Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Strange Man In Their Midst

I'm not going to understand nationalism ever.

There's nothing quite as American as acid reflux and spinal disc problems. I've had both of those (although my back twinges are in no way close to the nightmare some people go through) but I still know I cannot be an American. I can get the passport obviously. And I will do that pretty soon (once I sort my UK one out). But I'm too English to be American. Steak and kidney pie and thinking cricket is a good thing are part of that. My son was born in the US so he's got no choice in the matter. My daughter was born in Bristol back home, but because her mother is a US citizen she immediately becomes one as well. We even had to take her as a baby to the US Embassy so that they could stick a flag in her.

My father-in-law commented this weekend that I was wearing, "American blue jeans." Avoiding the etymology of the word denim or anything like that, I don't refer to them as American blue jeans. And up until recently I preferred not to wear jeans. Which was sort of why my father in law was mentioning it - I was mimicking an American. Which I can do quite well. I look mostly like the people I live near and I can put on a pretty damn good American accent. Which - as most expats know - is useful around people who have so few social skills that they either just stare at you when you use an English accent (they either cannot work out the words or assume that because you aren't American that you might just go away) or they'll impersonate you. Well - not you. They'll say, "cor blimey" and, "long live the Queen" or some other such guff that is about as English as cluster bombing the Middle East. So chucking in the American accent is as useful in some situations as going au naturel.

But I was watching an old highlights reel of a Fulham football match from a few years back and something hit me. It was the last game of the year that Brian McBride played for Fulham. He and Clint Dempsey - both US citizens by birth - were walking around the pitch with the Stars and Stripes held above their heads. Having lived in the US on and off for a decade now that's not that unusual. The frequency of public displays of national identity are a bit weird to some in the UK (evidently not the Scottish or Welsh as much). Flags on the lawn was something that a friend of mine who visited the US last Fall thought was really bizarre. Of course in Bristol you'd see England football and rugby shirts every single time you went out. I'm betting if you walked around your grocery store in the US national soccer jersey nobody would have any idea what country it represented.

Still I suddenly realized that my kids would not only be expected to join in with gusto during the ridiculous amounts of national identity parades that we seem to have here. I was wandering around a barn filled with pigeons and chickens once for a State Fair competition and the entire place stood in silent respect as a small child bellowed out The Star Spangled Banner at lunch. They happen all the time. Sporting event - time to sing. Political debate - get your hat off and stand up. Anything annual that a town/village or entity does - time to be a proud American. And there isn't anything wrong with that. It's admirable in many many ways. IT's still odd though. But I also realized my kids would want to stand with hand on heart, hat off, filled with love, pride and a strong sense of identity as to who they are. Probably anyway. And why not?

But I don't and will never think of myself of in the same way. I'll have the blue passport and all that. And I do have some sort of hope that the US does achieve something in football events. But if England meet the US in the World Cup I'll be hoping that England not only win but do so in a manner that England never ever do. But I can't get my head around the amount of money spent on military "defense." Or the way the word "check" for banking is spelled out. Or the idiotic notion that the US has amazingly had a team win every single year at the NFL World Championship. But whilst moving all my furniture around this week and reassembling my house I came to accept that I can never ever be a true whole American. This is due to the amount of rage that rises in me when trying to attach the aerial to the television.

It's not the same in the UK - you just stick it in there (that's pretty much the difference with teenage sex too judging by teenage pregnancy rates and the lower age of loss of virginity). Not here. Oh no. It has some sort of twisty thing that can only go on if the wire in the center is exactly in the right spot. Which is hard to do. Well, for me anyway. After five minutes with it yesterday I screamed in rage. I thought about smashing the television and then I could just tell my wife that I didn't hook it up because it was broken. But then she'd have to fulfill her national American duty of reporting me to the INS. You see - that's how they identify foreigners here. In fact I'm certain that the citizenship test doesn't involve a thorough questionnaire at all. Instead ll they do is put you in a room and tell you to connect a coax-cable to the back of a television. If you can't do it then you get sent to Guantanamo. It took me 20 minutes to do that. Then I knew I had three more to go (for the digital TV box and the modem). It took me more time to connect them than it did to bring the TV, TV stand and computer table into the room.

So today I'm going to see if it's innate by just leaving a connector and some coax lying around. That might backfire though. Because I'm betting my son and daughter connect it within seconds and then ask me to try it. Then when my daughter gets to school this afternoon she'll know that she'll have to tell teacher that Daddy might be in Al Qaeda. Which is why I should pretend to eat pizza for breakfast.

Only real Americans do that.

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