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What you can learn from television

No. not the American kind–I grew up with that. But I’m in Ireland, and I have a satellite dish that gets mainly UK television shows. Some are familiar from what’s broadcast in the U.S. (like Midsomer Murders, several times a day), but what has attracted my attention is both English shows (like BBC news) and, yes, the commercials. Since the weather has been a bit damp, I’ve had the chance to watch a lot of them.

Content: Let me start by saying that I suspect satellite broadcasts are aimed at older citizens (like us fogies who keep watching during the day). There is a preponderance of “save the animals” pitches–for the usual cats and dogs, but with quite a few appeals to contribute to bears and donkeys and abused zoo animals. The requests are usually small and reasonable–a few pounds a month (forever).

Then there is the “senior” furniture–lots of scooters of different sorts, and chairs that will gently nudge you out of your armchair or bathtub or bed. They are most often used by lovely blonde women carefully dressed in skirts and high heels (to sit in a chair to read a book?) and smiling all the time. Seriously, most of these ladies don’t look like they need help getting out of the furniture, but usually there’s a spouse handy to encourage her.

Funeral packages: there are many many appeals (to the presumably not-young audience) to invest in a burial program for the future, at only a few pounds a month. Be sure to read the fine print, because you can’t always get a refund if you don’t make use of your policy.

Appearance: Since Brexit is looming (whatever shape it takes), I’ve seen a lot of news shows and MPs (mostly members of the UK House of Commons) on broadcasts throughout the day. It is a different universe from our staid and usually well-groomed politicians and newscasters. They look like normal people–the hair styles look as good (or bad) as mine and vary widely; there is little makeup on the women; teeth have rarely encountered orthodontia and they are often yellow. No spandex outfits in sight. I find it kind of refreshing: these are people you can identify with.

One last comment: watching the full House of Commons in action during a heated debate is a lot more interesting than watching the American Congress. People yell and make odd noises. They stand up and sit down a lot. They compete for attention, often loudly. (And, as of this moment, there are slightly more female members than in Congress, although that may be changing since Brexit negotiations have been such an ongoing mess. (Should I mention that Scotland is talking about becoming an independent country?)

I will also say that in general most MPs are far more polite (even on Facebook), both in general and to one another, than their American counterparts. They are civil and they don’t call each other names. They sound intelligent and well-informed, and they clearly represent their constituents.

Readers, do you think the U.S. could move a bit closer to this model? If you ever get a chance, take a look at how they do things.

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