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Why Americans love “The Great British Baking Show”

Why Americans love “The Great British Baking Show”

It’s refreshingly apolitical, reassuringly traditional and jam-packed with ye olde innuendo. But what’s with the weird name-change?

It’s refreshingly apolitical, reassuringly traditional and jam-packed with ye olde innuendo. But what’s with the weird name-change?

Tim Smith-Laing | July 6th 2018

After seven years of dating an American, I have learned a lot. Well, quite a lot. Or perhaps not so much. I don’t know, maybe nothing at all. Well, I have definitely learned one thing: that I cannot do a convincing American accent. No, cancel that. I do a superb American accent, it is just that Americans are incapable of receiving it as such. “No,” they say, in American accents that are not quite as authentic as mine, “no, that’s not a good American accent.” Even my fiancée, who is so American that she was born on the 4th of July, does not know a good American accent when she hears one, from me. So it is less that I have learned that I cannot do an American accent – which I absolutely can – and more that I have learned I should not do an American accent, because it will confuse Americans. Like when you bark at a dog or miaow at a cat. You’re speaking their language, but they’re just not equipped to compute that you are.

My fiancée on the other hand, I can confidently assert, has learned a hell of a lot. An endless list of things, in fact, that it would be otiose to rehearse for a British reader and useless to rehearse for any American that has not already lived many years among us. If you, a mere normal American, are wondering what I mean, consider the strange sounds these words make on your eardrums before they bounce back into the world having stimulated nothing in you but blank incomprehension. Class. Irony. Biscuits. No? Nothing, but a soft cognitive silence, as of snowfall in Minnesota? I thought so. A dictionary will not help you, because it cannot help you.  I will not help you because I do not want to help you. We are, as an Englishman must have said, two nations divided by a common tongue. And yours is much commoner than ours.

If this seems unfair, consider the re-titling of “The Great British Bake Off”. Apparently “The Great British Bake Off” is a big deal in America right now. “Thank Goodness” it’s back, said Vulture’s Jen Chaney. Well, I am glad America has fallen in love with “Bake Off”. Well done America, you have a lot to learn and there are worse places to start – “The Crown”, for instance, which is nonsense, or the Harry Potter films, which are rammed with untruths, or Nigel Farage, ditto, but less entertaining. So, yes, settle down America, and watch “Bake Off”…Except in America it is not called “The Great British Bake Off”. It is called “The Great British Baking Show”. 

It is as if someone at the network was working their way through the title, word by word, lips moving as they pieced the letters together one by on...and then lost the thread right at the end. “The – I’m with you. Great – sure, great is good, no it’s better than good it’s great! I love it. Oh, okay, British. Wait, those two go together. Huh. I never saw it like that. Great Britain. Britain is kind of great isn’t it? Go Britain. Moving on. Bake. Oh, yeah, I like it. Cooking shows are great. Baking is great. People love cookies and pie and all that stuff…But wait a minute now, Off? What is that doing there? How does this even work? That’s just an extra word. No. Nuh-uh. No way. Ugh. Bake off. Like jerk off? Or, Christ, like switch off? We’re going to have to re-name it. Send this down to the very-literal-names department for re-evaluation. Thanks guys. Great discussion.” 

Come on, America! What was so confusing? “Bake Off” is even called “Bake Off” in Italy. “Bake Off Italia”. Do Italians complain? No. Do they find it confusing? No. I imagine they use contextual clues to work it out: the ovens, the baking. Was it really so obscure? It is not like it was called “Du côté de chez Scone”, or “Paradise Crust”, or “The Pie Rates of Penzance”. The only place where it has anything like as fully literal a name as America is in France, where it is called “Le Meilleur Pâtissier” – the best pastry chef – and every episode is two hours long and the contestants have to do things like craft the Great Pyramid of Giza out of macarons and sponge, which they do flawlessly because they are French and they really are les meilleurs pâtissiers. That I can understand. “The Great British Baking Show”, though, I ask you. What are you even meant to call it for short? “Baking Show”?  

And yet, confused by the semantic ambiguities of “bake off”, American audiences are apparently not confused by the fact that the current series of Baking Show is being shown out of order, six years after it aired in Britain. Because Britain has class and irony and biscuits, but it does not, apparently, have to experience the passage of time. In the land of tradition, nothing changes, and everything is fine. The sun is on the green and the blush is on the rose and the Queen is on her throne and the crown is on her head. And in the garden of a castle a tent stands where it must always stand: tent quondam et tent futurus. Politics never enters there, because no one who watches “Bake Off” wants it to, and the merest mention would curdle the cream and rot the eggs in their shells. Inside stands Mary Berry, candied in sherry and icing sugar, never staling. And with her Paul Hollywood, whose permanent tan age cannot wither. And with them Mel and Sue, buoyed on the same uncouth current of sexual power that runs through the Green Man and the Uffington White Horse, repeating innuendos about soggy bottoms and moist cracks that were first heard when those feet in ancient time walked upon England’s mountains green. Contestants will come and go, but nobody minds because Britain is small and we will all get a turn eventually. They will be there till the stars go out. And Americans in need of comfort in a troubled age will tune in, safe in the knowledge, that somewhere all is well, always.

Of course, with six years in hand, we Britons know better. But then we always have, haven’t we?