Sunday, October 10, 2010

Manning Up

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


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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  1. Very interesting post. I think my husband would probably agree with you, especially after his experiences on a Dad's Night Out recently! As for me, I haven't met any men here I find interesting to talk to - they do seem obsessed with sport and I never know which one they are actually talking about, because all the teams sound the same to me - the Mets, the Jets, the Nets - just what are we talking about here?

  2. That's alright Anthony, I feel more comfortable with English men as well, which is why I think I married the most English-like American male I could find. Not a fan of sport at all (he is especially repulsed by American football) but possesses a wicked sense of humor which goes over the heads of many. He has had difficulty making male friends because he is more like you and Mike than Bubba.

  3. Very funny post, and very interesting too. Yes, all that unbridled enthusiasm is difficult to adjust to. High fives instead of self-deprecation. It's a long learning process.

    I hate to disillusion you, but that bit of the medical. It's not really to check your gender. It's to check for nasty diseases. I asked when I was put through the same.

  4. My, my how things have changed - I was never asked to show my naughty bits to anyone in order to get a visa, green card or citizenship. I did have to have blood drawn, and was told they were checking for diseases like AIDS and syphilis.

    I, too, found the most English-like American male to marry that I could, despite not having been impressed enough with any British males when I was living there to want to marry one! He's not interested in sports on either side of the Atlantic though.

  5. Firstly, thanks Toni and Mike for having me post on your site.

    @Iota Interesting, we clearly got different information from the doctors who did our respective medicals. Absolutely the main thing she has to check for is anything that looks visibly nasty down there, but in addition she did say to me that she's also looking so that she confirm the applicant's gender matches what was claimed in the immigration forms.

  6. I will say, as a woman, thank God for men like you. I daresay that there's a great many women who'd much rather have your type and interesting conversation than sports talk, alcohol, and bad humor. My husband is perceived as an intellectual because he doesn't care about cars or sports, he rather loves to debate politics and religion and just about anything that can make a good conversation.

    Then again... while he's American, he did grow up in England. :)

  7. I felt quite sorry for Anthony. If you're not a sporty type, then it seems that there is nothing to talk about with the men.
    Showing the naughty bits is a demeaning to say the least. What difference would it make if he was a different gender anyway!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  8. I can confirm your findings on the "show us your willy" medical exam. I was more worried they'd find some gruesome cancerous growth nestling quietly in my chest - but then I'm just harboring a secret desire to be a flasher, clearly.

    Luckily blokes I meet here seem to want to talk to me about American beer being as weak as and British beer being as strong as a Russian gymnast after 6 years of steroids and radioactive exposure. They're right, of course, British beer is rough and manly and Budweiser is limp-wristed and girly. Ahem. ;-)

  9. Funny. My British boyfriend is having many of the same problems here in America. I feel for you. I really do. And, I felt the same about American men - that's why I found myself a British one!

  10. Actually, in many cases, it's not just the men. In Chicago, most natives talk about one of our teams most of the time (baseball, football, and ice hockey primarily).
    I remember when I first married into my husband's Texan family, you couldn't speak to his greandmother if the Dallas Cowboys were playing, and she was up on all the college football teams too. Talk about feeling like a foreigner.


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