Better Half got back (on)Tuesday after eight days in New York. He had a great time promoting his work at an English teachers' conference and enjoyed working with his US distributors, except for one thing that niggled. He'd be chatting with the American folk, cracking jokes as he is apt to do, and someone would exclaim (no doubt indicating him with a nod or a pointing gesture) to the others in the group, "I love this guy!" or "Don't you just love this guy?" or some variation on this. (He should be used to this by now--some of my family members are guilty of the same behavio(u)r.)
Now, BH, it must be said, usually enjoys the attention that he gets for being English when in America. In fact, his main complaint about the country on one of our visits last year was that due to the favo(u)rable exchange rate, New York was crawling with Brits, and he was no longer "special". So, one might think that he'd love people exclaiming their love for him, but he found it rather off-putting--and so would I. No doubt, the people who say it would think that they're being complimentary. So, what's behind this phrase/behavio(u)r (which I can't say I've ever experienced in the UK)?
Why some people would find it off-putting, or even rude, to be the topic of such an exclamation is easily explained. There you are, getting along with people, feeling like you're making headway in being accepted as part of the gang. Then you say something funny, and instead of laughter, compliments, or inclusive back-slapping, someone starts talking about you in the third person. You stop being you or Lester (or whatever your name is) and start being this guy. It's distancing. It makes you feel like a performing seal and not a person taking part in the conversation. And what do you say after someone says I love this guy? You haven't been addressed, so it has essentially ended your turn at talking. You're put in an awkward position.
So, why it makes people uncomfortable--easily explained. Why do people say it? It seems to say "Look at me! I'm sophisticated and/or clever enough to appreciate this person's humo(u)r!" In other words, it seems a rather self-cent(e)red thing to say. So, part of me is tempted to say that one hears expressions like this more in the US than the UK because the US is a more individualistic society, with more emphasis on the 'me' in conversation. And I'm sure that's part of it. Another part, I think, is the relative insularity of mainstream American life--if you don't interact with a lot of people from other cultures (as equals) on a regular basis, perhaps you don't know what to do when they make a slightly off-colo(u)r comment. (BH does have a tendency to like to shock middle Americans with his Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.) Folded into this is some Americans' insecurity around British folk, whom they consider particularly funny, well-spoken (recall AVIC) and therefore possibly more intelligent than themselves. So, perhaps in such a situation, it's more natural for people to express their appreciation in a distanced way (this guy!) rather than a personal way (you're hilarious!) or a joining-in way (carrying on the joke).
Those are my working hypotheses, at least. (Or since it's a bit of this, a bit of that, maybe it's only one complicated hypothesis.) I'm not sure how much they're worth (it's been a long and tiring week--not a good time for self-critique!), but at least I can offer the public service of pointing out to I-love-this-guy-sayers that there are more effective ways of making people feel loved.
BTW, one more notch in the Canadian count bedpost this weekend--courtesy of a very nice (well, not nice enough to let me beat him) Scrabble player from the Wirral. The Canadian count has slowed down of late (we're just up to 11 now)--maybe I'm not meeting enough new people, or maybe I'm volunteering information about my childhood home too early in conversations, or maybe I'm being accepted as British now that I'm a citizen (HA HA HA--tell us another one, Lynne!).