Today I saw a picture of the British Prime Minister eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. It wasn’t a secret photo of him at home or on vacation published by a tabloid. No, this was a media event organized by David Cameron himself at the house of a regular person who would be benefiting from some changes that his government had made to the tax system. He knew everything he did was being recorded for all the country to see, he ate a hot dog with a knife and fork.
When some people in North America saw that picture, they might have assumed that cutting up hot dogs with knives and forks is some of strange British custom, like soccer rioting and needing a license to watch television. I’m not British, but I did spend a year in England, and during my time there I saw a number of people eat hot dogs. None of them used either a knife or a fork. They simply picked up the hot dog with their hands just like every other person anyone has ever seen eating a hot dog.
There isn’t a politician in North America whose political career could survive a picture of them eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Bill Clinton’s reputation would be worse today if he had eaten a hot dog with a knife and fork instead of cheating on his wife with an intern in the Oval Office. People can relate to cheating on their wives; they can’t relate to eating a hot dog with a knife and fork.
The problem for David Cameron is that he has never been photographed using the wrong fork during a meal. He has no trouble selecting the proper fork for the salad, the main course, and the desert. He no doubt switches his fork to his left hand for cutting and then back to his right hand for eating. He knows the proper glass to drink Champaign out of and certainly knows that black caviar is better than red caviar, but yet he doesn’t know how to eat a hot dog.
That David Cameron will likely survive this embarrassing photo says a lot about politics in the UK. The British have long been accustomed to being governed by people who were raised in a life of privilege, went to exclusive private schools and, and have little connection to the average person. Ronald Reagan’s father was a salesman in rural Illinois. Bill Clinton’s father died before he was born and had an abusive, alcoholic step-father. Barack Obama’s parents broke up when he was an infant and spent much of his later childhood being raised by his parents.
It is tempting to pass off that hot dog photo and just one of a thousand funny but meaningless pictures of a politician, but it is much more than that. While North American political leaders come from all walks of life, and even have different colour skin, British Prime Ministers almost always grew up in a life of privilege apart from the common person. The hot dog photo explained that much better than a thousand words could ever do.