You win some, you lose some

I’ve always hated the word ‘expat’, abbreviated or otherwise. It’s not the word itself, I guess, but more the notion that I ever ‘belonged’ to one part of the world in the first place. And more to the point, when I think of ‘expats’, I bring to mind the likes of Frank, Doris, Ethel and Brian, who live in Spain on the Costa del Sol, and eat pie, chips and gravy in 90 degree heat. I’m sure that some people can think of nothing better than putting their car keys in a bowl and hoping that Florence, (the positively spritely 68 year old from Harrogate), pulls out the keys to their imported Volvo – but I’m not one of them.

Nonetheless, an expat I am. Although we don’t have a car, just to be on the safe side. The thing about being a British expat in America is that your life becomes a weird meld of cultures and experiences that you create for yourself over a period of time. You abandon the sacred principle of watching early Saturday evening TV, but you gain the concept that eating hot dogs from a street vendor is acceptable. You lose the horror of watching representatives of an openly racist political party get voted into positions of power, but you are forced to replace it with medical providers who would charge you for breathing within ten yards of their establishment if they could get away with it.

The point is, you accept some alternatives into your heart (baseball is a more than acceptable summer replacement for cricket) and you reject others (the day I regard corn dogs as OK is the day I pack up and go home). As a result, your life becomes a constant succession of choices as you slowly create your new normality, horse trading with yourself to ensure that you assimilate without losing your sense of where you come from.

For instance, The Special One this week had reason to comment that I am “becoming more American than an American.” No, I was not seized by an urge to invade a foreign territory, nor did I feel the need to cut somebody off mid-conversation and start a whole new topic of my own. But I did realise that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” has become one of my favourite records.

There is an arcane law in the United States that requires “Don’t Stop Believin'” to be played at least once an hour on every radio station in the country. Yet somehow, despite a music knowledge that I would regard as pretty comprehensive, I’m not sure that I had ever even heard it before moving to the United States. Now I can’t get that small town girl taking the midnight train anywhere (or the city boy born and raised in South Detroit, for that matter) out of my head, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

To compensate for this, I have been forced to declare that pretzels are a product of the Evil Empire. If Americans were truly honest with themselves, they would sheepishly admit that the big doughy knot of salt studded nonsense is quite literally ‘not all that’, and that they would actually be better off just pouring a sachet of sea salt and a tablespoon of vinegary mustard down their neck instead.

And don’t get me started on ‘mini pretzels’ or ‘pretzel sticks’. When you’ve got a perfectly sensible potato chip staring you in the face, why would you even think to pick a pack of mini pretzels off a shelf? At best they taste burnt, and at worst they have the ability to absorb all the liquid in your body within 13 minutes. Those little silica gel packets that you get in bags and boxes to suck up moisture? There’s actually no such thing as silica – it’s just ground up mini pretzels masquerading as ‘science’. I would rather eat salt studded toe nail clippings, to be honest.

Ah, the yin and yang of life as an expat. It’s not easy being this opinionated, you know.

7 thoughts on “You win some, you lose some

  1. IanB

    Oh lordy, pretzels…I’d forgotten about the deliciousness of pretzels.

    Of course, technically, you’re actually an “alien” right now which is a wholly more entertaining label to place on someone than “ex-pat” – which always sounds like you changed your name by deed poll to avoid being called Paddy for the rest of your life by confused Americans who fail to tell the difference between the various flavours of “European” accent:- English, Welsh, Irish, Scotch (sic) and the ever-popular: “are you Australian?”

    I don’t feel able to comment on the potential yummy/yuckyness of corn dogs as I seem to have miraculously avoided them, largely because it was assumed I had eaten them regularly and therefore had not been coerced into trying one as a, um, delicacy. They sound…interesting…

  2. Trixie Trouble

    A friend once told me that he heard a DJ say the following on a U.S. radio station . ..” We got Phil Collins, we got Genesis … we got ALL kindsa music”.

    Still makes me laugh.

  3. NFAH

    But pretzels are part of the important American myth of non-fat foods… crisps/chips are clearly sinful but dry sticks of burnt baked dough are healthy.

  4. Sven

    Saturday evening television! I didn’t realise I missed getting drunk in front of “The X Factor” till you mentioned that.

  5. Josephine

    I totally agree, as I sit here smiling about your analogies.. being a transplant/expat/half yank/whatever you call it, it’s something you create yourself, from all the bits and pieces you hold onto from whence you came.
    The older I get, the more I seem to be protective of my English roots, I am positively sure, I live a little closer to the English side of the line these days…why is that ?
    Maybe I’m afraid it will just all be lost one day, I will awake, not really knowing who I am, or where my ideas and creations have deriven from? I want to leave something to my grandchildren, that reminds them of their heritage, and I remained a proud subject of Her Majesty.

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