Je suis Americaine-ish
(Before I start, I want to say that I just did a quick Google to check the accents on Americaine, which I decided not to bother with anyway. In doing this, I found out that Americaine is also a brand name for a benzocaine-based topical pain reliever, meant to soothe the pain of hemorrhoids. So there you go.)
About four years ago, I moved from the US to the UK. I’ve only been back once in all that time. I speak to a few Americans here, but my daily interactions are almost entirely involving Brits.
Over the past few days I’ve been feeling particularly un-American. Not anti-American, but un-American. I’m losing my American-ness.
(As I write this, I’m having a ‘debate’ sort of thing on Twitter about American pronunciations, and whether I use them or not.)
There was a time when I would have known more about American politics than British politics. But now I don’t. I’ve stopped reading American news to keep on top of what’s going on. November came and went, with only a vague and passing thought that it was a midterm election year.
It’s an odd situation. I am American, of course. But I don’t feel very American. When I read American reviews of British comedy, I have that sneering reaction of a Brit — those silly Americans so clearly don’t get the comedy. But who am I to say such things (actually, no… don’t let me get started on that whole thing again)?
Anyway, at what point do you stop being an expat and start being an ex-pat? When I came over here, I was an American and stuck out as such, and not just because of my accent, Obama t-shirt, and method of eating with only a fork. Now it’s not even commented on most of the time. Probably less than once a month, the accent gets clocked. (I used to refuse to order drinks at bars, so sick of having the accent conversation or the far worse feigned misunderstanding of what I could possibly be saying.)
Now it’s secondary. If asked where I’m from, they usually mean Weston, not California. I don’t even notice the accents. Right now, as I’m writing, I’m having trouble actually thinking about the accents of the people I most often speak to, whether American or British. I can conjure their voices in my mind, but not anything particularly accent-y about them.
I watch plenty of American television. In fact, sitcoms are probably the biggest connection I have to my home and native land. (That, by the way would have been an awesome sentence if I happened to be Canadian. Oh well.)
There are things I miss about America, but even those things are fading quickly. There’s so much that I’ve forgotten about everyday life. I think of costs and money in terms of pounds. I translate Americanisms into their British equivalents. Not the other way around.
I guess at four years, it’s the point — for me at least — where I stop being an American citizen living in the UK and accept that, more and more, I’m somebody who is technically American, but becoming British. I don’t even remember what part of things is American and what is British. I forget the way I’m meant to say things, the way I’m meant to react to British quirks, the way I’m meant to react to events in my country.
On the night of Obama’s election, I stayed up, dozing in and out as the returns came in. I watched the news coverage and was proud to be American. Now, only a few years later, I feel so separated from that country. I see the big headlines, but not the little ones. Not the stuff I used to read so avidly. What’s worse, I don’t actually think the realisation that I don’t anymore is going to spur me to start again.
The urgent local story for me is when, if ever, North Somerset is going to collect the bins that haven’t been collected since mid-December. That’s just so British, but it’s my home now.
I guess there’s no end to this pondering. It’s an open-ended thing. The longer I’m here, the more British I’ll become. Growing up, one of my mom’s best friends was British. Through my life, until the end of hers, I saw as she became more American. She lost her accent slowly, and used the American words. She kept certain things, and that’s some of what has made me feel so comfortable moving here. I had grown up around a certain level of Britishness.
I guess in some ways, I’m just going through the reverse. At some point, I might even come to terms with the way this country does scrambled eggs.