Living in England is changing me. So subtly that I don’t even notice it day to day. But I recently passed the one-year mark. It’s hard to believe, because time seemed to go so quickly, but here I am…over one third of the way done with my English adventure. Does that mean one third of the way through my transformation as well?
Although I don’t notice the changes as they occur, when I reflect back to my day of arrival, I can see that I am no longer just an American, but also a citizen of the world. I still speak with an American accent and often still make the mistake of using American words. For example, just the other day I was telling a Brit how as I’m losing weight, I now have only one pair of pants that fit me. Pants here mean underwear. Not exactly the best topic for casual conversation. Luckily, I caught myself and said that I meant trousers, not pants. International incident averted. But aside from my persistent Americanisms, I’m seeing the world from a more global perspective.
Let’s start with fashion. It’s pretty easy to pick out newly-arrived or visiting Americans. Just look at their shoes. Or their jeans and t-shirts. (Or their loud and frequent laughter, for that matter.) Here, few people wear running shoes unless they are actually running, or are headed to, from, or at the gym. (Stylish tennies like Vans or Converse not included among the young bunch). For young ladies (and I use that term in the kindest way), the shortest of skirts (don’t bend over, please!) paired with the highest heels and the longest, fakest eyelashes and you have either a hen party (a.k.a. hen do or bachelorette party), a night of clubbing, or, if transported to America, a cluster of giddy prostitutes. Seeing them, once so shocking, now just brings an amused smile to my lips. “Ah, to be young.” I think.
And then there’s the hair. I’ve never seen so many non-hair colors of hair bobbing down the street on such a massive span of ages. Here, it’s not just for rebellious teenagers trying to make a statement about how radical and individual they are. No, it’s just a look. A statement, yes, but of fashion, not of anarchic tendencies (at least I don’t think so, but maybe granny is advocating rebellion and I’m just a naïve American after all).
All this and a lot more has changed my views and opened my mind to the variety of ways that life can be lived in other countries. So many little things. No better or worse than America…just different. No, I have no desire to dye my hair pink or wear mini-minis or fake eyelashes, but I’m starting to dislike the majority of my wardrobe. It’s no longer me. Besides, the fat me is no longer me either, so the transformation of one will necessarily result in the transformation of the other. I expect to be a lot thinner and in a whole new, more continental wardrobe by the beginning of next year. So how could I mentally outgrow almost my entire wardrobe in a year? That’s the thing. It’s fully American; it doesn’t reflect all of who I am any longer.
But the change is about so much more than external trappings. World news here really is about the world, not just the bits of the world that will have a direct impact on America, like an increase in the price of gas or of cheap crap made in a foreign sweatshop. It’s no wonder why Americans are so ethnocentric. How can you have a global perspective when you are so insulated from the world? I’m not saying that one cannot be aware of the world as an American living in America, but it’s a greater challenge requiring a diligent pursuit of information. Life here, on the other hand, seems much more intimately linked to so much more of the rest of the world, including America. A ripple in the pond and all that.
I’m still an American and proud of it, but also now realize just how young our country is and with it our attitudes and perspectives. America still has a lot of maturing to do before America is fully a global citizen, too, and not just a country in a world that is its oyster. Living life in another country is not just an extended vacation; it’s cultural immersion. I wonder how different life will be for me when I return to live in America after I’ve learned what I’ve learned and seen what I’ve seen.