Sunday, September 05, 2010

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: How A Year Away Has Reignited My Patriotism

Leaving the US for our adventure here in England has been a fantastic experience in a lot of the ways that we expected and hoped for; my husband and I feel closer to each other than we have in years and more connected to our children, we are more motivated to explore our surroundings and appreciate the natural beauty that is all around us here, to name a couple.  But one of the most profound effects of our move has been a rekindling of our love of America.

The thing is, England isn't really all that different culturally from the US. We share the language, obviously, and tons of pop culture touchstones, and the British personality jibes with the American one most of time.... Socio-politically, the Brits seem to top the USA. What with their socialized medicine and all (We really do go to the doctor for free! All the kids' prescriptions are free! All of my prescriptions are just £7.20!), their pre-school vouchers for 3 years olds, and their school system that starts at 4, just to name a few things.

So, it should work out pretty even between the States and the UK,... right?

But the thing is, America has this x-factor about it. America's like a movie star that you read about in the papers, that you feel like you know because of all the tabloid gossip you've read about it. (And in our case, because we lived with it!) You just know that you'd get along really, really well with America. And you know, for sure, that it has everything better, newer, shinier, and more expensive than what you have. And its got twice as much, too.

And it is all true. America does have more beautiful, shiny, new stuff. And it only costs about half what is costs everywhere else.

Seriously. Half. H-A-L-F. 1/2.

I really relished the down-sizing once we got here last August. Full disclosure: the act of paring down in the months before the move were an agony. I really loved having to readjust the mindset that I had been fortunate enough to become accustomed to over the years; the mindset that told me I could buy pretty much anything I wanted to, and if I couldn't have it new, I could obtain it through eBay or Craig's List.  I know that a lot of people in the US have to think long and hard about what they purchase and when they can purchase it- especially now, with the economy in the dumps.  But, really, a year ago in Wisconsin, I just didn't know many people like that. Everyone seemed to just go out and buy new clothes all the time. Or new iPhones. Or whatever thing it was that they felt they needed to get. And I did, too. (Minus the iPhone. Yes, I'm still bitter it took so many years for me to get one.)  So it made me happy to move here and feel the sting of every purchase and worry about what I could afford. I liked getting reacquainted with the word NO. I liked not having a credit card that could make my heart's desire come true in a instant.  It made me feel real again. More grounded. More sensible.

(God, I sound like such a spoiled brat. I am making myself sick and you, too, probably.)

( But the truth hurts sometimes, doesn't it?)

Of course, that feeling of self-satisfaction that came from all the self-denying wore out after about 8 months. I can remember my husband and I sitting around, watching a TV show on the computer (because we refuse to buy a new tv, sign up for satellite service, and pay the TV tax* while here), when I just blurted out, "I miss buying stuff!!!" And Daddy-007, who is a first-class stoic, cracked and admitted that he, too, really missed spending money. I think what we really missed was the feeling that we could spend money. Not just spend money, because, of course, the dollars or pounds still manage to fly out the door as quickly as they come in, but to spend money on silly, non-essential stuff.  You know, STUFF. Like mocha frappacinos. Did you know they don't have drive-thu Starbucks here? Like DVDs for the kids. Because any Pal-formatted DVD we buy here won't work in our player back in the States. Like new clothes. Would you believe me if I told you I have purchased only 8 new items of clothing since I arrived here?

Even though we didn't go hog wild or anything while we were in the States for the month of August, we were keenly aware that it cost a third of what it costs to fill the gas tank of the much smaller car we have here in the UK or that it cost half as much to eat out. We were constantly remarking on how fast the service was everywhere we went and how happy or willing people seemed to be to help us. Truly, the USA knows how to make a customer happy and values this ability in every sector. In the UK? Not so much.

And the lines! Everywhere here you have to queue up and wait. It is outrageous how fast everything happens in the States. Even traffic jams move faster in the USA, I swear.

To try and bring this unwieldy post back onto point:

It has been and continues to be a great experience living abroad. But in one of life's small gifts, I never expected two years abroad to revive the patriotism that I felt as a child. The kind of patriotism that George W. Bush killed for me. (Sorry to bring politics into this, but it is how I feel, whether it is "true" or not.) Of course, it wasn't just Bush that killed it- it was the greed and cynicism of the American banking industry that swindled the world so it could make money 10 times over on bad debt, it was the profligate spending of money by everyone in the US, whether they had the money to cover it or not, it was a lot of things... but they all added up to an image of the US that made me forget how lucky I was to be an American.

No matter its (many) problems, America is still the place that people from around the globe want to go and it is still where people the world over aspire to live. The American Dream of being able to attain all your dreams by working hard, using your head, and having some hustle is alive and well. America, of course, isn't the only place in the world that that this Dream can be achieved, but it sure as hell is still the most fertile soil for it to take root in. Truly, anybody can strike it rich in America and live that life that is portrayed in every TV show and movie that comes out of Hollywood.

I feel like I'm walking out on a limb here. I don't want to alienate my British friends, but I seriously doubt they would be too offended by anything I've said because they all seem pretty aware of it. They take advantage of the USA's advantages every time they visit, in fact. ;) Neither do I want to look like an idiot because this revelation was brought about by my rather tacky love of STUFF. But, the fact of the matter is, no matter how little one has in the United States, they are still miles ahead of most people in the world in the matter of creature comforts and sheer quantity of things.  This may not be the best reason to love the USA, ...but it certainly goes a long way.

My ever-flitting-about brain now wants to start an argument regarding Quality of Life over Quantity of Stuff, because I do feel that is an important distinction that many other countries certainly give the USA a run for its money in. My own personal philosophy, what with my weakness for all things electronic, is that there is some equilibrium to be found in Quality of Life Through Quality of Stuff. Who's with me?

*I know! A TV tax!!  It is £270/year for the privilege of watching live television in the UK.

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1 comment:

  1. To me, it sounds like you miss the convenience of America. I can understand that in a respect. Especially when it comes to the price of some items. I'm not a fan of the political system here in the United States, because it's been butchered in so many ways. The nutritional value of food also sucks here in the United States. You definitely are lucky enough to live in a place where you have socialized healthcare. We should have had that model and we may well have if Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived long enough to pass the bill through congress.. Ahh well I digress. I can see your point.


Thoughts appreciated. Advice welcome. Douche-baggery scoffed at then deleted.