This week’s guest poster is Anthony Windram of Culturally Discombobulated – The misadventures and ramblings of a Brit living in the US.
Visit him at http://anthonywindram.wordpress.com/
America emasculated me. Not literally, of course—immigration officers did not neuter me upon arrival as if I were an overly virile alley-cat—but there are moments, living in the US, when I feel America has, figuratively speaking, emasculated me, which in fairness, is a lot less messy.
I should have realized this may be the case when, before I had my visa interview, I had to undergo a medical examination—a thorough medical examination—where I had to strip down to my boxer shorts and put on a fetching medical gown made of paper. My nerves over this medical weren’t helped by the fact that the doctor appeared as enthused at the prospect of prodding and pinching my pasty carcass as I was. She took my pulse, checked my blood and then gave the dreaded command.
“Open the gown and pull your boxer shorts down.”
“Erm…all the way down?”
“Yes,” she snapped back. “I need to check that you’re the gender you claim to be.”
“This all seems a little unnecessary. You could easily verify that by looking at my Adam’s apple? See, there it is,” I said, pointing to my throat.
“However much we might both prefer that – no!”
So down went my boxers.
“You have to remember,” she said, while checking that I was indeed the gender I’d claimed, “you’re moving to a paranoid country. And you can pull those back up now.”
Beginning with that experience, I feel my masculinity is being intermittently questioned here. My relationship with America may be varied and complex, but what it certainly is not is a “bromance”. Of all the things I find difficult about living here, relating to and socializing with other males is pretty high on the list. So far, I’m more comfortable in the company of American women than American men.
Put a group of men together in a social setting and conversation soon flounders; interesting and diverse conversation is not a high priority. As a collective, we are all about the lowest common denominator, and there are two components every man needs in his social arsenal to enable interaction without the investment of thought: sports talk and bad humour. Woe be to the man not skilled at either.
And in America that man is me.
Component One - Sports Talk:
All those sports facts taking up far too much room in my brain are now utterly useless; a lifetime of knowledge made redundant at a stroke. Where I was previously a sure thing in a pub quiz, now I’m a dunce. When people mention Roger Clemens and a Brett Favre, I’ve no idea who they are, and while it is true that soccer is growing in popularity, there are only so many times you can drag the conversation back to your particular sport. If people are trying to watch the Superbowl they don’t, in my experience, appreciate it if you spend the whole of the game talking about why Dario Gradi was such a great soccer manager or the tragedy that was Jimmy White’s failure to win the snooker World Championship.
Component Two - Bad Humour:
The rhythm and beats that make up my humour are not necessarily the rhythm and beats that make up their humor. For generations now all British male interactions have observed the time-honoured tradition we like to call “taking the piss”. It is second nature to us. Whatever you do, no matter how good or bad, I will take the piss out of it.
But taking the piss is an equal opportunity offender and you are encouraged, nay expected, to do the same to me. And it’s not about being snarky, it’s merely our screwed-up, passive-aggressive way of showing affection to each other. Not so here: I went bowling once and I did okay—not amazing, but not bad—and other men actually high-fived me.
It felt so wrong.
I didn’t want to be congratulated, what I really wanted was for them to take the piss out of me and not say, “Good game, good game,” as if they were doing a bad Bruce Forsyth impression. To repeat my early thought, it felt wrong.
Thankfully, in such social situations there is also a third component that I completely forgot to mention earlier, a component that proves to be the great equalizer when it comes to cultural misunderstandings borne out of components one and two.
Component Three: Alcohol.
My experience has, thankfully, been the reverse of Anthony’s, starting with the fact that I wasn’t required to pull down my trousers and display my naughty bits as part of the initiation ritual.
(I weep for you, America, I really do. You used to be proud and brave and noble, now you’re a coward and a bully. With a fetish. But I digress.)
In America, I lacked the two components for successful male bonding, whereas here, while I still don’t have them, people assume I did back in the States.
I was never a follower of sports and therefore could never join in those types of conversations, which made my manliness suspect. Here, no one expects me to know the rules of Cricket or the finer points of Rugby so, in this regard, I get off quite lightly.
And my humor, although developed in the States, seems to have found a home here. I wrote my book with an American audience in mind, but it has done much better among the locals. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am merely a second-generation American, the product of a refugee from Barrow-in-Furness.
That would also explain why I like the beer.
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