Monthly Archives: October 2010

Proud to be an American

I had a very strange day today. I was supposed to be hosting another American friend, who lives in Paris, for the weekend but she got sick and had to cancel. So my plans for the last few weeks (all of which were about getting my flat ready for her visit) went a bit awry, and I was left with an unusual three days of a completely blank calendar. This led, as it normally does, to my doing lots of cooking and eating. (My sister and I have just started a cooking blog, visit it here!) This also led to my spending three hours transfixed by the live broadcast of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Resore Sanity and/or Fear” which was actually and amazingly available to view from the UK. (I say amazingly because the Comedy Central site is one where I normally get the “This video is not available in your country” message on rather frequent occasions.) It was full of American flags and American patriotic songs and hilarious jokes and stunts and lots of good music. No one really knew what the point of the whole thing was, but the Jon Stewart speech at the end of it was amazing and made me really happy.

I lived in the greater Washington D.C. area as a kid, and as a post-doc I was at the University of Virginia while my sister was a grad student at Georgetown and thus I’ve spent a great deal of time in the DC area. I consider that region to be one of my homes in the US, a complementary city/region to my actual home town of Minneapolis. Seeing the rally streaming over my iPad (hooray, the video worked! Must not have been flash…) while I was cleaning, cooking, and otherwise hanging around my flat, was actually a bit tough. I kept getting choked up about the whole thing, which is remarkably silly given how completely silly and apparently (tho’ probably not actually) pointless the whole thing was. It was not a major American patriotic holiday. It was the several-days-eve of a mid-term election, when voter turnout is usually poor. It did come in response to the whole crazy Tea Bagger thing that has caused America much consternation (not to mention dirty jokes–link NSFW!) over the last few months.

The thing that seems to get me the most, as a long-term expat, are the songs. The patriotic songs of America have become a real tear-tipping point for me in the last few years. I don’t know what it is about living away from “home” and never hearing the songs that makes this such an emotional experience. I guess when you’re around things all the time, you get used to them. And when you’re away, you miss them. (Like me and my obsessions with orange cheese-flavored crackers, for instance.) But I ended up watching the “rally” in tears due both to location and to music, and then to just polish myself off as useless for the night, I started perusing you-tube videos of my favorite American song that always makes me sob. Enjoy.

You can take the girls out of America…

but you can’t take the American out of the girls. I had been i-chatting with Kat this week and we realized that we both had some shopping to do on the weekend–she for shoes for her girls, and me for fall/winter clothes for work. So we made up a plan for her to come gather me, from the outskirts of my market town, and to go into town and do our shopping. I thus got to catch up with Kat in between our shopping missions, which was great because it had been ages since I’d seen her. The funny thing about friends made via blogs and Twitter and the like is that even though I had not seen her in a while, we were not exactly out of date. So hanging out is just fun, not about catching up with details. She also brought her lovely daughters, who are my adopted nieces.

Navigating the English shopping mall’s multi-story car park in Kat’s vehicle is an adventure in and of itself. She has a very brightly colored SUV brought over from America, which means it has the driver on the left (as it bloody well should be!) But this is England so the ticket machines to get into and out of the parking deck are on the right-hand side of the car. This means that I have a little job to do when sitting in the passenger seat, one that prevents Kat from having to crawl across or even around the car to deal with the ticket machines. And that challenge surmounted, we go on to attempt to park an American SUV in a car park optimized for tiny little VW Polos and the like. Amusement all around.

Having finished our shopping, we decided to go to McDonald’s for an early dinner. I know, I know, I already said you can’t take the American out of the girls. And her daughters are particularly big fans. We had intended to go in to eat, but the parking lot was inexplicably full. We thus decided to go through the drive-through and go back to my flat, which is about two blocks from McD’s. (And although I’ve in this strategically located flat since July, I had not been there even once yet, I swear!) And here’s where I become amused: at the McD’s drive-through here in England they did not have one of those microphone things into which you yell your order. No siree. They had two boys, standing outside in the pouring rain in fluorescent jackets, taking your order by walking up to your car window, asking what you wished for and then punching it into one of those little hand-held computers with a stylus. I for one was relieved, because I thought at first that as the passenger person on the right, I would have to relate the entire order into the microphone thingy myself, thus potentially making myself responsible if there was a slight cheeseburger disaster with one of Kat’s girls. In the end, we got back to my place after collecting all the food and the jerks got the kids’ cheeseburgers right and shorted us adults one of our packets of fries. Oh well. All in a fun day out being super American and all of that.

Adult woes and decisions

I awoke this morning in a paralyzing blind panic. For some reason, the fact that I am at a serious crossroads in my life just hit me all at once. Now admittedly part of this panic was clearly initiated by the subconscious, in that I had been dreaming that I was at a bakery and simply could not decide which delectable item to buy. And I also spent a bit of time yesterday chatting with my recently-repatriated sister about the pros and cons of being back in the US. So perhaps it is not such a surprise that I had life decisions on the brain. Plus, as of last weekend I have been in the UK for 4 years, which means my shiny work permit visa with a five year lifetime is fast coming to an end. There is thus paperwork to do. Mounds of paperwork. The very thought of which makes it sound like a really good idea to hightail it back to the US into some job where I have the right to work for life without more paperwork. And where, truth be told, I have a far greater support network than I have now, even after four years of living here. Listening to my sister’s tales of woe after two months in her new job and new city reminded me that after four years I’m really not that much better off in some crucial ways.

Generally speaking, being an immigrant has been harder than I expected. And I could not have predicted how much more uncomfortable it would be under the coalition government that now rules Britannia. I am very much aware of the fact that I am a non-EU citizen. Somehow, all of my other colleagues at work in this status have managed to claim EU citizenship through a relative or spouse, and so I am really alone in my worries about being a foreigner. Although I have been generally in favor of the reforms the new government has been introducing (my American-ness perhaps means that I was shocked to hear that all persons with children get handouts from the government regardless of income just for having children) I really hate the culture of “British jobs for British workers” and feel slightly expendable. This week marks the mammoth spending review in the UK, in which every sector of employment (read: nearly everyone) expects to be hit with cuts that will affect our jobs and our lives. VAT is about to rise, and as such everything we buy is about to become 2.5% more expensive. And I just moved out of work-subsidized housing into the private sector and am literally paying the price.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I woke up sweating over being a single, employed, non-EU migrant living in the UK. And softly singing The Clash to myself:

Should I stay or should I go now

If I go there will be trouble

If I stay it will be double

The indecision’s killing me

Signs, Signs Everywhere a Sign

In what is becoming an obsession with differences between British and American English, I have a few more entries into my previous thread on strange grammar on British signs.

“Access plot holders only”

This is the sign on the gate to the garden plots that I walk past on my way to work. I’d say “Access FOR plot holders only” or maybe “Access TO plot holders only” but the way it’s written makes me think I can reach the plot holders if I go through the gate.

In a surprising deviation from the theme of “missing words on signs” was this one:

“Polite notice: this gate in use 24 hours”

I loved this. British politeness leads to extra words on sign in order to be sure that the expression of territoriality was still “polite”.

Of course, I am (after more than 4 years in England as of last weekend!) required to participate in equal opportunity “taking the piss” and offer this little gem from my last trip to America:

Sort of “unnecessarily obvious” innit?