American girl trapped in a British body?
With parents who were and are loyal fans of the US with a flagpole in the back garden flying the American flag, a dad who worked for an American company, a mum who accessorizes her humble abode with endless relics, souvenirs and treasures hauled back from the States, parents who, had it not been for the economic collapse years back would be living in Arizona now; my dad possibly still alive, and parents who, from the time of my birth until my early 20’s drilled into me to get out of the UK while I am still young enough and who only spoke of England to complain of its demise into third world poverty and ruin, and parents who took us to the States rather than holidayed in our own country, is it really any wonder why I don’t feel British? Is it really that surprising to others why I sympathize more with Americans and share their mentality and views on things? Is it really hard to understand why I don’t know where home is?
While the rest of my family are proud Brits, happy to call the UK home and know where they belong, I feel messed up. A little lost. I feel like I don’t belong. I don’t fit in. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I don’t. I love it though when I can connect to like-minded people. Being a lone wolf sucks and friends are really important. But you have to like the place you’re living in too and the culture and mentality of the people as a whole. I like people who inspire and motivate me and who are on the same wavelength. People who make me feel relaxed enough to be myself. People who are a little direct and don’t bitch about you behind your back. People who are optimistic and like to laugh. Who are hard grafters and just get on with the job instead of moaning about it. When I meet people like that I see a glimpse of home, a sense of belonging. A few have been Brits; many have been Americans.
I can’t really pinpoint exactly what it is about the UK that I don’t like. It’s many things I guess.
Maybe it’s the lack of emotion. I definitely dislike that with the Germans. The dry stiff upper lip reserve? Possibly. I hate the “we mustn’t show affection” attitude– hug a stranger? Christ how awkward. I hate the “let’s not get involved unless it concerns us” logic. Brits are kind of stingy. I hate the pessimism. I hate the self-deprecating humour. I’m not a fan of British accents; Geordie is the worst. It just grates. I hate the small pokey English houses and matchbox new builds where you can’t swing a cat. The separate taps where you either burn your hands under the hot tap or freeze under the cold. I hate the infrastructure. Public transport sucks. I hate the tiny congested roads. I hate the cities. London is particularly ugly. I hate how expensive the UK is. I hate how shit the NHS is. People praise the NHS because it’s free but sorry, some things you now have to pay for and prescriptions are stupidly expensive while you wait half a year for a specialist appointment at the earliest. I hate the food. I dislike the weather.
I could try to find a thousand more excuses to explain why I don’t like the UK.
Why I don’t want to live there.
To try to justify my reasons to my friends and family who tirelessly annoy me with their, “just come back home” comments as if that’s an answer to all my problems.
My mother who pushed me to leave the UK now wants me to come back because she misses her therapist to offload onto (oh that’s me by the way).
Really, I only need one reason. I have to WANT to live there. I have to like it and if I don’t, I don’t. Deal with it. I think they have a problem accepting that. When I returned home for 3 years (2008-2011), I rarely saw friends and family because everyone was busy working, raising kids and doing their own thing miles away so what difference does it make living abroad? The thought of me being closer is comforting to them but that’s selfish. They think they know me. They think they know what is better for me. Why? How? Based on their life so far? Their experiences and knowledge? They’ve never lived my life. They are not me; they do not see life through my eyes nor think like I do.
Could they move to another country, leave their friends, family, learn another language and start from scratch? Survive years of unemployment, poverty, hardships, failure after failure and illness? It takes a strong character to do that and I don’t think, until they have lived through it, they could ever understand. Travelling is not emigrating.
I hated living in the UK. The entire time I lived there I only ever thought about leaving and how to do it. I was frustrated, angry and not proud. Anything British disgusted me. They were chains tying me down. My home life was one of constant drama. It still is. As a kid you just do the best you can in a turbulent environment. You focus on a goal to get you through. I think a lot of shit that happened to me in the UK stuck and now I associate negativity, pain, hurt, sadness and failure with the UK. The image of the UK for me, is tainted.
Sad memories. Bittersweet. Like Chemnitz. But that’s for another blog post.
Many customers and colleagues ask me about the UK when they come to get their travel money. They get all excited, eyes wide open, big smiles, wanting to know everything about visiting the UK. They have flags and souvenirs plastered over their possessions. But for me, it’s draining. I’d never buy anything with the Union Jack plastered over it either. They’re talking to the wrong person here. Hello, I’m a Brit living in Germany—if I loved the UK why would I be living and working here? Use your loaf. I just fake a smile and try to mirror their enthusiasm, a mask hiding my true feelings, after all the UK needs as many tourists as possible right now before Brexit. Turning my back, I sigh heavily, roll my eyes and swallow the bitter after taste.
I know it’s not the UK’s fault. It’s not the customers’ faults either. I wish I could share their excitement. And I know it’s my attitude– I could focus on more positive things but the damage has been done. Esther Perel, (yes I know she’s a sex therapist but bear with me here) touches on the idea that you cannot have love without hate and hate without love. There’s a link between the two. She was referring to aggression in sexual relationships (that’s for another blog post) but it got me thinking about that in another way. In order to hate the UK I must have loved it.
I used to love how England was, how as a child I could ride my bike and go off with my siblings to the park unsupervised. I loved the defined seasons and summer weather. I loved the innocence and security of childhood. I loved the house I grew up in. I loved having family time (when my parents were not arguing, when dad was home instead of working and when mum wasn’t crying into a glass of red wine). I loved spending holidays with my grandparents and cousins. I loved the fun day trips out together. Things however started to change on entering my teenage years. Things started to fall apart further and those good memories became just that. Memories. We didn’t really have many good experiences to add to the collection. Things deteriorated. And slowly my love for the UK did too.
