Not My Homeland
This makes me choke back tears, and I sometimes resent that
I spent most of last night reading about the American civil war, finding out about terms like Jim Crown, Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Southern Strategy. I've been doing some historical reseach because my publisher is encouraging me to write a book about America, and while I'm looking forward to the project, I sometimes resent the hugely disproportionate influence that America has over my life and the lives of people who live in the UK and rest of the world in general. From an early age, along with Bod, Playschool and Andy Pandy, I was exposed to American accents and values with the likes of Scooby Doo and The Red Hand Gang. The first film I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz, and when a penpal craze swept my school when I was 12, everyone put "America" down as their first choice for the location of their penpal.
The cultural cringe continued into adult-hood, when I took my first of many trips to the US aged 22 - and I worked out with shock that I've probably spent something like 1/24th of my life in the States since then, due to various holidays and conferences. And generally, once you're through the hideous queues and unsmiling staff at immigration, I have a nice time. The weather is usually better, the shopping is great, everything is familar but different, and there's a relaxed yet ordered atmosphere which I like. Constrast those big wide avenues with enormous sidewalks, enough room for everyone, all set out in a sensible grid system so it's difficult to get lost, with tiny, winding British pavements - I regularly get lost in British town centres, even with my Iphone map app.
Although I think there is tendency in the US to over-sugar and over-salt food which often dulls my tastebuds while I'm there, and I normally come back feeling more ugly and less socially articulate than before, due to the relentless use of attractive people in advertising and the general perky sass that people from a superpower have. Brits, on the other hand, had their 100 years or so at the top, and apart from some nice masonary in our cities that didn't get bombed, I sometimes feel we don't have that much to show for it. We certainly don't have that confidence.
So when another US election rolls around, it's difficult to avoid it, especially when the media hype it up as such a close contest with such huge consequences. When I realise that I somehow know an awful lot about demographic patterns in certain swing states that I've never been to, the cultural cringe feels ever evident. And the contrast with China, which also had a change of power this month - an even bigger country - and rising in power, makes you realise just how much America likes to put itself out there.
America does have a lot of good tv, and I realise that the shows I regularly watch are from the States - the Walking Dead, Mad Men, American Horror Story, Glee and various reality shows I'm too embarrassed to name. The show Homeland, now in its second season, is one I'm particularly enjoying at the moment, although it is perhaps the most American of them all - with a central theme being "how much do you love America?" Claire Danes, who plays the chief protaganist, FBI agent Carrie Mathison, struggles with manic-depression, is on tablets, blames herself entirely for the events of 9.11 ("I missed something that day") and will stop at nothing to catch ALL the terrorists, even if it means having sex with them. She's a proper maverick in the Sarah Palin sense of the word, and wins my award for the most American person ever.
For the last god-knows how many years, we've spent New Year in New York. This year, we're probably going to that most un-American place, Paris. We will visit Versailles and be ignored by surly French waiters and stand in dog poo by accident, and I will wish that I had kept up my French because not having a second language makes me feel unsophisticated. It's 8 years since I was last in Paris, although it is a few hours away on the train and only a few miles separate France from England. Yet compared to America, sometimes it feels like another planet.