Wednesday, 4 July 2012

An Independence Day confession

Happy birthday, America! As I write this, you are probably all picnicking in the sweltering summer heat, lounging by the pool, and preparing your sparklers and firecrackers and various other incendiary devices for tonight's pyrotechnics display. A few years ago, I would have been right there in the mix with you, but now I live in Britain, where the equivalent of Independence Day isn't celebrated until November 5th; we have fireworks, too--and even a bonfire!--but it's just not the same.

(A little red...)

But enough about explosives; they aren't the topic of this post. Instead, I'm writing today because I want to tell you a secret. It's not something I'm proud of, and I hope you won't judge me too harshly: Now that I've lived here for almost 3 years, I'm starting to sound a little British.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not developing an accent. I would almost rather cut out my tongue than let that happen, because it just sounds so fake. I refuse to be the next Madonna (in more ways than one). When I was home recently, a friend of mine swore that he detected a hint of a British accent when I spoke, but I think he was wrong. I just wouldn't betray you like that, USA.


However, I'm beginning to find it difficult to avoid using British words and phrases when I talk. Heaven help me, I have even started thinking in British--using both British terms and, unbelievably, a British accent. This is a bad sign. Even when I was back in the US last month, surrounded by people speaking American English, I pronounced the "h" when I said "herb." I looked at the windshield of the car I was driving and thought of it as a "windscreen." I mentioned that someone was taking a cigarette break, but what I wanted to say was "fag break." 

These are just examples of words and phrases I don't even use on a daily basis; there are many more common terms that have permanently worked their way in to my daily speech. I say "toilet" instead of bathroom, "bin" instead of "trash can," "rubbish" instead of trash, "advert" instead of "commercial." I've even switched from "parking lot" to "car park" and from "cilantro" to "coriander." (Also, I have to admit that I love saying "wee" and "fairy lights" instead of "pee" and "Christmas tree lights." What can I say? We all have our guilty pleasures.)


I'm sorry, America, but I think some of this is inevitable. I don't want to be turned, but I'm surrounded by British people 24-7. All I can say is, I do rebel in my own little way. I still say "gas" instead of "petrol," and I live in an "apartment" rather than a "flat." I refuse to use the word "punnet" because it's just so overtly British, and I promise I will never end a discussion of someone by saying "Oh, bless." Sometimes I even knowingly emphasize the little bits of Philadelphia accent I picked up while I was at college, and when I listen to country music, I sing along in an accent that even a Texan would admire.

(...and blue.)

Not to go on a tangent, but you should also know that I maintain my American-ness in other ways. I recently paid extra money to take three suitcases on the airplane so that I could bring lots of good American stuff back to the UK. I often cook staples of American cuisine in my kitchen (though I will admit to having a huge weakness for Jamie Oliver); I especially like cooking US classics when we have guests over for a meal. We predominantly watch American movies (by the way, I hope you're all watching the Will Smith classic Independence Day today--that's another guilty pleasure), and the only TV show we consistently tune in to is the HBO import Game of Thrones.  I could go on, but I think you get the point. Underneath this verdigris of Britishness there still gleams the shine of American copper. Or something like that.

Anyway, America, today’s all about you, and I hope I haven’t ruined your party mood. I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry if I’ve let you down (though frankly I think I bought myself a little leeway with that huge tax payment I sent you this year). I’ll try to minimize my use of Britishisms, though I can’t make any guarantees. In fact, I’ll try to be a good expat in general and try to repair some of the damage that all of your loud tourists do every time they come over here (sorry, it’s true). Meanwhile, have a good celebration today. Try not to burn yourself on all the sparklers.


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