Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Honorary American

Please welcome our special guest poster, Laura Jane Williams, who has graciously agreed to share her views on life among the Americans with us.

Laura Jane Williams is a British writer and performer. A sucker for adventure and good customer service, she has just returned from four months living near Detroit where she was in a touring theatre production performing for young adults, worked on her essay—collection ‘My Vagina’s Monologue’—and spent far too much time being introduced to people as My Friend Laura From England. She is unashamedly bias toward American culture and American boys. Visit her at A LIFE IN THE DAY OF.

This was my first time in the U.S and I declare with zeal, zest and ardor- I LOVED it. For saying that, even my own mother calls me a Slag of the World because I get around the globe with quite some enthusiasm; admittedly I didn’t get to see much, though.

I accidentally spent 20 hours in New York, nine of which I was asleep for but two of which were spent in The Village eating some really very memorable Mac n Cheese with truffle oil.

And the rest of my four-month trip was spent willingly confined to the state of Michigan, about 20 minutes from Detroit.

I’ve talked at some length on my own blog about the preconceived notions I had about Americans before I worked amongst them in Italy last summer. See? SLAG OF THE WORLD. It was the usual stuff. Too loud. Too in-yer-face. Too ignorant. Too fat.

How wrong I was.

And as soon as I found that out last summer, I decided I needed to observe the Yanks in their own, natural, habitat. I wanted to see what I could learn. Because working with them, slowly it became apparent that they weren’t loud, they were confident. Not in-yer-face but social and outgoing. Not ignorant, but curious. And not always fat. Damn, I saw me some cutie-pies, too. Ding-DONG!

And when I got home to England, the land of the stiff-upper lip and constant talk about the (ALWAYS grey) weather it hit me. At heart, I’m an American. I’m social and curious and positive- I needed to spend some more time amongst them. They are my people. And luckily, so ready to welcome me.

I don’t think it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that my time in Michigan was made most memorable by the people. I don’t travel to tick off a list of tourist attractions I need to say I’ve visited—and ultimately go on to forget—I travel to get under the skin and to the bones of a place. And the Midwesterners made that oh so very easy.

Speak and thoust shall be spoken to. I spent sixteen weeks just talk, talk, TALKING. Everybody wanted to know about me, about England, about why I was in Michigan and what I liked about it. They were INTERESTED, and not shy about letting me know that.

The sense of community was overwhelming- doors left unlocked, neighbours baking Easter cupcakes for one another and mowing each other’s lawns, being in each other’s business BECAUSE THEY CARED. I often feel like the UK very much has a sense of the individual about it: “I will succeed in spite others”. The U.S. struck me as being entirely collectivist: “I will succeed because of others”.

The UK can feel to me like it is being run by The Daily Mail: you can do well, but only if you act the underdog and even then you must be careful of doing TOO well. If you do too well you get verbally ripped to shreds. The U.S., though, salutes trying, even in failure. There is an undercurrent of relentless positivity that the UK just doesn’t have. Maybe it’s that grey weather I was talking about.

Don’t get me wrong; there were a few downsides. I do wish that America put less sugar in their bread and learnt how to make a decent bar of chocolate. And if they could recycle a bit more, that would be lovely. Oh, and it’s really quite irritating that the pay-as-you-go cell phones charge to both send AND receive text messages. That was a bit of a minus-ten-points situation, AMERICA.

But really, what’s a ten cents charge between friends when the very air you Americans breathe is laced with such possibility?

We could do a deal. Maybe if we Brits learn to be a bit nicer, a bit more celebratory, a bit more like you, maybe you could talk just a smidge quieter and try to reuse your carrier bags at the store.

I do love my country, but there is so much you could teach us about kindness and loosening up a bit, America. Not to mention your seemingly endless supply of boys with great teeth.

Britannia might rule the waves, but my word, the U.S.A. rules my heart.


  1. The text message thing gets balanced by the fact that rates for phone calls are all the same--it doesn't matter whether you call a landline or a mobile. I miss that.

  2. NFAH: I never sent a text in the States and I didn't know anyone who did. Why bother when there was no advantage in it? Texting drives me nuts!

    LJW: glad you got to view Yanks in their natural habitat and that you found them to your liking. But after your first experience in the US -- Mac n Cheese with truffle oil -- you had to know America was a very special place ;)

  3. "We could do a deal. Maybe if we Brits learn to be a bit nicer, a bit more celebratory, a bit more like you, maybe you could talk just a smidge quieter and try to reuse your carrier bags at the store. "

    Having lived on both sides of the pond and being a Briton at heart, I could not agree more. What a fabulous post Laura. Well done!

    You're a brave girl living near Detroit. I know some Americans who won't go near the place including moi. I will say that some of your experiences are probably uniquely Mid-Western. Where I live (lower PA), we are quite introverted and many of us do not know our neighbors, not even their names. Volunteering to mow someone else's lawn and being in their business would classify you as a busy body. Trust me, I know. We were the first ones to move in on our block and months later organized a block party so we all get acquainted. You see, I think when you have children it's important to know the families they are spending time with. But later we found out someone was telling the new neighbors we were nosy and was warning them off. So much for caring.

    (I wish we would make a decent bar of chocolate too. I despise Hershey's.)

    I am planning a post on misconceptions between the British and the Americans and I would love to quote you Laura, if you don't mind. Great stuff here.

  4. Totally agree on cellphones, sugar in bread and carrier bags. Three things I find eternally frustrating.....chocolate I am not so upset about, you can buy Green & Blacks in the local supermarket here so I am happy!

    And yes, the sense of community is fantastic.

  5. Great post, and thank you for being our guest. I agree with 99.9% of it, although I find a lot of Americans (at least in the mid west I've been to) quite conservative. Not really uptight, but certainly not as loose as you seem to have found them. Oh dear, perhaps it's me?

  6. Where I lived we pretty much took care of each other. Must be a regional thing. Though I grew up in a very rural area, so we had to stick together to fight off the Indian raids ;)

  7. Oh and my text messages (international, and going both ways) are "free" within my plan, but that's probably because I have a two year contract with AT&T. My mother in England however, pays for incoming texts. Outrageous.

  8. Smitten by Britain- of course you can quote me! And then send 'em my way so that I can say more things, too!

    Thank you so much for your comments guys. I guess the overall thing for me was the sense of diversity. I'll be back soon, that's for sure!


  9. LOVED this post. I actually got a little teary thinking that someone understood that not all Americans are fat and loud. Thanks Laura for the refreshing look thru your eyes.


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