I’ve debated for a long time whether I wanted to make this post or not and whether it was worth it. I’ve been debating this since November. For a long time I decided against it for one reason only; I was scared of the possible backlash. Another reason is that I thought what I was feeling was solely applied to me – but I was wrong. Another was that I didn’t know what good could come of posting about something like this. But the point of blogging and expressing your thoughts isn’t to get something out of it. It’s just to experience the cathartic effect of posting about something like this; so here goes.
Disclaimer: I’d just like to make this absolutely clear: What I am about to write doesn’t apply to most people. Most people that I’ve met whilst abroad don’t fall into this category. 99% of the people I’ve met here have been wonderful, loving, welcoming, hilarious and great people to be around. Unfortunately the bad can often be powerful even if it isn’t the majority. So if at the end of this post you think: That isn’t me/ I don’t do that/I don’t know anyone that would say those things – then congratulations you’re part of the 99%. If you’re part of the 1% I hope this opens your eyes just a little bit.
I moved to America in September and I am due to leave in June. I’m not from America, I’m British and every single day since my arrival I have been reminded of that fact and not always in a positive or passive way. Every day I am reminded I am not American, I’m not one of you, there’s always going to be this barrier between me and you… US and THEM.
I don’t need reminding who I am or where I am from. I know who I am, I know where I’m from. I love my home country, my home city, my home. I love England. I love America too. But I don’t need to be reminded that I’m British every day – believe me I already know. Yet, for whatever reason some people find it necessary to create this distinction of nationality as though I’m about to forget where I am from. Some people find it necessary to remind me that I sound different, that I spell things ‘wrong’, that England is a lot smaller than America, or that America won their Independence from Britain (I’m glad you did – would you prefer me to be angry and bitter about it?)
These comments can seem playful but there’s often a malicious and bitter intent hidden behind them which emerges from these people as soon as you try to enter discussion about why they say the things they do. An encounter I had over Christmas Break with someone on a ski trip started with them talking about Hershey’s of all things. He asked me what I thought of American chocolate – “Less sweet than English chocolate” to which he replied “English chocolate is probably shit.” Considering this person had never left the USA they had pretty strong opinions about England and how terrible it was. As soon as I questioned why this person felt that they got defensive, offensive and angry. “Why do English people spell things wrong?” “Why don’t you speak AMERICAN?” “We should have renamed the language once we claimed our rightful place” “Why is England so fucking small?” “I hate your accent.” He shouted all of these as I walked away from him with his friends laughing with him. As soon as someone else asked me why he was shouting he became quiet, sheepish and ashamed yet he would never apologise because even though what he said was wrong he quite clearly thought it was right.
The truth is I don’t care that England is small (Why would I?), I wouldn’t care if you thought our chocolate or all of our food was terrible if you had actually tried it, I don’t care that you spell things differently than I (not wrong but differently), it’s a shame you don’t like my accent but I’m not going to change it to placate you. If you believe America is the best country in the world and want to convince others of that then the best way to do that is not by insulting a persons home country. If to make your country seem superior you have to debase other nations then you aren’t doing yourself or your nation any favours. In fact you make me want to leave your country and never return, you give me a bad impression of you and your nation and you make me want to tell others about my negative experience so they don’t go through it too. You perpetuate a negative stereotype which you really shouldn’t want associated with you. Is this really how you want the world to work? Split into Us v. Them with no co-operation and no love for other nations outside your own borders? What a bleak future we have if so.
I read an open letter by the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan university a few months ago it was titled: This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University! I agree, University is not a place where everyone has to agree with you and where people need to tread carefully around you just to keep you comfortable. I am open to debate on my opinions. I love talking to people on important issues and hearing where they stand and why. If you hate England, if you hate my accent, if you hate anything about me or where I am from I would love to know your argument why. If you can’t provide one then your opinion really isn’t valid because you have no reason to feel such a way. The exact same thing would applied to me if I were to say ‘I hate America’ – which I do not.
It is strange how when you have one powerful encounter with someone you notice all the other times more minor but similar things have been said to you. I remembered playing a game with other students who lived on my floor only to be eliminated from the game with about four more people left for one girl to shout out loud: “And Britain falls to America again! Ha!” – you’re comparing the war for Independence to a game of Musical Chairs, ok then.
At first I thought I was alone in my experiences until I went away with around 60 people for a weekend. There are a few Brits at UCLA who I’m friends with but who I don’t hang out with religiously. One of them came upstairs one evening in tears because of a discussion she had had with an American over gun control. As a British person I cannot see the need for guns in the UK, in America I understand they are tradition and it’s very difficult to get rid of guns when they are so widespread. Some Americans seem shocked at the fact that England doesn’t need nor really want guns or that our police don’t carry them. They just aren’t a necessity to where we live. The girl was in tears because, in the simplest terms, she was shocked at what one her new friends had told her which was that he’d be happy to shoot and kill anyone that ever stepped on his property even if they didn’t have the intent to harm him. And thus commenced a huge argument on gun control law which I could hear from where I sat upstairs. It’s not just me and her either. I’ve always wanted to live in the USA, so had another friend of mine who was born in the US but moved to the UK when she was young and had spent the majority of her life in the UK. She was excited as I was about moving to UCLA but now doesn’t think she could live here permanently because of the comments she has received too. Again I refer back to the guy who first aggressively argued with me: Is this really the reputation you want to leave us with? Do you want to defer people from your nation because you need to put other nations down in order to elevate yours?
Some people are probably thinking that I don’t have it bad in comparison to others. I know I don’t comparatively. But that should not and does not give validation to the things that have been said to me that shouldn’t have been. I have friends who were born and raised in California who are repeatedly asked the questions: “Where are you from?” “No, where are you really from!?” “Where are your parent’s from?” because they aren’t white. I can’t imagine having to deal with feeling like I don’t belong in a country I was actually born into and being continually asked these ignorant questions.
It’s hard to be reminded that you aren’t part of something when your family, friends, other half etc are on the other side of the world. Unfortunately, I can’t fly back for a week when I feel homesick, I can’t always call my mum when I want because of time difference, I couldn’t Facetime her after my experience with that boy for comfort. I took it on the chin, I didn’t really talk about it for fear that someone else feels the same and will only invalidate you further. This is what feels like shit. Your offhand comments speak to me on a deeper level that you will never understand until you live abroad estranged from your family and friends and away from anything familiar to you.
This post has been more for me than anyone else. I needed to gather my thoughts and try to make sense of these arguments people have been trying to have with me. But if you’ve read this and thought that you’ve said something similar to the comments here, if you’ve read this and remembered a time when you’ve attempted to argue in favour of your country’s greatness by insulting another then please, please think about why you’re doing it. Think about the effects of ridiculing a person’s home country whilst they are homesick. Think about what effect it will have on that person’s opinion of you… on their opinion of your country. If you cannot explain why your country is great without insulting others then please don’t try at all. Don’t remind me where I come from, I wake up knowing it. Don’t remind me I’m not from your country because after all I really don’t care. I’m secure enough in my own identity that I’m happy to be who I am. Please don’t begin an US vs. THEM dichotomy because history proves that never has a good outcome.
To the majority of people who have welcomed me to the States and made this country feel like home I thank you and wouldn’t still be here today if it was not for you.
Mahatma Gandhi once said “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people.” So basically don’t be a dick.