a similar culture and language.
But don’t look too closely at Britain – at the burning police cars, looted stores, masses of angry youths prowling the streets. You may not like what you see.
Instead, put on that DVD of "Masterpiece Theatre" and escape into a pleasant 19th-century fantasy dreamland.