This coming August will be the ten-year anniversary of my first trip abroad. I became an expat (not to mention an ex-bachelor) six months after that, so I have a lot of milestones to reflect on over the next few months.
These ten years have gone quickly, yet my life in America seems distant and surreal now, and when I think back on those early days, I can see how my attitudes and opinions have changed. Exposure to another culture provides the opportunity to embrace a broader world view, and I like to think I am a more rounded individual for having taken advantage of it. But does this necessarily make me less of an American? After all, if I am pointing out America’s foibles and not automatically taking their side in every argument, does this mean I am no longer, as the song goes, “a real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam”?
I bring this up because an old and dear friend of mine wrote to me this week to tell me she was not going to follow my blog any longer because I had turned into an “American Basher.” The letter went on to point out that I had not lived in the US for some time, but she did, and she still loved her country. Is that to imply, as an expat, I do not?
I find that a bit harsh, especially as an American. You may do many things to us, but do not question our patriotism.
I find this a bit ironic because, if you ask an American what they are, the majority of them will say they are something else: “I’m Italian,” they’ll say, or “My family is from Poland,” or something similar, even if their family has been in the US for generations. Is it okay to like another country only while you are living in the US? Once you actually move to one, should you stop being “German” and become “American” instead?
And is this a typically American trait? (Here comes that American bashing again.) There were many Irish immigrants in my area; real immigrants who were born in Ireland and came to the US. If they called home and said, “You know, it’s really nice here. The cost of living is cheap, I make good money and it doesn’t rain as much,” I can’t imagine their mothers saying back to them, “Faith and begorrah, you’re a traitor to the Mother Country, you are!”
I can’t imagine that mostly because Irish people don’t really talk like that, but I also think the people left behind would be happy that their friends and family had found a good life and wouldn’t be so pre-occupied with how well they were, in their perception, supporting the home team.
And this is just the ten-year mark. What should I expect when I hit the 20th anniversary?
Perfect timing – this month marks my 21st year in the USA. (I married and emigrated as a child bride of 14!) It’s very sobering to realise that I have lived in Chicago (20 years) longer than I lived anywhere else in my life. Who would have thunk it?
So am I more American now? Have I deserted my “home”? Not at all, but as Mike pointed out, I do embrace a broader world view and I don’t just back everything the UK does, like I may have done initially. Nor does it mean I automatically defend all things American, - although you have to be a lot more careful when you’re bashing your “host” country. I was able to poke gentle fun at my fellow Brits in “Rules, Britannia”, but I am much more reticent in the book I’m currently writing (about the USA). Americans don’t like being made fun of, especially by interlopers. On the whole, they take themselves and their country quite seriously (which is not to say Brits don’t, they just wouldn’t be caught dead admitting it).
So Mike, I would just say that your friend is wrong. You don’t bash the USA either here or on the Postcards blog. What you do, (and very well I might add) is hold a mirror up from time to time, and point out the anomalies here and there. OK, maybe we do take the mickey just a tad but, hey, how can you not laugh at a country that produces Sarah Palin as a serious political candidate, not to mention Donald Trump?
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