Sometimes It’s Weird Being an American Expat

 

yankee doodle

I’m on my second experience as an expat. The first time in Italy and now in England. In both countries the United States is put on some other level. Like way up there, in the clouds, floating up up up, above everything and everyone else.

Italians are more than willing to crank up their necks to look up to it. They become obsequious at the thought of an American in the vicinity. There’s not that much crime in Rome but I’d always figured that I could wiggle my way out of a tight spot if I told my would-be assailant that I was from New York. Handing back my wallet, he’d say, “Veramente? Really? The Big Apple, New York?? I grattacieli! The skyscrapers. I hear you can make a killing by pickpocketing Times Square for just an hour!” For the Italians, we are an alien superior race and there is nothing the Americans can do wrong. Except cook. Even the most self-loathing Italian will say they have the best food on the plane. (I concur; you haven’t had a tomato until you’ve had an Italian tomato.)

With the Brits, it’s a bit different. They are scornful. Years ago, when I first started teaching English in Italy, I was the only American at my school. The rest were Brits and the odd Australian or two. They teased me mercilessly: about how loud I spoke, my cursing, my unabashed proclivity to discuss sex in the classroom. Not that I necessarily did any of these things but given I was American, it was assumed I did. Well, ok, so I did do pretty much all those things. But what killed me was when they said: “How can an American teach English?” Ha ha ha. Friggin’ hilarious. Dat shit ain’t funny.

me and marsha, the only other American teacher at the English school. yea, ok, we were the loudest, brashest, most ridiculous and FUNNEST.

me and marsha, the only other American teacher at the English school. yea, ok, we were the loudest, brashest, most ridiculous and FUNNEST.

And yet.

Since I’ve lived in the UK, I am constantly complimented on my accent, even when making a complaint to my Vodaphone’s customer service. “Yes, of course we’ll take care of your problem but… are you American? Lovely! Surely I can upgrade your package at no extra cost!”

Also, Brits steal American marketing ideas. In mid-November, stores all over England advertise big sales on Black Friday – signs in the stores, in the papers, on the radio. In the United States, Black Friday is a big retail sales day because, as it’s the day after Thanksgiving – which is always a Thursday – most people are off on Friday as well. But what’s odd is that there is no Thanksgiving here in Britain. (I mean, of course, not. We escape England, go hang out with the “Indians” and have a very big meal.) So there is nothing particular about that Friday. It’s Black Friday just because they say so.

Also, there are lots of American programs on the television. Like a lot. They talk about those shows like they’re their shows. Not like it’s an “American” show. It’s just a show. Which is fine. But in the US, you’ll get the occasional British program on public television on a Sunday afternoon. That’s it. So it seems that despite the scorn, the states net imports “culture” and customs to England.

It’s a love-hate thing, I guess. The colony that made good. Maybe too good and now we’re kinda show-offy. And boy, do they hate Trump. On that though, we can agree.

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