Monday, November 5, 2007

I Heart England (or do I?)

I have a pink luggage tag that says "I Heart London." My mom bought it for me at a dollar store. It came in a set, and the other reads "I Heart New York." I've always been slightly embarrassed by these tags, but kept them on my luggage because they are accurate. I do genuinely love New York, but then I have to ask myself, do I really love London?

I have a true love/hate relationship with the English and their culture. I am (gasp!) an Anglophile. That damn island is so charming, I can't hate it. As much as I want to, I can't. England and her people are allusive to me. They seem so closely related to us Americans but still are different. I found it easier to live in Italy and just accept the cultural differences there than I did while living in the U.K. The British didn't seem different enough to be so, well, different. And they can be annoying.

Let me explain. They are arrogant, the British. They once ruled the world, and now that they just have Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to rule over, I think they're disappointed. They seem to dislike Americans for the same reason: an arrogant sense of cultural superiority. It's warranted, I will freely admit it. My country has done a lot lately I'm not proud of, and I think a lot European criticism of the U.S., especially of our foreign policy, is justly deserved. But come on - British colonialism did more to fuck up the world than anything else in the last 200 years.

So I'll put the arrogance aside. Both countries royally fucked up the world. Okay. That's settled. I can get over British arrogance.

English people, especially those in the South of England, are cold, unwelcoming, and just plain rude. (As a side, it always seems to be the "South of England" and never "southern England." I'm not sure why.) In shops, they hardly recognize the presence of a customer, let alone offer help. If some poor soul were stranded on the side of the road with a flat, I doubt they'd be offered assistance by a passing driver. I was deathly afraid to ask for directions, for fear that no self-respecting English citizen would sacrifice 30 seconds of his or her time to help, of all people, a stupid, lost American. It was easier to forgo all human dignity and get lost and pray a friend would notice I was missing and come find me. Luckily, it only happened once.

I guess I didn't find the English to be as charming as the landscape, and I wanted to love it there. I wanted it to become my new home, and it didn't. Once I returned to the United States, I worked for an international company that had many stateside British employees. There were some clashes in management styles and different expectations for admins (I will never be a personal assistant for a British exec. Never.) There was some petty behavior, as there is in most offices, but all in all, I came to like many of my English co-workers. I would ask some of them questions about England and try to reconnect with a country that, deep down, I had to admit I liked. Maybe not loved, but liked. And they were some small connection back to that place.

After moving back to the American South, I find, for the first time in two years, there are no English people in my life. None. I long to hear someone say "trolley" instead of "cart" or "nackered" instead of "tired." (And ask me why Americans always include the full stop inside the quotation mark.) I recently rented the British version of "The Office" and while I prefer the American show, I just wanted to hear the accents again. I even thought about pretending to be British for a day, faking an accent and providing people with an elaborate back story about how I grew up in London and had a British mother and an American father. I would tell them I had duel citizenship and decided to move to America to experience it more fully than just visiting.

Ironically, it is Guy Fawkes Day, an important British holiday akin to Fourth of July, fireworks and all. I must admit on this most patriotic day of the British calendar that I love (yes, love) Britain, and I miss having British people in my life.

1 comment:

Joyf said...

I have a friend who lives there. She loves it. But then, she's also got an English boy ..

Distance and absence really do make us appreciate things, don't they? Like those rude Brits. You should visit again .. it might cure you!