Even Our Beavers Are Different

I’m a fan of a bunch of ex-patriate blogs here on WordPress (check out Ellen Hawley’s blogroll on Notes from the UK for a great list of bloggers straddling cultures), and after years months of reading these blogs study, I think I’ve stumbled across the difference between Americans and Europeans: it’s all about beaver.

See, there are only two varieties of beaver in this world, the European Beaver which looks like this:

677480_44997684and the North American beaver, which looks like this:

As you can see*, they’re a lot alike, and, according to the scientific journal Mammal Research, both European beavers and their American cousins inhabit similar ecosystems and lead similar lives, dividing their time between chewing down trees and building up dams.

Except there’s this one perhaps not inconsequential difference: European beavers are monogamous, while American beavers sleep around.

I’m an American who writes about science law Dr. Ruth Westheimer beavers sex, so this bit of information absolutely delights me, because of course American beavers are out there slutting it up. I’m sure there’s a few whole bunch of Europeans who read this blog and are nodding their heads right along with me, but for different reasons.

“Isn’t that just like an American?” I imagine them saying. “Even their beavers are vulgar.”

Since my knowledge of Europeans comes mostly from watching Masterpiece Theater, I could be wrong about what they might think. Perhaps when they hear about our sexy beavers they’ll think something like “How wonderful!” or “Isn’t that interesting?” rather than express disgust at our aquatic mammals who are unable to resist their baser instincts.

I guess I’ll never know for sure what Europeans think unless I travel outside the US. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been contemplating a trip to Great Britain where I could observe the inhabitants up close in their natural surroundings, just like the scientists who researched the mating habits of beavers, rather than long distance, via an episode of Downton Abbey.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading all these ex-patriate blogs, trying to prepare myself, and I’ve come away with the distinct impression that the rest of the world has a few problems with Americans. And South Americans have a problem with us even calling ourselves “Americans” because aren’t they Americans, too? What’s with these self-centered, self-absorbed, conceited, narcissistic  norteamericanos thinking they’re the only Americans that matter in the whole entire world?

Anyway, if you Google the phrase “American stereotype” you’ll find out what much of the world thinks of us. To them, Americans exist as a dazzling array of unpleasant characteristics.

  • We’re violent. We all carry guns and shoot one another at random.
  • We’re loud. We talk loud, we laugh loud, we breathe loud, we just have to announce our presence everywhere with noise.
  • We’re obnoxious/rude/uncouth/arrogant. Take your pick. Or all of the above.
  • We’re ignorant about the world, and most everything else.
  • We’re obsessed with money.

And maybe we are all of those things. All I know is that when I travel to Europe, I want to make sure that no one ever says after I leave a room, “Of course, she’s American.” Instead, I want to absolutely explode the stereotype of Americans in the minds of the Europeans I encounter. When I leave the room, I want them to say, “Can you believe she’s American?”

I'll even eat French food.

In my effort to prove that not all Americans are provincial, I’ll even eat French food.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’ll do this. Maybe I’ll wear a beret. Maybe I’ll chain smoke cigarettes out of a skinny cigarette holder. Maybe I’ll drop the names of world capitals into conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to lose my accent, which sounds like I’m from New York to people who have never been to New York (I’m actually from Connecticut originally), but I’m thinking I might have to pretend to be mute, which would at least solve that “Americans are loud” thing, too.

So I’m prepared to do all that, and explain our lecherous beavers to them.

*The actual title of this photo, and I swear I am not making this up, is “Wet Beaver.”

Royalty-free stock photos, including the images in this post, can be found at freeimages.com.

London Calling


Let’s hope he got paid a whole lot of money for this picture.

If you wander into my office, you may notice a blank US passport application lying on my desk. Up until now, the application has mainly provided me with the opportunity to engage in fantasy: when I get stressed, I take a look at the application and imagine myself jetting off to some damp and dreary exotic locale where the natives speak British English an indecipherable language and eat Marmite curious foods. Usually, I’m shaken out of the fantasy by the realization that I’ll have to get a photo taken for the passport and I’m waiting for a good hair day.

But my hand (and my hair) may have been forced by a new exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London. The exhibit is called The Institute of Sexology: Undress Your Mind and it promises to combine several of the things I love most in life: a musty museum, scientific research, and sex. From the Wellcome Collection’s website:

‘The Institute of Sexology’ is a candid exploration of the most publicly discussed of private acts. Undress your mind and join us to investigate human sexuality at ‘The Institute’, the first of our longer exhibitions. Featuring over 200 objects spanning art, rare archival material, erotica, film and photography, this is the first UK exhibition to bring together the pioneers of the study of sex.

How could I not go?

Free baby-sitting boxes.

Free baby-sitting while you enjoy the exhibit.

The problem, of course, is my very Irish, very Catholic husband. I’m afraid he might run out of places to avert his eyes at an exhibit full of carved ivory penises and ersatz vaginas (from the Kraftt-Ebing display, naturally).

If you knew my husband, you’d know that he would insist, against all evidence to the contrary, that he would have no problem with the exhibit, but what about our two school-aged children? Surely this exhibit would not be appropriate for them. 

But he would be wrong.

You see, the good people over at the Wellcome Collection have provided an entire “learning resource for teachers” over on their website to accompany the Institute of Sexology exhibit and it’s full of lots of fun pre- and post- visit activities, such as

 Divide your class into three groups (A, B, C) and give each a flipchart and pens. Get each group to write down all the words they can think of for A) male genitalia, B) female genitalia and C) having sex. Have the groups then swap papers and circle in different colours the words they think it is OK to say  1) in the classroom, 2) round the dinner table, 3) in the playground, 4) in the bedroom, 5) in the sexual health clinic and 6) in a research questionnaire.

As I read this, I’m trying to think of what sort of sexual words would be appropriate to say “round the dinner table” and I’m coming up short. (Breast, maybe, if I’m serving Chicken Kiev?)

(On a side note, early in my professional life I worked as a corporate trainer, and I am horribly familiar with the disasters that can unfold when you give a group of people free access to flip charts and pens, even when you’re just brainstorming ideas to support the “strategic plan” and not talking about sex.)

So maybe my family isn’t ready for a trip to London, if they’re busy herding schoolchildren into museums full of wangs (not appropriate over the dinner table) and hoohas (appropriate anywhere, from this blog to the State of the Union address) over there.

There are still plenty of wangs and hoohas I haven’t seen yet here in the good ol’ USA.

The Institute of Sexology exhibit at the Wellcome Collection runs through September 20, 2015.


The black and white photo appears under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (attribution the Wellcome Library). Royalty-free stock photos, including the other image in this post, can be found at freeimages.com