25 August 2009

On being an American Overseas

When I first moved to England in April (and, if I'm honest, well before that too) I was very careful to keep my opinions about things, both in the US and the UK, to myself. I didn't want to sound like one of those Angry Expats who move away from their home countries as some form of protest and continue to be angry with the government/politics/social programs/etc etc of said country in loud and obvious ways as they make a life in their new country. I didn't want to sound like a Homesick Expat (though I think in my heart that's really what I have been), who has moved to a new country for a specific reason, not just because he or she fancied a new way of life. I just wanted to generally be Simon's wife and be ignored. I'm really good at playing the wallflower, at least in public.

Something has changed, though, recently. I think it started with a woman that I met in Wakefield at a bus stop. As soon as I answered her question, she surmised that I was "not from around here" and when she found out I was American...it was ON. She had never been to America, mind you, but had heard such dreadful things about it. Forest fires, earthquakes! Houses built into the sides of mountains! Places only accessible by trams! The HORROR. I mentioned (when I could get a word in) that I was actually from the eastern coast of the US and what she was describing sounded like the western coast. "Well, how different could it be, really, it's all America after all. Dreadful!"

I had been sort of insulated, I think, by not working and staying home a lot of the time. The people I socialized with were my inlaws and Simon's friends, none of which would tell me if they did bear ill will toward America. (None of them do, to my knowledge, but if they did they wouldn't say it in front of me.) The gloves have come off, though, and once I got those pesky things off my hands I found myself free to remove my rose colored glasses. Interesting what you can see when the world comes back into its intended colors.

I feel that I need to pause here and say that while I do love the UK and the people that I've met, I dearly love America (warts, overpriced health care, and all). I am doing my best to make a life here with my husband, but I will be totally honest and say that if he came home from work tonight and said "I've got an idea, let's move to America," I would have half our bags packed before he finished the sentence. Having said that, I will further admit that I tend to be a little biased when it comes to rhetoric that I perceive as America-bashing...but come on, it's that age old idea that I can talk about my family but you'd better watch it if you do. Right?

With the release of Mr. Megrahi, the man convicted of being behind the bombing of the Pan Am flight that crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, anti-American sentiments seem to be on the rise here. Not that they were dormant prior...the health care reform debate (which again, I'm not blogging about, if you're keeping score) had already put the US in the enlightened European cross-hairs and labeled most Americans as short sighted selfish cretins. And while I know that for the most part, British people don't really think one way or another about Americans in their day-to-day lives, I still feel that I have to defend my homeland...loonies included...whenever anything of that ilk comes up.

So here I go. I find it interesting that when Mr. Bush took the US to war with Iraq (not Afghanistan, mind you) and claimed it was on humanitarian grounds, to spread democracy and end tyranny, many enlightened Europeans pointed out that the real reason seemed to be so that the US would not lose one of its sources of oil. Seemed logical. In fact, it was so logical that I, loyal American and not yet expatriate, had no trouble believing that to be true. So when the Scottish parliament (which by the way, is an arm of the UK government as a whole, what with the whole United Kingdom thing) releases a convicted terrorist to his home country which has, by the way, a whole lot of oil and a good relationship with Britain, no one thinks it's anything but enlightened compassion. Huh.

And yet, I try not to say anything because I don't want to further the stereotype of the Loud American...well, until now anyway. The next time I hear "...and that's just because, as we all know, America is at least two decades behind the rest of the world. aren't they?" I may have to speak up. Maybe. I know that America is still learning, still growing. But I also know that I am at heart, an American, and that I accept her faults and hope for her future. I just hope that my adopted home and its people can learn to do the same, for me and for America.

1 comment:

Kristina said...

Very interesting post!

I am so fed up with the state of our country that I would gladly move overseas. Coincidence has it that the UK is where I'd want to be, though I bet like you, I would be horribly homesick.

The woman you met at the bus stop reminds me a bit of an exchange I had with two Brits the last time I was in London. These two guys could not believe that my boyfriend and I had not been to every one of the 50 states in our country. I just don't think that they get just how big the U.S. is compared to their little island...

Sideways...and then some

The I Can't Even face. Y'all. How is it that things can go from zero to one hundred so fast when I'm not anywhere near where...