Just when I feared I might be turning American, it is gratifying to discover that I still have plenty of British in me. Metaphorically speaking of course. Erik was definitely American when I last checked. Actually, Erik is what we term an anglophile because he likes to talk in a mock British accent to small vulnerable children.
Over the last 14 years, Austin has worn me down into a friendlier and more optimistic version. This is something of an annoyance when I go back to England and find myself cheerily greeting bus drivers and sales assistants in the manner of a friendly loony whom I would have avoided all eye contact with when I properly lived there.
It’s not the cheeriness itself that’s the problem. The influx of Polish and other Europeans into British retail has actually made shopping in London a far more pleasant activity than the old days of surly Top Shop staff whose only regret was that they were born too early to enjoy cyber bullying. It’s more that I don’t recognize myself as a Brit anymore. When did I start enjoying talking to complete strangers in shops, sometimes actually initiating the conversation? When did I start paying attention to my surroundings and properly seeing things rather than just blankly staring out of the bus window? I fear this might be that thing called mindfulness which is something that women start to ‘practice’ in their 40s when they become less relevant societally and take up yoga and ‘dance like no-one is watching’. They are, and they are laughing at you.
And yet as Pollyanna as I may be to the British, I am in no such danger here. As Erik kindly reassured me last year, “no-one would ever describe you as bubbly”. He’s right of course, and this doesn’t really concern me except for the writing of my obituary in the event that I pop my clogs a bit early. These tragic taken-too-soon obits always describe the person as being full of life (not any more of course), a smile that lights up a room, never met a stranger, etc, etc. It may be harder for the writer of mine to spin the words aloof, snobby and sarcastic into something poetic and nauseating. “She definitely warmed up a bit once you got to know her”.
Where all this gets tricky though is when meeting another Brit. In Austin you can’t throw a stone without hitting at least one, though they are generally too polite to say anything or start a confrontation with you. In Starbucks yesterday I had no sooner ordered my drink than the man asked me where in England I’m from. He didn’t sound entirely British but as he didn’t say how much he loved my cute accent, I assumed he was. I told him London. There was then a bit of a weird pause where I think I was supposed to ask him where he was from but having no real interest in knowing the answer, I saved us both the effort.
But clearly excited at having found common ground, which probably earned him a special mention in the afternoon go-team meeting, he then asks where in London. Tiresome. He is from Wolverhampton (he volunteered this, I’m not making a snobby assumption) and unless I tell him that I lived in Piccadilly Circus or next to Harrods he probably won’t be terribly impressed. I mumble something about having lived ‘all over the place’ which just makes me sound homeless and perform an awkward exit to the only free table 5 feet away.
There is a British man in our neighborhood whom we often meet in a field where both our dog’s play. I have no idea what his name is, but I call him Colin because it feels right. He probably knows me as Karen. Colin has only been in the states for a few months which is perfect. We haven’t discussed where either of us are from, or what we ‘do’ or the weird things that Americans say or call their children. We talk about the weather and our dogs. And say ‘typical’ a lot.
We have a friend from London staying with us this week. Caroline is one of those lovely people about whom lovely words will be written post mortem, untimely demise or not. She defies my description of mindfulness and is steadily charming her way through SXSW. But she is also very British and thanks to her my sarcasm and bitter humor roams the house unchecked and unfiltered. I miss these things even more than roast chicken flavour crisps.
This morning, Caroline and Erik are going to a SXSW panel called ‘Make yourself the Happiest Person on Earth’. The fact that I am deeply irritated by the title probably says a great deal. This may also be the beginning of the end for my marriage as I suspect that ridding yourself of a ranting wife who accuses you of being an anglophile may be the first step.