Friday, November 9, 2012

Americans had a busier week

I've done a fairly good job of keeping this blog apolitical. That's by design. However, it appears those of you who read this blog from the States have had a much 'busier' week than we have in the UK. I wound up staying awake really late on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in order to watch the returns live online. I'm still catching up on those lost hours of sleep. 

I'll say that it's challenging, at best, to try and stay engaged in the 24-hour American news cycle. In all reality, it's nearly impossible. I'm not sure that's a bad thing, per se - I didn't really watch cable news before I moved. But, even though I didn't watch cable news before I left, I still had a relatively good finger on the pulse of the day's talking points. Over here, I miss a lot of the nuance. I still get the stories, but I don't get to see them interpreted through the five or seven (or fifty) angles that various media outlets provide. 

It's an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, I still want to be engaged in everything 'merca. It's still my 'home', where I have citizenship, where I plan on returning whenever it is we're finished here - therefore, I want to know 'what's happening' over there while I'm over here. On the other hand, though, I fear that my desire to stay involved, a 'high information voter', prevents me from fully engaging in the political and cultural exchange here in the UK. 

It's not like I'm over here being that guy - the one who still compares everything to America. I don't. But, it parallels a lot of other things I wrestle with while living here:

I want to be able to refer to our little flat in southeast London as home. I want to make the cliche, 'home is where the heart is', true in real time. And I do - we do. Yet, there is still a sense of struggle with respect to how much UK culture we take on board. It's a balancing act I assume most people living abroad wrestle with. How much do we retain; how much do we assimilate?

There are symptoms of it in most aspects of our life. Naturally, I believe our language has the biggest identity/personal weight. Whereas we're not changing our vowel space, not getting British 'accents', we are using different lexical items. Out of habit, I refer to the NFL as American football. Kenz is 'attending university', not 'going to college'. I use bog roll, not toilet paper. I don't feel rude or crass asking for directions to the 'toilet' rather than the 'restroom'. So on and so forth.

I don't even feel wonky referring to America as the States (talk about highlighting an unknown, subconscious assumption that America could only refer to the America!) anymore. 

That's not to say it's not conflicting, though. When we arrived, I used my language as an indexical item; my desire to assimilate was in direct proportion to how much I adopted the new 'language'. I cringed when I heard Kenz say she was 'knackered', because I feared we'd come back to America using all sorts of 'marked' language and our friends and family would roll their eyes, thinking Madonna or they're just trying to remind everyone that they lived in London. I'd think she's changing her language too quickly - we can't just start using all those words, we'll be phony on both sides of the pond! Needless to say, it sounded strange coming out of her mouth. Even stranger coming out of my own. 

But it began to happen...

However, if I was having a bad day (and I've had a lot of those), I'd immediately blame it on the country (which I could laugh at later, but never in the moment). As a result, I'd speak extra 'American' that day. 

But, as you know, I/we/everyone has an innate desire to 'fit in' on some base level. Changing a few words here and there goes a long way to keep up the ruse that, whereas I may have different vowels (or, sometimes, even a different grammatical structure, different semantic domain, different tone, different volume, etc.), I'm still just another guy on the street. 

Most notably, probably, is that I'm not impressed by the 'accent' anymore. Just because someone 'speaks British' doesn't mean they're smart. Or polite. Believe me. 

There's the food, too. I'm a fan of brown sauce. I've gotten used to a lesser, tomato-based canned bean. I've even begun to prefer canned beans as a breakfast food. I've come to expect food to be organically grown, grass fed, and free range - and I don't have to seek that out; it's just a given, no matter what grocery store I'm in. And speaking of grocery stores, I'm not thrown by the layout of them anymore. I'm so used to the brands and products that I don't notice the differences. Weetabix is just breakfast cereal, not some strange brick of wheat and grains that dissolves too quickly in milk. I drink tea every day. Lots of tea. Different types of tea. And I know what makes a 'good' cuppa now, too, and don't fear making a 'bad' one when someone visits. Hell, I use a kettle. 

I've yet to succumb to wearing a scarf, but I'm dangerously close. 

There's no novelty to street signs, babies with British 'accents', open air markets on the weekends, electrical plugs, black cabs, and I'm beginning to get ashamed when I don't know the geography of the island - especially when someone names a town with a population smaller than 2 million. It's been over a year, I think, how can I still not know where places like Loughborough are? At the very least, I should be able to spell Loughborough without Google Maps

I know the British political parties, some of the leaders, the structure of government, councils, boroughs, etc. I've debated the ins and outs, pros and cons, assets and liabilities of the UK government (sometimes on its own, sometimes in comparison with the US's) with ex-elected officials and citizens alike. 

