I have been in the UK for almost three weeks and I still have no idea whether Brits hate Americans or love Americans. I keep getting conflicting reports. I met this guy at the gym and he was British and said that everyone would love me, but people keep looking at me with thinly veiled disgust like I’m a toddler screaming in an Italian restaurant. I also don’t think my inability to read the denominations of coins works in my favor. The other day, I just held out my wallet to the cashier and she picked out the correct change.
My frequent refrain is: “I am a dumb American.”
It works roughly 60% of the time.
There are two major things I have noticed about Londoners, and both relate to voice. Firstly, they whisper everything. I shout everything. I am an exclamation point next to their ellipses. Before I learned to adjust my volume, I was easily the loudest person in any given room at any given time. In the entire country. When I went to Copenhagen (I’M INTERNATIONAL, BITCH!) over the weekend, the title of loudest creature in England probably went to a literal elephant or something like that.
The other thing is accents. Obviously I am aware that there are different accents. But I wasn’t prepared to hear them full-time and for the first forty-eight hours, I swore that every British accent I heard sounded faked. Also, in comparison to the soft English roses and lilting accents, my voice is a nasally nightmare. It sits thickly in my mouth, flattening every vowel like a steamroller.
In the States, I am used to be slightly superior to everyone else. In England, I am essentially a Beverly Hillbilly.
I have a newfound appreciation for Americans. I love our bold, brusque and loud ways. I like that we’re too blunt and awkward and funny.
Also OMG SIDE BAR: I have had multiple British people warn me that British people have a much more sarcastic, cunning sense of humor, as if I have never come into contact with that and that everyone in America is still laughing at anvils falling on Wile E. Coyote’s head.
Granted, that’s still fucking funny, but we have progressed a little. Give us some comedic credit, Britain.
But I also like things in London. I like how the rain feels quainter here. Like, it’s still rain, but it’s British rain so it’s slightly more polite. And I love the mews. They’re these little cobblestone offshoots from roads with houses converted—I think—from old stables or garages. And I like how there are green spaces everywhere. It feels more fresh than New York, but it still has that buzz that I like.
I feel distinctly American as I walk the streets, and I wonder what people see. I’m mostly of European descent—Irish (is Irish European? Or UK-ian? What?) and German and Austrian—so do I look like I fit in? Or does the American eek out of me? I walk like an American, sturdy and clomping and not at all graceful. And as soon as I open my mouth, I get clocked because I bray like a donkey.
But I’ve had two separate occasions of people asking me for directions—wait, three!—and that must signify some level of looking like I fit in. The first one was a woman asking me for directions to Heathrow Airport—Piccadilly Line westward—and someone else asked me where a certain tube station was. Also someone asked me for directions to a building and I gave them to him before realizing that I didn’t actually know where the building was. So two out of three isn’t bad.
Once I was on the tube alone—also no one talks on the tube, it’s so weird—and I wondered if people thought I was a ~hip~ Brit boy. They probably just wondered why I don’t brush my hair.
I’m learning to soften my voice, but I found that I can work the “charming American” angle very infrequently and sometimes it really works and other times you get that weird British stare that’s all “This idiot dropped tea into Boston Harbor” and there’s nothing worse than that stare. Also British people do not get my throwaway weird off-brand humor. So it’s a learning curve for both of us.
I’m also really good at looking to the right for oncoming cars and saying that cars here drive on the “left” side instead of the “wrong” side, because I realize that that’s a tiny bit xenophobic-sounding.
Side bar: Zenonphobia—fear of Zenon, Girl of the Twenty-First Century?
There’s really nothing more to say other than that I’m really enjoying scones and clotted cream. Well done, England. Truly.