It would never occur to me to hate Britain, nor would it occur to me to hate “the British”. Such a concept is actually quite, ahem, foreign to me. But yesterday I did something I have never done before, and sent a comment on this blog to the great spam pile in the sky, for suggesting both of those things (along with the also useful suggestion that I go “home” and spare my work colleagues from having to put up with me. Nice.) Leaving aside the fact that I am home–I have no ties in the US aside from memories, family and friends, as my beloved job, my worldly belongings and my life overall is based here in the UK and has been for several years–it was a really odd thing to have my departure suggested to me by a total stranger. It caused me to stop and think about why it is that it is not terribly likely that someone in the US would hate Brits (in fact, we tend towards the Anglophilic), but yet it’s somehow seemingly perfectly allowable in Europe to generally hate Americans. It also made me very curious as to how I could have hit such a nerve with, what are (in my own head at least) drolly amusing observations about the cross-cultural divide, with no more venom intended than “taking the piss“.
Yesterday’s tongue-in-cheek commentary about a British “stiff upper lip” versus American “venting” seems to have been the trigger for much unpleasant expression, to use a British understatement. There are only four comments listed, as noted the fifth is in comment heaven, and even there in the remaining comments are some interesting thoughts. Perhaps it is because I am from the midwest, but I am the only person I know, friend or family, who has ever been to therapy. That stereotype seems to be borne of an East Coast/West Coast thing, because in the heartland people are more likely to go to church than to a psychiatrist. So the idea that a little bit of American “blowing off steam” is the same as habitual therapy couches, well, it does not resonate with this American. I have, in fact, been open about the fact that it was trying too hard to “fit in” with the “stiff-upper-lip” phenomenon that caused me to bury my personality on first arrival, and I have settled into a medium me–not as forthright as I was in the US, but not completely silent either. And I think this is a good compromise. I don’t think a “stiff upper lip” is always healthy, nor do I believe that saying every thing you think the moment you think it is a good idea in any context, workplace or otherwise.
I suspect that most expats find that there is a compromise position in the end: you retain some of what makes you uniquely “you” (including your heritage and the country of your birth and/or upbringing) and you adopt new pieces of your adopted homeland (like saying “bloody” all the time, or loving how many differently-sized spoons you now own). You become a citizen of the mid-Atlantic, when a US/UK transplant, in that you are never quite one thing or another, and having experienced the adventure, you can’t go back. There’s a recent guest post from Mike of Postcards from Across the Pond that mentions something I’ve also discussed previously (but am not easily finding the link!) that everyone should try this–everyone should live abroad for a while and take a chance to see yourself, your country of birth and your host country in a different light.
I will happily accept any constructive challenges to my opinions, which are, as noted previously, only my off-the-cuff observations on my life here. I am not an investigative reporter, and I doubt I ever will be. Because I live in Britain, the subjects of my musings are more likely to be about what I find to be surprising in Britain, as opposed to my views on the faults and foibles of America. It’s not that I don’t have issues with America–dinner with an American expat tonight revealed that we both love the UK tax system as simple compared with the US, but we both have serious concerns with two-tap sinks for hand-washing. I will continue to cling to little pieces of America when I feel homesick, and delight in the fact that there are other bloggers in my predicament (thanks, Iota, for finding me another Minnesotan in England!) I will not, however, accept the idea that my bemused commenting on the cross-cultural divide is worthy of deportation. And so if that’s all you have to say in response to my thoughts, don’t expect your comments to appear on this blog.