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Thursday, September 5, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Erik Lacitis / Times staff columnist

Stay away, American Woman, say British men

We always bring you the news that matters.

The news this time is that in the late summer heat in England, pretty much every newspaper and media outlet has covered the British Guys versus North American Women controversy.

Now, I need to warn you in advance that today's column will be about sex, relationships, what guys want, what women want, and so if you wanted a discussion of mass-transit issues, go elsewhere.

Recent headlines in London have included this kind of thing:

"The tragic ineptitude of the English male." (The Spectator).

"British men appear scared to ask me out, says Paltrow." (The Daily Telegraph quoting actress Gwyneth Paltrow in London to do a play.)

"What's up with U.S. women?" (The Guardian).

At the George & Dragon Pub in Fremont, you can always find some British single guys, now living in Seattle because they wanted to try someplace different or because they had read about the high-tech opportunities here in Microsoftland (ha-ha).

This week I found a couple of Brits and read them excerpts of what started the controversy. They politely listened about their alleged failings.

I explained that it started with a Canadian writer, Leah McLaren, who lived in London for a few months. She wrote in The Spectator that her American female roommate told her: "The first thing you should know about English men is that what they secretly want most in the world is to be with other English men."

McLaren said that after a dozen dates, she concluded the "modern English male knows little to nothing about courtship, and what he does know frightens him."

She then sent out this blast:

"a) Many went to boarding school at an early age, thus forfeiting essential affection from their mothers, leaving them all but incapable of intimacy with women.

"b) Many drink too much, leaving them all but incapable of intimacy with women.

"c) They are repressed homosexuals.

"d) They simply don't like women."

Needless to say, reserved and polite as they may be, British guys didn't take too kindly to that assessment.

Then, Gwyneth Paltrow, the skinny, glacial 29-year-old actress, was quoted about her experiences in London. She said she was asked out for dates only a couple of times.

She said, "If someone asks you out they're really going out on a limb, whereas in America it happens all the time. ... Yet in Britain, mostly what happens seems to be that people meet at work. If there's a little something there, then they hang out together and, all of a sudden, they're boyfriend and girlfriend." (Although now, given all the London news stories, Paltrow is adding, "I happen to adore British men and I adore Britain.")

Steve Sheldon, 26, who grew up in Birmingham and came to America 2-½ years ago to work in computers, graciously listened to this itemization of the British male's faults as we sat in the pub.

Then I read to him excerpts of what his male countrymen who had lived in the U.S. had to say about American women.

One came from James Brown, 36, a London magazine editor:

"American Women. You can only spend so long with one before you crack. They're out there, they're loud, they're bitter and they're kooky. After a while all the things that attracted you to them: confidence, conversation, nice teeth, begin to bug you. You think you've got Black Beauty and you end up with Mr. Ed."

And so Steve tells me that, well, yes, he had a bit of getting used to in the American dating scene.

It's not that he hasn't found love in the U.S. of A. It's been a little over a week since he really fell for Vicki Milby, 22, who is 100 percent American.

Anyway, Steve says that he had to get used to knowing that American women reserve the right to date a whole bunch of guys at the same time. It's not like that in England. There, when you really like a girl (and pardon me, but English guys don't say "women," they talk about dating a girl), then you don't go out with half a dozen others.

And something else. That first date with an American girl, it's like it's supposed to be a big-time dinner, instead of just going to a pub with friends. So you end up dropping like $90 while she's doing her checklist.

I talk to Vicki, and she tells me she thinks American women can come across as a bit too much. "They want to be equal so much it can be overpowering," she says. Vicki also tells me one thing that Brit guys have going for them: "They have that sexy accent," she says. "That definitely helps."

Then there is Martin, 42, who grew up in Bristol. He's been in the U.S. for three years and is six months out of a divorce. He'd rather not have his last name in the paper, what with his ex still around and all that.

I read Martin what his countrymen say about American women, and he totally agrees. (He also has found that a British accent is a fantastic woman magnet here.)

But that American Woman! Mama, let me be!

One of the first questions is always: "What car do I drive?" Martin says. "If I have the latest BMW or drive a Chevy, does it make a difference? And they want to know what apartment you live in. Do you live in Bellevue, because if you tell them you live in Everett, they don't want to know you."

Here is a final comment in the Daily Mail from Oliver Bennett, 43, remembering a dinner-date with an American woman:

"It was like being with a nasty bank manager, rather than someone with whom you hope to sleep. ... American girls are possibly the most wound-up people on the planet. They don't believe in laughing: Instead, they would go to 'laugh class' to find out how, then solemnly say it had changed their life."

Well, there you are.

American woman, what have you got to say?

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com.

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