04 November 2008

Alienating Americans

There are a number of things I haven't got any better at as I've got older, but near the top of the list must surely be Liking Americans When in Britain.  To be fair, I don't like most Americans when I'm in America, and I certainly don't like America itself.  But I have always felt a particular antipathy towards people from the US when I encounter them in Britain.  I don't go to (or come to) England so I can be an American in England:  I go to (or come to) England so I can erase my American-ness and become part of this nation and culture.  Americans in England, it seems to me, largely want to talk to you about the mysteries of England, or about the ways the British/English are alien to them (I recognise this as a vast generalisation), and since my goal is to penetrate those mysteries and eradicate them to the extent I'm able, I don't really have any interest in having that conversation.

This reflection was brought on, unsurprisingly, by an encounter I just had with an American boy who came up to the room where I was watching TV to set up for an election party.  He asked me if I was going to be watching the election results, and when I said, "No," he very pleasantly asked me why, and I said, "Because, to be honest, I don't care."  I don't think I said it harshly, but that is what I said.  The air in the room made it very plain that he didn't like that.  I did explain why, and I think my explanation was fair and valid:  I don't live in America at the moment, so the politics there is of limited interest to me; the election hoo-ha has been going on in one form or another for 18 months in America, and for a year I lived there with it, so I'm electioned out; and, finally, I just think the conclusion is foregone - I believed Obama would win from the moment he became a candidate. 

This boy said, "I've never heard anyone say that about this election.  About the last election, yes."  But the funny thing is, I was all into the last election, and I really did care.  I yearned for John Kerry to be President (and I suppose what might also come into play here is that, although I sure as hell don't want John McCain to be president, I have misgivings about Obama, too).  And it seemed to me that if he was elected it would be a real demonstration of difference: people would have the option to re-elect George Bush, and they wouldn't, and that would certainly send a clear message about what they wanted and did not want. But this election can't be a statement about Bush - it can be a statement about Republicanism, which will be good in its way, but it can't be the round condemnation of Bush that he deserves.  If you want to see a guy get slapped, there's little excitement in watching his cousin get slapped while he walks off stage.  That seems to me a reasonably good metaphor for what will happen in this election, so, although I hope Obama wins and believe he will, I have no visceral attachment to this process.

Also, and finally, getting the results of an election is a long process, and barring an event like Florida in 2000 quite drawn out and without anything that could be considered a central event or climax.  When I wake up tomorrow the election will be won, and who won will be the climax - I don't need to stay up all night to reach that moment. (of course, as I write this, I suddenly feel that I would like to stay up to see that moment.  But only that moment. So maybe I could get up at 6 to check.)

I suppose I sounded snotty and aloof to this boy, and I'm sorry about that.  But mostly I'm sorry because he had someone with him whom I actually do like - a pleasant English young man who does American literature and who has been quite nice to me (although I suspect that's in part because he loves all things American [which he pretty clearly does], and I am a thing American).  And I'd hate to have him think ill of me because his friend tells him I seem snotty.

Still, when you get down to it, I just don't care for Americans in Britain that much.  Even if I am one myself.  If I am.  But how would I know if I was, if I didn't believe it already?

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