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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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On being an expatriate. [20051214|18:12]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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I've been in London for more than a year, and I think it's finally sinking in for me that even if I spend twenty more here, I'll always be an outsider. I'm beginning to understand why some long-term UK residents originally from the States learn to fake English accents.

At my teacher's request, I arranged for my Tai Chi class to have our end-of-term dinner at my favorite Jamaican restaurant in London. I booked the table and paid the deposit, for which I was later refunded. I'm the only American in the class. Why do I mention this last little fact? Because throughout the dinner, a number of scathing remarks about Americans, the American government and American culture were made, not directly to me, but around me. "That's very American" was used as an epithet. Again, not to me, about something else: the additional service charge on the bill, which was 15% rather than the usual 12%. The English are famous for taking the piss with deadpan faces, especially out of the unwitting, naïve, sincere Americans. After fourteen months here, I think I can usually tell the difference between those occasions and the times when they really mean it. To varying degrees – perhaps the comment about the bill wasn't the best example of a completely serious comment – these people meant what they were saying.

I'm not really an Anglophile. I enjoy living in London, but living here was never an ultimate design of mine and I don't gush over every facet of the city I find intriguing. I find Americans who take their anglophilia to the point where they think English culture is superior to theirs as repellent as the English people who think themselves superior to all Americans. I consider myself a patriot, although a quiet one. I'm not a flag-waver and I don't consider myself a nationalist. I consider occasionally (or in my case, frequently) disagreeing with the actions taken by the federal government and the positions of the majority of the population to be a necessary part of patriotism.

I don't favor glib answers to difficult questions, but the second I open my mouth, my accent marks me as a biased advocate of the American point of view. I can engage individuals in discussions and perhaps, with time, convince them that my country is not completely populated with egregious idiots, but not everyone at once. I know that none of the vitriol is directed at me personally. In fact, it's as if they've forgotten I'm there, or at least that I'm American. In a way I suppose this is an unconscious compliment. And yet it hurts to think that if I speak up to refute an assumption, no matter what I say, I will look like an overzealous, defensive ass. In the face of superior numbers and adversity, what can I do except listen, smile, and ask if anyone would like more rum?

~*~


I had my first experience with the NHS today. I guess I'd already had one, because you must interview with a nurse or GP when you sign up to use the system. This was my first experience actually using their services for a medical examination, though. It's every woman's favorite: the smear test.

She had to take down my history. This included the mention of the termination, which I normally find discomfiting. She looked me searchingly in the eyes while I told her the facts (17 years old, 11 weeks pregnant) and then she asked "And are there any outstanding issues? Nothing affecting your mental health?"

"Not…any…more?" I stammered.

"Good, I'm glad to hear that," she asserted, nodding and smiling.

"No one's ever asked me that before," I added, when the shock subsided.

She looked faintly horrified. We moved on to the next set of questions regarding whether or not sex was fun and comfortable for me. She was glad to hear my answers to those questions as well. She pointed at the plain bed on which my hoo-ha inspection was to take place and I'll do you all the favor of drawing the curtain on the actual examination.

Of course, afterwards she went off on a rant about the evils of privatized medicine, using as an example the way American gynecologists fleece their patients by having them do smear tests yearly or biannually when once every three years is considered sufficient for those with no history of abnormal smears.

Still, I'll take empathy and openness about sex and abortion over a fancy table with stirrups any day of the week, thanks.

~*~


On my way back from the inspection, I was kerb-crawled by a man in a white Mercedes.

"Hey gorgeous, where you going?" he asked.

It was all I could do not to answer, "Home, to wash all the gunk off my cootch."
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[User Picture]From: sparklepbass
2005-12-14 18:17 (UTC)
london is far more accepting of others than most parts of the uk... my family moved from surrey to a little village in norfolk - and, yes, twenty years on, my mum still feels like an outsider. not to the point where she'll fake a norfolk accent, though...
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-14 18:27 (UTC)
I think provincialism exists everywhere on different scales. The only thing you can do as an outsider to overcome stereotypes, I think, is be as kind and polite as they aren't expecting you to be.
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2005-12-14 18:25 (UTC)
I'm trying to find a tactful way of saying "The problem with being an expatriate American is all the other Americans who have gone before", but I'm failing, so I'm just going to go with that.
Especially in places like Britain and New Zealand, anti-Americanism is several generations old, going back to WWII attitudes and conflicts with GIs. It has rises and falls, but never really completely goes away.
America and Americans have spent years being envied for being the most modern and the most, well, everything. The bad side of that is that envy breeds resentment, and also gloating at downfall.
Also, a lot of Americans overseas really are complete asses, which doesn't help much.
Probably a side-effect of overseas travel seeming to be more common in retirees from Texas than anyone else.

C.

As a complete sidenote - interestingly, here, with a public medicine scheme, we have bi-annual smear testing.
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[User Picture]From: communistgnome
2005-12-14 18:30 (UTC)
ROFLMAO @ Texas

When my brother and a couple of friends were travelling around, they got stuck in a bar with someone from Texas, and in conversation, had the opportunity to inform the locals that Texan was NOT the same as American.

