It’s often not easy being what is colloquially known as an ‘ex-pat’. After seven years in America I’m no nearer being ‘an American’, but neither can I honestly say I’m still totally British. I occasionally joke with my lovely American wife that I belong somewhere round about the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.
‘Twilight’ is another ex-pat Brit. She often comments on Sparrow Chat. Recently she celebrated five years living in the U.S. and wrote about it on her own blog, “Learning Curve On The Elliptic”.
What she had to say resonated with me and I began to compose a comment. It grew rather long, so I turned it into a post:
You can read on blogs a lot of stuff that resonates, but this post resonated with me more than most; probably because it’s at a very personal level. My seventh anniversary of emulating Columbus ocurred a month before your 5th, on September 18th.
In many ways I believe you’ve adjusted to U.S. life far better than I, even taking the plunge into citizenship – an act that earned my sincere admiration. After all, having been through the trauma of the US Customs and Immigration Dept, I knew exactly the hassles entailed.
I began to hate America very quickly, partly because it stood for so much I despised, but also as a prison from which I knew I could probably never again fully escape.
That hatred has now dissipated. Like you, I’ve grown accustomed to ‘upside-down’ light switches and driving on the passenger side. Dogged British stubbornness still prevents me calling the car boot a ‘trunk’, and a tap a ‘faucet’, though thankfully I stopped telling my schoolkids to ‘stay on the pavement till the bus arrives’, before any of them suffered a nasty accident.
Arriving plum in the middle of the American Heartlands, inside the Bible Belt, and on the edge of Tornado Alley, probably didn’t help me to settle. If the U.S. ever requires an enema I’m convinced it’s in this area they’ll insert the catheter.
Perhaps the circumstance creating my greatest unrest in those early years was the American reaction to 9/11/2001. It was exactly one year and one week after the attacks that I moved here. The plethora of flags, stickers, and vomit-inducing patriotism that greeted my arrival almost caused an about turn while still on the tarmac at O’Hare Airport.
Seven years later, it has subsided to a degree. Even America can’t keep its emotions fully charged indefinitely, despite the best political efforts to do so.
I’ve made five return visits to England. This summer was the first time I didn’t feel the need to go. Of course, I still have aging parents living there, and a daughter and grandson, but the British have never been quite so potty over family ties as their American cousins, and the telephone is a great substitute, given the inevitable upheaval and drama of Chicago’s O’Hare.
I no longer call Britain ‘home’, but something prevents a final surrender to ‘being American’. I still can’t bring myself to fill out the forms for citizenship. I never needed to pledge allegiance to the Union Flag to be British, and I’m damned if I’ll do it to be American. It’s that dogged British stubborness again.
In a comment on Sparrow Chat (October 23rd), you wrote:
“It’s so comforting for me to come here to read, and find that someone else, of similar background, sees things the way I do. We can’t both be wrong – can we?”
No, Twilight, we’re not both wrong. We’re able to see things about the U.S. that Americans are too close to focus on. They can only see the trees, we get a good view of the whole wood.
Finally, let me assure you the comfort is reciprocal. When the going gets especially tough, it’s usually “Learning Curve…” that helps me re-stabilize myself to American life; knowing I’m not the only Brit struggling to adapt to this strange and often disturbing land.
Here’s to the next………however many years?
 “Remembering A Life Change” Learning Curve On The Elliptic, October 25th 2009
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