I traveled to other countries. Met people from different cultures. I met an American boy and I lost my virginity. I started looking at the world differently as a young woman. I started to see things I loved that were not British. I wanted more and the further away from home I ventured the freer and more relaxed I felt. Escapism from island fever. Escaping the drama and depression.
I studied German and Russian at Bristol University. After my dreams of becoming an oceanographer were crushed I jumped into what I was good at—languages; communication. I went to Russia with my fellow comrades in 2004. On this trip we got up to a lot of mischief, it was one of the best trips I had—totally random, hilarious and full of antics. But being amidst Russian linguists, it soon became apparent that they were very anti American. I vividly remember one conversation around the topic of adoption. We’d previously bumped into an American couple adopting a Russian child to take them back to the US. My comrades were angry. Although they never confronted the couple in the hotel, the following day they voiced their disgust amongst each other. They claimed the child would lose their Russian culture, heritage and be brainwashed and become another dumb American. That is was wrong. I stood up for the American couple (having actually spoken to them in the bar the previous evening they told me they had found a Russian native in their town to tutor the child in their native language) I tried to project another perspective but I was branded an American sympathizer, as if this was bad. All of them staring at me with distrust. One comrade pitched in, “how can you support America when you’re studying Russian—they contradict each other.”
Over the following years this impression stuck with me and I repressed the empathy. I tried to joke about the US or agree with the cliché that Americans are stupid when in certain groups in order to fit in. I was afraid I’d be rejected and people wouldn’t like me. Particularly my Russian friends and family. But secretly I had this inner crush. This love and awe and I don’t think judging a huge country based on the actions of a few is fair. No country is perfect. And so what if I like America? I think it’s perfectly OK to like elements of many countries. I think some parts of Lebanon are the most beautiful I have ever seen, the people at the grass roots level are humble and kind and one of my oldest and dearest friends is half Lebanese. I’d argue that Iraqis and Syrians and some Afghans I meet through my work are also lovely. I hate politics. I’m humanitarian. I don’t feel my heart belongs to one country in particular, I connect to people not places.
But I do love the passion the American people have. While I see England as dry and boring, I see America as fun, wild, nuts and a pretty colourful country full of possibility. I mean Trump became President! Now that’s crazy on a whole other level (!) but I love the patriotism, commonly referred to by some Brits as “a kind of cult” and I love the diversity. Sure, they are a little rough around the edges and they have some serious cultural integration issues not to mention their health care is pretty much a horror story coupled with corrupt pharmaceutical industries and shady politicians but hello Russian comrades? Are you seriously suggesting a homophobic Russian dictatorship is better?
In German circles too, Germans will openly mock the Americans and blame them for being war-mongers; loud, drunk and tattooed to excess, and over the past recent years I find myself defending the under-dog, of fighting the US corner. Going against the grain. I feel attacked personally. I don’t know why. Possibly because a few good Americans have touched my heart deeply and I want to defend them. Maybe I’m a closet American?
Now I am not afraid of what people might think of me (OK, maybe just a tad). I’m older, more direct, far more opinionated and as my sister and cousin remarked in an unappreciative tone, I’ve become more German. Well, what can I say? The country you live in rubs off on you! 😉 I’m passionate, more emotional than a typical Brit and I like to tell you I like or love you, how much you mean to me or things that annoy me. If this makes you feel awkward then sorry. Life is too short to hold back, to not say how you feel, to not be YOU. The real you. Honest with others but also with yourself. I like the US. If you don’t then fine, that’s your opinion. I won’t be made to feel guilty about something I like just because it doesn’t fit in with the mainstream.
Yes, I volunteer for an American military charity. My family support the British and American Armed Forces. Brother, cousin and uncle served / are serving. Yes, my sympathies tend towards the US and this is probably influenced by my charity work but the seed was planted long ago by my parents. It’s been slowly growing and the more I connect with Americans and follow inspirational entrepreneurs online, either Americans or Brits making a career in the US, I feel more at home, more relaxed, more me and like I belong amongst them. And I’ve met some of the most amazing, down to Earth, humble, kindest, smartest and talented Americans who have completely smashed the stereotype.
Could I move to the US? I’m not sure. I’m not sure how much I could cope with their ‘crazy’ on an every-day basis and like I said, healthcare, finances, social welfare and the general standard of life isn’t as great as it is in Europe. It’s pretty much work, work, work, and struggle financially. I really like Germany and there are a few Americans living and working here I can connect with so I’m happy with this mix.
Could I ever love the UK again—enough to move back there? I don’t know. I have a fondness for it and find quirky British things endearing. I like to indulge sometimes and enjoy a bit of Britishness but I like to hang up the costume and be myself again a few hours later. The English things I love are historic. Me reminiscing on old England. Present day England– there’s nothing I love about it, especially since Brexit was decided. In German they call me “Multi-Kulti” (multicultural) because I’m an English girl, living and working in Germany, married to a Ukrainian and volunteer for an American military charity. I’m a mix of all those things, they have certainly shaped me over the years and left their impressions, dents, marks and scars. I’m not 100% British anymore. There’s no pure American. The foundation of America is built on immigrants. A mix of everything. Maybe that is why I connect to them and feel more American?
Don’t miss a blog post! Sign up for my newsletter! No spam or selling your data I promise! Just posts from me to you about things I think you’ll love to read!