One of my roles for sponsors is to pick up the nuances of language differences between American terminology and English English, which amount to a great deal more than remembering to avoid references to “attorney”. It is not that I claim anything special for English English (well I do, of course, but not in this context) but that if you are trying to sell solutions to English lawyers, you should do so in their language.
I was a little taken aback this morning to find a large and very smart black people carrier outside the Gaylord National Hotel with the name “Suburban” proudly emblazoned on its side. That would be the kiss of death in marketing terms in England. It is not that we don’t value the suburbs – people like to live and bring up their children in them and they hold an important place in modern British culture. Like so many other things which we value, however, we simultaneously despise them. Where Americans see (I assume) pleasant detached houses in large green plots behind low white fences, we think of rows of tacky 1930s semis or even tackier 1970s estates, where people with dubious accents and faux-posh expressions twitch their net curtains in between bouts of wife-swapping.
It is unlikely, come to that, that the Gaylord Resort chain will be opening in England any time soon, at least, not under that name. Images come to mind of Peter Mandelson, now Lord Mandelson of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and Hartlepool, Deputy Prime Minister in all but name and Lord High Everything Else, prancing around in ermine robes, coronet and little else; that would kill the brand instantly.
You can protest all you like that this reflects outmoded prejudices which have no place in modern society. I agree, as to both anti-suburban snobbery and the predilections of peers, but it is not my job to change the culture of society as a whole. Trying to change the culture of litigation lawyers is quite enough to bite off for now.
The House of Lords, as it happens, provides one of those object lessons in the ease with which an outsider might get things wrong. You probably think of peers as honourable old chaps who have held their titles, and the landed estates to go with them, since 1066. Most of those have gone. There are still a number of fine, upstanding people with plenty to bring to public life whose appointment as peers is both merited and valuable for the rest of us. You ought to know a few things, however, before you appoint a peer to your board in the hope that he or she will bring lustre to your corporate name; you should know, for example, that Tony Blair had a run of flogging peerages to those who contributed, not to public life, but to Labour Party coffers; that some Labour peers have recently been caught accepting money to alter legislation; and that some (of all parties) have been caught claiming housing expenses in relation to properties they never visit, let alone live in. By and large, those houses have not been grand mansions but shabby little houses, often suburban.
Oh, and by the way, the House of Lords is no longer the highest judicial authority in the land. From the beginning of next term, we have a new Supreme Court.