Diary - Joanna Coles

"There isn't any crime here," he said. The English husband snapped back: "I suppose that's because e

One of the best things about moving here eight years ago was unlearning the cliches that the British twittering classes hold so dear about America. Not least that the New York Times is unreadably bland, when in fact, compared to UK papers, it is embarrassingly highbrow - and that American TV news is cartoonish compared to British television. It really is not. Hoping to get more detail about the London bombings, I tuned in to the ITV news (broadcast here by Time Warner), and was startled to see how silly it has become. In particular, the young female sidekicks clutching scripts and striding about the set in corporate-secretary outfits are no match for the authoritative women in their forties, fifties and sixties you find on screen here. Diane Sawyer, Paula Zahn, Katie Couric, Candy Crowley and Greta Van Susteren (whose Fox ratings now outstrip Bill O'Reilly's) all punch far above their weight.

Having been posted to the States for a couple of British papers and then gone native, I miss some things about being a New York correspondent, but answering to the whims of the foreign desk isn't one of them. I was reminded of this when, two days after President Bush announced his nominee for the Supreme Court, I was called by a reporter working for a British broadsheet, who wanted a quotation from me on John Roberts. Specifically, she wanted to know if I thought he was attractive.

To her credit, she knew how absurd this sounded, and said that she had suggested a more serious story but her editors in London had demurred. Their interest in Roberts was piqued only when it became clear he was considered unusually handsome for a judge. If even a broadsheet can't be bothered to write about what is really at stake, it's no wonder that British cliches about America remain so entrenched.

I was riveted to read in last week's NS of Andy Kershaw's heroics chasing robbers through Crouch End: burglary is one of the things you slightly forget about here. Compared to 101,474 burglaries in London last year, there were 26,815 across all five boroughs of New York, according to the NYPD. Manhattan, of course, is informally policed by doormen, but burglary isn't an issue in the suburbs either. When this month I called to ask where we should pick up the key for our summer rental on Long Island, the owner laughed and said, "I've never bothered with one, I'm afraid." Recently we were in Ojai, a beautiful town in the mountains north of Los Angeles, and an English screenwriter friend told us how one Christmas he had rented his house to an English couple. When they arrived to take possession they, too, asked for a key. "I don't have one," he told them. "We don't need it - there isn't any crime here." Instead of looking relieved, the husband snapped back: "I suppose there's no crime because everyone's so rich. Typical Americans!"

British peevishness notwithstanding, some cliches are justified, including the one about New York's hyper-parents. We recently attended a cocktail party and were chatting with a Wall Street couple when the wife, an intense blonde, announced that their child had a Mandarin first name. "Is she adopted?" my husband asked, a reasonable question, given that the local playgrounds are crowded with adopted Chinese girls.

"Oh no," the woman replied. "She has blonde hair and blue eyes. But when she was born we asked ourselves: what was the greatest gift we could give our child? And given the global economy, we decided it was the ability to speak Chinese. It took me six months to find a suitable nanny, but we eventually did. She speaks to her only in Mandarin and now our three-year-old is fluent!"

Oblivious to my rising panic that the nearest my own children have gotten to China is the Empire Szechuan restaurant on Broadway, she concluded with a flourish: "She'll have such mobility. My dream for her is to conduct

the Shanghai Philharmonic."

I smiled weakly and tried to change the subject. "Are you going on holiday this summer?"

"We're going to China," she shot back. "For two months. We want our daughter to have total immersion."

Joanna Coles is executive editor of More

This article first appeared in the 01 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Why Britain is great