Going Native in America

It turns out I am not the pure Englishman I thought I was. I've been in the US for over seven years now. Well, I say "the US", but what I really mean is "California"; the two are clearly not one and the same. And that is part of what I want to talk about. You see, from the perspective of a an English man, or at least this one, the US looks rather like this: New York (full of Irish cops, Italian delicatessens and abruptness), the Deep South (rednecks and ignorance), the Midwest, (cowboys and Chicago/Detroit) and the West Coast (Hollywood and surfers).

This tends to come from the letterbox perspective of US television, which generally tells the story from the perspective of TV-land, which is to say simply. And (I have dannye to thank for this phrase), the rest is flyover country¹, the bits in between the East and West Coasts, overlooked and ignored by and large, at least until election time. Most TV shows show only the most successful people, living in huge houses or apartments, with one car for everyone over sixteen, and fishing trips (or equivalent) every weekend - the American Dream.

So anyway, enough of the introduction. Suffice to say that soon after I came over, I had a telephone conversation with my Dad, during which he asked "How is America?" and I responded, "I don't know, I haven't been there yet". It did not take me long to realise that California is not America, any more than Ypsilanti or Little Rock are. They are a part of the great whole, and whilst I've had the privilege of travelling rather a lot (eighteen states), I have not seen a tenth of it.

So now I have met rednecks and hippies, conservatives and liberals, farmers and cowmen (who should be friends), and pagans and Christians. I have made a point of searching out Real America and its denizens, because I want to learn about this country, and I need to learn about it not from books or the telly, but from the people who inhabit it and make it work. After all, if I am to be a US citizen, that will stand me in better stead than learning about the Presidency, the The Constitution, the Bill of Rights or any of the other stuff that the citizenship test asks for. This is the real knowledge that I want and need to live here.

The Day-to-day Native

I recently watched a British film (not movie, film) and realised that it was making me feel uncomfortable, that sort of niggling "did I leave the stove on" discomfort that I couldn't quite pin down. It took me a while to realise that at the back of the chummy English actors, the cars were driving on the wrong side of the road. It was quite a revelation, one that took me back to my last visit to England, during which my good host offered me the use of a car to drive to and fro the hospital. I thought about it for a while, but it was a no-brainer. Not just that drivers in Nottingham are crazier than tank drivers on speed, I did not want to deal with the secondary issue of driving on the left. I'd proven my new car habits were deeply ingrained by climbing into the passenger seat on the wrong side every time I'd been in the car.

That's not all the change, of course. By the side of the stove is a can of bacon grease, because I'd learned that all the good recipes begin "fry an onion in bacon grease". I use the handy (largely American) word "gotten", rather than "got", and "cilantro" rather than "coriander", because coriander is only used hereabouts to describe the spice. I've learned to think of Great Britain as over there, and American politics as "our politics".

I watch football (not soccer), but "American" football, at my local sports bar and even have a team I root for - the Green Bay Packers! I have been to a baseball game and know most of the rules, and damnit, I drink American beers (microbrews, not Bud or anything "Lite").

There are limits, of course. I tend still to spell words (and pronounce 'em) in British English rather than American, so it's "colour" (Noah Webster can take a hike), and "ba-sil" rather than "bay-zil". After all, that's what makes me exotic. That and the kilt. Going native is, of course, a long process, but I doubt that I'll ever go all the way, even when the time comes to hold a new American passport.

Take care, y'all.

¹ I should point out that I have been through the Midwest and many parts of the South, and of coure learned a good deal along the way.