While I was in Australia, the oldsters there LOVED us Americans, and seemed to have taken something VERY positive from WWII regarding American involvement. Actually, I only ran into like one person that vocally criticized American foreign policy, and he was even sure to separate that from the American people. Hell, people looked at me funny when I badmouthed it.
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[User Picture]From: communistgnome
2005-12-14 18:25 (UTC)
I know I've said horribly tasteless stuff like this here before, but I find that I don't care.

If it really starts to get to you, just ask to the general crowd, "Hey, how many of you speak German as a first language?" And when they say "Nobody," you can respond with "That's SO American."

I totally understand your patriotism, btw. I still say the Pledge of Allegience on occasion, and get misty eyed when I hear a good rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. I love my country, the ideals behind it, and the concept of what it is when uncorrupted by various personal agendas. But it's like my love for another person, friend, family, or otherwise. Invariably, they're going to fuck up, and sometimes, I'm going to be mad at them for a while over it. But that doesn't mean I don't love them any more.

G. Dubba...well...let's just say some aspects of our country have been behaving like a belligerent drunk for the past several years, and we will hopefully go into detox in 2009. If we don't get killed drunk driving before then.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 21:16 (UTC)
The thing is, some of the people making the remarks were ones I've gone to the pub with after class. They've even specifically asked me for my views on certain issues (for instance, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) because I'm American. I'm not sure why they still feel okay about making generalizations around me. Perhaps it's because I haven't visibly taken offense. It's not really so much that I actually do take offense and hide it as it is that I just get so damn tired of holding my tongue and trying not to be the boorish, defense, loudmouthed asshat they're making all of us out to be. There's also another element that may affect their reactions to me: my age. I'm a good 15-20 years younger than most of the people in my class. And I look about five years younger than I am. So they may feel somewhat maternalistic/paternalistic towards me and my opinions.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-12-14 18:51 (UTC)

hoo-ha!

I would like to add another euphemism to your vocabulary, if it's not already there:

Wing-Wang


The rest of your post deserves to be answered in a somewhat serious manner, and I'm unfortunately unable at this time. But I read it, and nodded along the way.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 20:36 (UTC)
Excellent. I knew that one, but never really thought about using it. Its rhythm matches that of hoo-ha quite nicely. Imagine what it would do to erotic writing. "He slid his wing-wang gently into her hoo-ha." Pure poetry.
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From: capitalflash
2005-12-14 19:13 (UTC)
us english can be such judgemental twunts sometimes. i also think we have a trouble seperating both the image, and the government policies of of your country from the individual americans. it's silly really, given the sort of worldwide image we have.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 20:40 (UTC)
In your defense, however, every English person I've met that has asked me about my point of view has been more than willing to hear it out in its entirety. Which is very courteous.

On a completely different note, "twunts," hahaha, awesome. It's a portmanteau, too!
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[User Picture]From: nationofsheep
2005-12-14 19:13 (UTC)
I love the country too. We always felt like outsiders in HK of course. Different circumstances there though. And of course there is provincialism everywhere, but it's also what makes visiting those places fun. It can get tiresome though when part of the provincialism is chronic American bashing.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 20:44 (UTC)
Yeah. It's not that I, as an expat American who (hopefully) doesn't fit the stereotypes, am saying, "Please feel sorry for me, the oppressed American," because that would be fucking ridiculous. It's more that I've slowly become exhausted with having to demonstrate to every. person. I. meet. that my accent doesn't make me a war-mongering, loud-mouthed boor.
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[User Picture]From: sadira42
2005-12-14 19:17 (UTC)
Wow, that woman is awesome, even with the ranting against evil Americans, because let's face it, a lot of American practices really annoy me - doctors and others. Of course, we're allowed to criticize, us Americans (don't get me started on people who don't think I'm really an American because I'm an immigrant). I must say, though, for all that openness and empathy, she coulda at least given you a napkin for the "gunk on cooch." That's one thing I really love about my gyno - she always gives me a wet and dry napkin for the clean-up. I've never had one who did that, so hooray for her. I hope that I can keep her forever!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 20:47 (UTC)
She did give me a napkin for the gunk, but I made the mistake of setting it back on the bed while I donned my pants and she swept it up with the bed cover and stuffed it in the rubbish before I could say anything. And since we were talking about something else (the fire in Hemel Hampstead) I didn't like to complain. :-P
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 21:20 (UTC)
Haha, I was half-afraid someone was going to say "Oh my god that's disgusting, please lj cut that." I should have known my friends list better. *loves the friends list*

Yeah, it's not like I'm being kidnapped and held for ransom or something. I'm not trying to say "I'm so oppressed, woe is me," so much as "Look, your criticisms are not unreasonable. But please understand that it gets exhausting to have to be on the defensive all the time. Can we talk about football or something for a while?"
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[User Picture]From: omniana
2005-12-14 20:00 (UTC)
This might be one of my favorite entries. Very interesting experiences. I guess the foreign policies of the American government polarizes people all over the world, not just in the US. It amuses me to hear them say something is "very American." What does that mean? Maybe my nearsightness of being in the US makes me unable to see characteristics that foreigners can see, but I think it's just more likely they don't know what they are talking about. A friend once proclaimed that she could never live in southeastern US, and proceeded to spout the usual stereotypes about southerners. I hadn't thought of myself as a southerner, but I found myself defending the area. Heh, she's now in North Carolina and not complaining anymore.

