Uuuggghhh…it is brutal being an American in London the day after the 4th of July, when said 4th of July does not fall on a Friday or Saturday, but on a Sunday with no day off on Monday. It hurts, people.
But hurts oh so good. Yesterday we enjoyed an absolutely lovely American-style picnic in an English garden. Of all places to celebrate a nation’s independence, we were brimming with the irony of doing so in the former Motherland…one gets torn whether that’s a disrespectful thing to do, but if there’s one thing I assert as an expat, it’s that living in one country and loving it does not require you to forego your allegiance to your own. There are certainly expats who have moved here for the very reason that they’ve renounced their country, but it’s certainly not the case with probably a majority of us. Rather, it’s more out of an open-mindedness to experience another culture and understand its perspectives, and thereby modify or validate the perspectives we already hold.
One question I’m often asked is whether there is an obvious anti-American sentiment here. Well, it’s not something that trickles down much to the individual level—people of other nationalities are always lovely to me and might only tease my heritage in good fun—but there’s indeed no end to the sweeping judgments placed on the nation overall. And perhaps that’s inevitable and all countries are victims of it. Opinions are easily and understandably formed based on high-maintenance tourists, media representation, and the American television series that are aired here, yet I cringe at the possibility that the Kardashians could be remotely viewed as representative of over 300 million people—when I substitute-taught here for a few weeks last year, one of my teenage students, on confirming that I was American, asked me if I knew Lauren from “The Hills.” Unfortunately, I had also already confirmed that I’m from Chicago, so when its lack of geographic proximity to Southern California doesn’t register, it does make me ponder why Americans are popularly given a hard time for not knowing precise locations of other countries—I wonder that foreigners could identify the locations of individual states any better…all 50 of ’em. Yet those who have visited the U.S. typically only know 4 best: New York (NYC), Florida (Miami/Orlando), California (LA), and Nevada (Vegas), and I find it an absolute shame the Midwest just gets flown over when it contains some of the most down-to-earth, good-hearted citizens with solid values. Not that the coasts don’t, of course! It’s just that there is a range of regional cultures in the U.S. itself that does not tend to be acknowledged.
I’m by no means trying to reverse-bash here, just noting a dash of hypocrisy in common criticisms, and I address it now merely as an aspect of the London expat experience. I personally prefer to judge people as individuals, not by stereotypes, and would find it peachy if we could all just get along 🙂
And I’m not alone. Before I moved to London, I read a book by Bronwen Maddox that caught my eye precisely because I was about to leave my Stars and Stripes for the Union Jack: In Defense of America. A half-British, half-American journalist, Maddox grew up in America and now lives in the UK, where she confronts misconceptions on a daily basis, and this book was her response. It does not set out to tout the superiority of the U.S. or anything of the sort; it simply offers some background on the nation’s founding principles and what makes it tick to aid understanding of where its policies and people are coming from. It also does not make excuses; like any other nation, there is much America can do to improve, and she offers advice on this as well. Anyways, I’m not going to hop on a soap box here; I just found it an interesting read (as balanced as the author’s dual citizenship) and recommend it to any American expat who may time-to-time feel misunderstood.
Regardless, I celebrate the greatness of the nation that I presently live in and appreciate the opportunities it has provided my husband and I thus far. We have felt welcome since the moment we set foot on UK soil and hope we’re doing our part to contribute to the fantastically diverse London community!