Hampton Lintorn Catlin

Culture Shock or: How I Stopped Worrying and Enjoyed the Culturgeddon

(Note, everytime in this post I say America I mean Canamerica)

Ah, beautiful lovely England. And I don’t mean that sarcastically. England is an absolutely stunningly beautiful place. The more I look at it, the more I realize just how pretty it is. For those of you out of the loop, I’ve recently relocated to England. Cambridge to be exact. And CB2 8PB, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, East of England, England, Britain, United Kingdom. They sure do have lots of categories for naming, but that’s a subject for another posting all together.

Yes, its true. On the auspicious day of September the 11th, 2009, I followed my heart across the sea to live in a magical place known as England-town. I had no illusions before the move. I am no stranger to being a stranger in a new place. After being born and bred in Florida, I was shipped off to slightly chillier South Carolina where I got to enjoy the beautiful mountains. Then, I dropped out of school and shipped myself to the much chillier New York City. Then, I followed my heart to the much, much chillier Toronto. Each of those places makes you feel a little bit like a foreigner and in an increasing manner.

Now I’ve gone and done it. This time, I truly am a foreigner. Being an American in Canada is like being a Canadian. No one can detect a difference. I felt at home and blended in accordingly. However, here… it is a different story all together. Every word I speak I am instantly singled out as being “different”. Being a white male from America, I am not used to this. Sure, I’m gay, but you can’t really tell. I get to pick and choose when I’m different. Such is the luxury of being the dominant force in a culture. Being different is like a game. “When I go to this meeting, should I be different or not?”

But now I can’t even go to the store (shop) across the street without feeling like I’m wearing jean shorts to a cocktail party. I do my best to mask it. I say “cheers” under my breath. I attempt to say as little as I possibly can and see if they notice. For a short time, while in public, I attempted to speak quietly and in a slightly English accent as to attempt to fool passerby’s. Its not that I want to affect a British accent (I was warned many times before I left that I would be disowned for such treason). However, now I see why Madonna did it. You do spend enough time sounding different and you just want to sound the same. And you know Madonna did live in Britain married to a British guy. Luckily, my accent remains intact. I shall take my role as foreigner with some dignity.

Being an American is a unique position here. I’ve been shocked at exactly how much of America has been imported here. The local pizza place? Pizza hut. Want a sandwich? Subway. There is even an American-style Bowling Alley (they call it Ten-Pin... and yes modern bowling started in America). All of these places are within 1 block of my apartment. Did I mention that the cinema only runs American movies?

The reason this makes things so much harder is that most people here have strong ideas about Americans, but haven’t ever met one. They live with America as sort of a cultural ghost floating around everywhere they turn. Add to it that there are very, very few Americans living in England, and you end up being kind of an oddity. I think English people don’t really know what to make of America.

My feelings about being a Canamerican are hard to express properly. Because of the extremeness on both sides of my heart and head. On the one hand, I am critical of my country. On the other hand, I can’t think of anything more amazing than America. I think what people miss about America is the variety. There is no “American”. The idea of being American is a myth. Its just a collection of people who mostly speak English who believe in democracy, freedom, and business. That’s it. We’ve made those words lose meaning, but almost every American believes in those 3 words endlessly. They just interpret them differently. Is the business a co-op or a mega conglomerate? Is freedom social liberties or libertarian small goverment? America is just one big debate on what those three words mean.

Staring at Canamerica is like staring at the Sun. It is so vast, powerful, diverse, changing, swirling, horrible, and stunning. Those are equal compliments and statements of fear.

Canamerica is frightening. What do you make of that externally? How should you feel being on the outside staring at that wild beast across the Atlantic. A bit jealous and also a bit worried. I think that’s how people see Americans.

I keep trying to explain to people that being British in America means that you are an American. Ricky Gervaise can star in movies in America, about Americans, with his British accent, without any explanation, because it just seems fine. We assume Ricky’s character has moved to America and lives there. This assumption even works on British audiences watching his movies. It is never odd that a British person would be living in America. I think that’s really interesting. Anytime an American shows up on the “tele” here, it is explained why they are in England. And that simply makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t want to be a foreigner. I want to feel at home.

To be clear though, British people have been ridiculously nice and charming and interesting. This has more to do with my own brain and the way I function than anything else.

I know that this post is going on too long. I won’t promise to make it a series, but I will say I have a lot more to say. So many comments to make about the cultural differences.

I hope I can make a home here. Britain is wonderful, amazing, beautiful, charming, and calm. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Being born British is like winning the lottery of life.”

To conclude the personal news section. I have moved into a swanky flat in a cool area of town with lots of things to do. I have a killer view, no furniture (its on the ocean!), and have been doing my best to get work done, make friends, and stay sane. Oh, you can totally peak at my flat if you want. Second from the top. Mobile Wikipedia continues to grow. My iPhone businesses are booming. And I’m getting married on November 11th, to the most awesome guy in the universe (except me, obviously).

You should get an award for reading all this!


Oct 21, 2009
Botanicus said...
Nice post! "Canamerica is frightening. What do you make of that externally? How should you feel being on the outside staring at that wild beast across the Atlantic. A bit jealous and also a bit worried. I think thatís how people see Americans." You're completely right that European people doesn't know what is America about (me neither, as I'm European too). But I don't think Europeans are really jealous. America has something, Europe has something else, like amazing historic buildings etc. I won't swap honestly. I think Europeans seen americans as "the people with incredibly high self-confidence eating just hamburgers, doesn't like walking and starting wars wherever is oil or something pricey". I know it's not truth, but it's how in my experience Europeans are thinking about Americans. I also moved to UK recently (from Czech Republic, also Europe) and I definitely love it! Even if british are quite strange in some ways, I really like them, also the architecture here and the country ... and London which is really one of the prettiest cities in Europe. So welcome to UK, enjoy it mate!
Oct 21, 2009
ltackett said...
If I'm not careful, I'll end up a foreigner myself. But then, when has being careful ever felt like living? Grats. Your flat fucking rocks, man.
Nov 1, 2009
Carl said...
Living in Japan is like what you said times one million. Being in Hawaii is in between. Most people are Asian, but being white isn't weird weird unless you go to the wrong part of town.