I finished my exams and I was exhausted. I wrote 100 pages, in 5 days, writing for anywhere between 14 and 18 hours a day with the final day writing for 21 hours. I spent the entire day afterward in bed mindlessly watching Season 3 of Mad Men (yes, I'm just starting now...yes, I know, I'm way behind)
As I was writing on train back from St. Ives on Sunday I encountered some passive-aggressive anti-Americanism which I've noticed several times but just haven't posted on the blog. I've tried, for the most part, to stay fairly positive and not criticize my adopted home -- mainly because I'm here as a guest and I appreciate the opportunity to live here. I try to accept most things as they are, and own that my way isn't always the right way, even if it's the most familiar way.
But people told me before I moved here that I would face anti-Americanism, and I just really didn't believe them. My English friends back home are fabulous and the ones I've met here are truly lovely. But, I've encountered this anti-Americanism on enough occasions that I guess I just thought I should mention it since I'm now experiencing it and that is part of this expat journey.
The story went something like this.
I was sitting on the train, working on my exams, minding my own business (I know, this is rare, try not to act too surprised) Exams were due in a few hours and I had specifically booked the 'quiet carriage' because I knew that I would need the five hours of near silence in order to actually get some work done on the train.
The 'quiet carriage', in case you don't know, is supposed to be a soft-talking, no cell-phone train car that you can specifically book if you don't like to hear people chattering away on their phone all the time. I confess, I almost always book it. If you need to talk on the phone you can go to the bar car or step into another coach. Otherwise, read your book, write your paper...whatever.
Now, people break the quiet carriage rule ALL. THE. TIME. This annoys the Canadian to no end (he's a rule-follower, I'm a rule breaker). I generally don't mind if they break the rules as long as it's not really loud and annoying but the Canadian believes in a well-ordered society and if you talk on your phone in the quiet carriage, you'll definitely get a dirty look from him!
So, on with the story. A few rows ahead of me, a man starts talking rather loudly on his phone. This is not a short call to say when he'll meet someone at the station, he is blathering on about football matches, various people, telling stories. etc. I was far too exhausted to say anything, and I just wanted to get my exams finished BUT, the girl in the aisle across from me (who was in a business suit and clearly working on something on her computer as well) got up and walked up the aisle to where the man was sitting. She said "Excuse me sir, this is the quiet carriage, would you mind getting off the phone?"
The guy immediately gives an exaggerated sigh and yells into his phone "I have to go mate, some American is yelling at me to get off the phone." My head whipped up. Uh Seriously?? (and the way he said 'an American' was dripping with contempt).
A) She was not American. Yes, her accent sounded kind of American but it sounded more like an American who had lived in England for decades, but, there was also something that was not quite American about it that made me know she wasn't originally from the States.
B) She didn't yell (I would have, but she didn't). She used the quietest, most soft-spoken voice and was really polite and gentle.
So I leaned over to her across the aisle, after she sat back down, and said, "Well that was kind of an asshole thing for that guy to say," (frankly I hoped he had heard, but I was trying to be quiet because I was in the quiet carriage). She replied, "Yes, well, I'm not even American, I'm Canadian." Ahh, of course. It all made sense. We chatted for a bit and she had, at one point, lived in America (near where the Canadian grew up), but now lived over here, which explained the accent.
But let's rewind. That guy never would have said "some South Korean is telling me to get off the phone"...xenophobia is completely acceptable with regard to Americans but not to other cultures? Really?
Listen, I'm not pretending America has done everything right (by any means!) and I'm the first to criticize our government, but what was the point of using 'an American' as a perjorative to his friend? It would have been more correct to say "some annoying person" or something -- who cares what her 'race' is??
Shortly after that incident the Canadian and I went to a secret supper club dinner (I've linked to an explanation if you don't know what one is) and it was WONDERFUL. The two chefs were phenomenal and the food was more than outstanding...at one point though, one of the chefs and I were talking about craft beers and how most folks are under the impression that all Americans drink is Bud and Miller (uh. no.) And one of the chefs works with an American craft brewer and was saying how amazing the beers were. And then he said something like "These craft beers are the opposite of what we think Americans are -- I mean they are elegant and delicately flavored -- and we just think of Americans as crass and undignified, quite the opposite of this beer."
Now, I laughed, and the chef is a friend of mine and he's a really good guy. But, he accidentally gave away the secret -- they really think we are all a bunch of crass, undignified, loud, obnoxious fools, bumbling around the planet making messes. The funny thing is, he was paying me/America a compliment. And I get that. But deep inside, I confess, every time I open my mouth to speak in a public place I am horribly self-conscious that people will hear my American accent and judge me immediately.
So, it's part of the journey, and I'm accepting it...but I wanted to blog about it, not as a criticism to Brits, but as something that an expat life might bring with it. It just is what it is.