State of a Union

Being an American never used to factor into my personal identity. It was a given, I simply didn’t think about it. The country is so vast and regional and diverse, that other identifiers – from the diet you follow to what college football team you support – take precedence. In a way I feel like I didn’t become an American until leaving America.

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I left the country for the first time on holiday at 15. Throwing breadcrumbs in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, arms festooned with pigeons, my parents and I picked American-accented English out from all the Italian and cooing. Another family had run out of crackers for the birds. We remarked on the beautiful scenery and handed them the remainder of our bread. They were from Massachusetts. I’ve never been to Massachusetts. And I’d certainly never been happy to hear an American brogue. I was smitten with Italy and not remotely homesick. But there it was. The few sentences exchanged with the family were like a cool drink of water in an exotic sea of chianti. Familiar and refreshing, if a slight buzzkill. It stirred an automatic sense of unspoken unity.

Living abroad really does make you a representative of your nation is some ways. A lot of study abroad programmes tout the phrase “ambassador” in their brochures, but it’s true to an extent. I never before considered my thoughts, attitudes and reactions as springing from some inner ‘Americanness’ but I must admit they certainly can. And I’m very happy to be asked about the US and regale people with tales of huge portions of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles or Volcanoes National Park, or be the butt of a good-natured redneck joke. Many American tourists and expats (myself included) take on this ambassadorship with the fervent hope of dispelling the perception of Americans as loud, rude, uncultured idiots. The is especially challenging with just a month to go until the (arguably most bizarre) US Presidential Election, where one of the candidates is indeed a loud, rude, uncultured idiot (to say the least).

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Of course, another big identifier within Americans is whether they are Democrats or Republicans. Our country is fiercely bipartisan. Living abroad, that divide doesn’t normally rear its head, but this year is different. I just began an internship at a publishing house in central London, plopping in in the middle of an understaffed, hectic week. “Ugh, I can’t wait till Clare gets back” the publicist said Tuesday to the empty desk opposite mine, “I love loud Americans.” (I am unable to fill this role in the office, or ever for that matter). I can’t wait either, I surprised myself by thinking. Sure, I went through the supercilious phase of being annoyed to encounter other Americans in London when I was a student (hellooo, like, I’m the only one here, get out), but now that I call Britain home, I feel like that 15-year-old girl feeding pigeons again. When you are removed from a place, you take a part of it with you; it becomes an element that identifies you and unites you with others who have similar origins. On Wednesday afternoon, Clare waltzed in fresh off a flight from JFK. She came bearing Atlantic City saltwater taffy, maple syrup, Marshmallow Peeps and a whole lot of infectious Yankee Charm – the Marketing department has certainly perked up. In an unspoken way I feel under her wing. On Thursday, she handed me a Hillary badge, sturdy and welcome as a hunk of bread.

But this time around it’s not just American expats who feel united. BBC Radio London where discussing the Trumpster on air with local callers last night (sparked by the revelation of his obscene comments concerning women) and many non-Americans called in with fairly informed opinions about the US political process and current election, with an overriding disdain for Donald. In fact, hilarious digs against Trump are all around the country. A Latin food store in Glasgow boasted “Mexican Ingredients so authentic Donald Trump would build a wall around them.” Today, a pub sign with a fat cat for a logo invited me to “come in and enjoy the thrill of tax evasion!” Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s ad campaign has got to be my favourite, though. “Vote Rump” implores a billboard at Oxford Circus station: “Our thickest burger yet – makes any hands look tiny”. Alternative taglines include “It’s a bit of an arse” and “It’s really rich and incredibly cheesy”.

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So maybe everyone (with a brain) unites in the face of evil (or at least absurdity). It’s taken my anglophile soul a long time to be “proud to be an American,” I just hope in a month that pride doesn’t have to shrink.

P.S. / PSA : If you are an American citizen living abroad, today is the last day to register to vote. Do it here.

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