Growing up British in America

Being a British (or more specifically, English – not that Americans tend to bother differentiating between the two) kid in an American school had its ups and downs. Of course, I was subject to the not-so-original Harry Potter comparisons, the assumption that I was part of England’s aristocracy, and the occasional tea and crumpet banter. When I jumped the pond over to Connecticut I was the tender age of six, so in all honesty I think the tongue-in-cheek mockery of my Britishness probably did me good.

Anyway, being eager to make friends and not land myself a spot as the social reject in the corner of the class, I took the banter in my stride. There were times when it seemed to be getting a little out of hand though and I recall on one occasion being sent to the “principal’s office” for supposedly showering my fellow pupils with profanities that I wasn’t even aware existed at the time. Long story short, it turned out some of the school bullies thought it would be funny to accuse me of swearing at them… and ridiculing their mothers apparently – humorous as it is, I was definitely innocent of this crime. Shortly after, one of them was removed from the school for reasons unknown, so it’s all swings and roundabouts I suppose.

I won’t lie, being Harry Potter had its advantages. My “soccer” skills were above par in comparison to my classmates – although I guess that’s a given if you’re English. It took a while to get a grasp of American football however; but once I had, people were even more amazed that a British kid actually understood the rules of the game, let alone being able to play it. Then there was the accent; whilst the subject of frequent ribbing by my pals, the teachers couldn’t get enough of it. I remember actually being held behind class to speak a few sentences to one of them, who was ravished with delight at my native tongue.

That didn’t last long though; I quickly – although unintentionally – adopted a strange twang, which was a mix of American and English with a slight hint of London lingo. This earned me a sort of quasi-American status. I was still the British kid, but I’d slithered my way further into the culture. A big part of this culture consisted of doing things that nearly every American kid nationwide did; I went to Chuck E. Cheese’s, I started playing basketball, I wore tie-dye clothing almost every other day, I was bumping US Hip-Hop like I was straight out of the Bronx (a sort of ghetto hippie if you will) and my love of middle-class cuisine such as salmon with hollandaise sauce was replaced by pizza and hot dogs.

That said, I was frequently reminded of my English roots. I remember visiting a friend who lived just down the road for a “play-date”. Later that day whilst I was shovelling numerous slices of pizza into my face during dinner, my friend’s parents were questioning me about my background and how the transition was going. Without warning, my friend’s Dad started reeling off various facts about the American Revolution and the valiant efforts of the colonists in defeating the pompous Redcoats and their tea stained grasp over the land of the free. Being a naive 10 year-old, I was unable to conjure up any witty retorts that would destroy the patriot’s attempt at mocking the motherland and was forced to stare down ashamedly. It’s fair to say July the 4th was always an awkward occasion.

Speaking of the land of the free, one memory that always makes me cringe when it unwelcomingly floats back into my mind is the pledge of allegiance that we were required to recite with our hands on our hearts every morning before class. It’s not that I have a vendetta against patriotism; I just can’t shake the corny feeling of announcing your “allegiance” to the “indivisible” country of “liberty and justice”. Not to mention the fact that they were essentially celebrating their hard-won independence from the country I had just recently left behind. I won’t fly off track into a controversial debate about American politics, but let’s just say the pledge is pretty far off from the reality. Here’s to wishful thinking.

I digress, my American upbringing (although only a chunk of my childhood) did shape me in many ways. The roots of my musical taste definitely lead back to those years, and I do reminisce with great fondness. Although I felt out of place on occasion, at that age you just get on with it, and soon enough I didn’t feel any different from the other Kool-Aid kids on the block. Having settled back in London, I don’t think I’ll be moving back across the pond anytime soon. Thoughts of living in America fill me with nostalgia, but I feel I’ve had my time there – for now anyway. I’m eager for my upcoming visit however; especially if it presents me with a chance to pit my newly trained brain (I’ve got a History A Level) against my friend’s patriotic Dad and crush his historical inaccuracies. He won’t know what’s hit him.

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