I'm glad you had a good experience with the doctor. I'm impressed she asked about mental wellbeing.
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[User Picture]From: supiluliumas
2005-12-14 20:27 (UTC)
Once in the Netherlands (back in 2000) I was sitting at the breakfast table with a group of extremely nice and engaging Dutchfolk. Someone said a comment that was vaguely critical of American foreign policy, and a moment passed before everyone froze and sort of looked at me sideways, worried if I'd been offended.

I finished my mouthful of orange juice, put it down, lifted my head up and said, "well, the world's not just going to sit there and conquer ITSELF, now, is it?" Everyone cracked up. I had earned total cool points from then on, particularly when I informed them that the #1 foreign investor in the United States isn't Japan or Britain, it's the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They honestly didn't know that, judging from their open-mouthed stares.

... That's probably not all that relevant. I just love that anecdote!

Also, why DIDN'T you answer him that way? He'd have learned a valuable lesson about seeing women as real people with real problems and real gunk. Or been grossed out. Either way, you win.
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[User Picture]From: chickenfeet2003
2005-12-14 21:46 (UTC)
I informed them that the #1 foreign investor in the United States isn't Japan or Britain, it's the Kingdom of the Netherlands

But only because Unilever holds its US subs as part of NV rather than as part of Plc which goes back to the Americans forcing British companies to sell their US subs in 1940 as a condition of continuing American arms supplies.
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[User Picture]From: prosicated
2005-12-14 20:32 (UTC)
I started a quite violent discussion among my graduate peers the other day about what it means to be an American anthropologist going into the world to do fieldwork. While I'm the only proclaimed "urbanist," many of them will wind up working with populations and communities who are area of, and have ideas about, Americans and America. While some of these ideas may be starry-eyed, it is my assumption that a fair amount won't be, and I wanted us, as a group of intelligent, analytic academics to think about the questions this raises for us and our work. The amount of resentment I received was astounding, both for raising the issue, and for including the international students in my discussion.
I wonder how these problems can be addressed when both sides of the debate (American and non-) want to avoid it like the plague...
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[User Picture]From: vndictivesprite
2005-12-14 21:47 (UTC)
I read your entry and I got kind of upset by the situation that you had to endure. I know that none of the comments were directed at you but they just struck me as being very tacky. I mean, isn't it just the same as making a bunch of fat jokes without necessarily knowing if the overweight person at the table is sensitive about their weight? I mean, regardless of your level of patriotism or not, (which I'm sure they didn't know) their comments were rude and innappropriate. I'm not the most patriotic person in the world, but I am one for table manners, especially in mixed company and in public. Bah, that's just my two cents.

"Home, to wash all the gunk off my cootch"

I almost lost a lung when I read this. I'm soooo sick and I laughed so hard, too hard in fact when I read this and thought I was going to die. You made my day.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-12-15 21:07 (UTC)
I mean, isn't it just the same as making a bunch of fat jokes without necessarily knowing if the overweight person at the table is sensitive about their weight?

I think the analogy is similar, yeah. I've gone to the pub with some of these people before after classes, and had conversations with them about my views on American politics. Oddly, that didn't seem to affect which people where making the comments. This may be due, additionally, to the large age gap between me and most of my classmates. The majority of them are between 15 and 20 years older and I look around five years younger than I actually am. So that might contribute to a bit of a (m/)paternalistic attitude towards me and my opinions.

I almost lost a lung when I read this. I'm soooo sick and I laughed so hard, too hard in fact when I read this and thought I was going to die. You made my day.

I'm glad to be of service. I shake my fist in the direction of the Mucus Gods on your behalf.
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[User Picture]From: chickenfeet2003
2005-12-14 21:53 (UTC)
One part of the equation is that London isn't the whole of Britain. Londoners just think it is. And just as some parts of the US have rather more dim xenophobic bible thumpers than other parts, some parts of Britain have more supercilious superficial trendy twats than other parts. London, regrettably, has far more than its fair share. I always think there's a certain parallel between the London question and the cocaine question. You know, "does cocaine make people into assholes or is it just the drug of choice for assholes".
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[User Picture]From: sekl
2005-12-14 22:17 (UTC)

Yay captialism...

She looked faintly horrified.

Gack? Approaching the whole patient instead of just each individual part? How do they hope to optimize their pricing scheme? ;)

I wonder if we'd believe in mental health at all in this country, if we didn't have Zoloft to sell.
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