Probably biggest of all, I don't walk around thinking I look like a tourist. And I walk faster now.

But, I say all this to make a point: 

No matter how much I've decided to assimilate (some of it on purpose, some of it just unconscious/familiarity/osmosis), no matter how much this place has become 'home', no matter how many days I can string together without feeling homesick (my track record has significantly improved), I was still super homesick for the good old US of A on Tuesday. I wanted to be able to sit on a big  couch in a big American house watching a big American television as the returns began to trickle in. I wanted to be able to change the channel between the five million television stations that were covering the election. I wanted to be able to call and text anyone I wanted, whether it was to debate or congratulate. Odds are, I wouldn't've actually called or texted too many people (I've learned my lesson about that...I think), but I still wanted that option. 

Instead, I lied half-awake in bed with headphones on and the glow of a computer screen lighting up my face. 

I missed getting to don an 'I voted' sticker all day. Hell, I missed getting to see other people wear one as well. I missed the energy of election day. 

I missed the thrill of standing in a voting booth, feeling like I was honoring the generations of men and women who have shed blood, sweat, and tears to ensure that I have the freedom to cast a vote.

I missed being there while everyone was taking an active part in our representative republic. 

It's one thing to have to run around town in search of a turkey, having pumpkin pie ingredients shipped to us, and inviting a bunch of Brits over for Thanksgiving day. It's altogether a different thing to be isolated from America as she decides her own future. 

So, three days after the election, I think I'm ready to start counting homesick-less days again. Like a factory keeps record of days without a 'lost-time accident'. Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll take chalk to my mental blackboard and mark 'one' ... again. 

In the meantime, here's a few pictures from the previous week:

Kenz went to a Halloween party the Friday after Halloween. It struck me as strange that they'd be throwing a party two days afterward, but whatever. Kenz's friend, Ragna, came by to get dressed up beforehand. She was Mia Farrow from Rosemary's Baby...

I got to facetime with the world's best facetimer, NancRuck.

Last Saturday, Kenz and I went out for her birthday dinner before we went to see Owen's band at their album launch party. We went to one of the two hundred awesome Vietnamese restaurants in this city.

Obviously it was romantic
The Great Malarkey's album launch party/show was a hit (you can get the album on iTunes). The venue, Passing Clouds, was packed, there was a line out the door, and the band brought the funk. In fact, it was so crowded in there that Kenz had to bail - she got too claustrophobic. I stayed, though, and quietly judged everyone in attendance. Half the crowd was wearing a Halloween costume. Four days after the day. And I thought a Halloween party on the Friday night was lame...

Owen was rocking his new haircut, given by me in our kitchen

Lemme tell you something right now, and it's no exaggeration: the Brits love James Bond. They love him.

We went to see the latest Bond film on Sunday afternoon. We hadn't been to the cinema (see! I used to call it the movies!) in about two months, and were pretty excited to go see the newest 007. We figured, since the movie was released over here on October 26th, that there wouldn't be that big a crowd at the theatre. We showed up 10 minutes before the movie was supposed to start. We were met with a line out the door. On a Sunday afternoon. A full week after the movie had been released. At a theatre with 1200+ seats. The afternoon show was sold out. We only just barely got tickets for the evening show. When we returned in the evening, there was another line out the door, and by the time we had arrived that show was sold out as well! Luckily we had purchased our tickets earlier.

This guy probably considered himself lucky what with the line for Skyfall and all. He got to preach to lots of people waiting to go into the movie. I don't think he convinced anyone to repent, though. Probably due to the fact that he was saying the movie everyone had already purchased a ticket for was made by devil worshipers and that we were all going to hell for seeing it. I don't know about anyone else, but those tickets were expensive - I was willing to risk eternal damnation having already paid 20 pounds for a ticket - he should've been preaching to those who hadn't yet bought a ticket...

This is how we killed time waiting for the evening screening of Skyfall. Again, romance.

Reminded me of Kara & Jerry's dog, Pepper

MOMA and I wagering money (and pride) on the election

Owen's evening hobby - amateur gymnastics

Kenz's 'snack'

Yesterday, Kenz and I were out separately. I was running errands and she was at school. We both happened to return to the house at the same time. We didn't see each other until we had turned the corner to the same street - the one our flat is on. Out of nowhere, an uncoordinated perfectly timed return to the house!

She's quite the cure for the homesick blues.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!