Being an alien isn’t as much fun as I thought it’d be. There are no space marines eager to chase me around, nor lantern-jawed heroes thwarting my plans at every turn. There was a small boy I touched with my magic finger, but then the authorities got involved and, well, let’s just say now I have to stay 150 yards away from him at all times.
I’m joking. I‘m hiding outside his window right now.
At first I didn’t feel life had changed that much. Moving wasn’t a major upheaval; I left most my stuff to be shipped at a later date and took with me only a suitcase of clothes and another filled with board games. I’d already spent so much time with my second family the US had started to feel like a second home. It’s just another place, that’s all: a change of scenery and little else.
But in the six weeks I’ve spent here I’ve noticed a few ways I don’t fit in, and a few others that make America very different to the UK.
The first and most glaring difference is that over here I’m a minor celebrity. This is in part down to being my wife’s once-estranged husband, and in a larger part because I’m English.
The first weekend after the move I attended a wedding at which the mother of the bride was more thrilled to meet me than she was to see her daughter get married. She alternately asked and told me about Britain, sharing her recollections of holidaying there and affecting what–if I’d come from any other country–would have been a terribly offensive accent.
More recently I met a self-confessed Anglophile, who was a little less fervent in her love of my homelands right up until I mentioned the problem with playing on Xbox Live as an Englishman.
“It’s no fun having some nine-year-old kid sniping your head off then calling you Harry Potter,” I said, before conversation briefly moved onto other topics.
A minute later: “I’m sorry,” she said, half-swooning. “Could you say ‘Harry Potter’ again?”
Suffice to say, I declined.
For the most part my accent has gone unnoticed and when it hasn’t I’ve used it to my advantage. Today, while snapping shots of elaborate Christmas displays in a roadside market an attendant wearing a black Santa hat that said ‘HUMBUG’ on it approached me, scowling. “Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?” she said, looking pointedly at my camera.
Quick as a flash, I turned on the charm.
“I’m just looking,” I said. “My parents come from England and they would love this place. There might be something here I could get for them.”
As soon as I mentioned ‘England’ it was like someone had stuck a fairy light up her jacksey. Illuminated from within, a slow, glowing smile spread across her face. “Okay,” she said. “If you need any help, just ask.”
My Green Card–hidden in my wallet–is a constant reminder that I’m not One Of Them. I keep it with me at all times in case I’m stopped by law enforcement and asked for I.D. Back home the prospect the police might stop me just because was ludicrous; here, where police patrol the roads like sharks, it’s an ever-present threat.
Though the locals might be used to this heightened police presence, my wife and her friends are understandably worried about new laws being passed regarding the detainment of US citizens. Phrases like ‘police state’ are being bandied around online. Under these new laws, citizens can be taken without warning and without reason, and imprisoned indefinitely. As a legal alien–as someone who’s a resident and not yet a citizen–this is worrying. For many people across the country, if these laws concerned aliens like myself this mightn’t be an issue, but they don’t: they concern them. Whatever terrorist profiles law enforcement might once have targeted, every US citizen is now at risk of being detained against their wishes at the whim of the powers that be.
Which isn’t to say good old American racism isn’t still rampant. Last month TLC started airing All-American Muslim, a reality TV show about a Michigan city with the densest Muslim population in the US. Far from the other freak shows–Sister Wives, 19 Kids and Counting–that the channel airs, All-American Muslim paints American Muslims in a positive light, showing they’re not so different to anyone else living in modern America. If anything the show’s a little too even-handed: it’s a dull programme about mundane people and their mundane lives. The families in All-American Muslim don’t follow the extremist doctrines of other religious TV families and are therefore rather boring to watch.
Unfortunately the conservative–and let’s not beat about the bush: racist–Florida Family Association thought the show whitewashed the threat of Islam to American soil by portraying the swarthy rag-headed terror-bombing sand-n-words as common or garden human beings, and petitioned several organisations to withdraw advertising from the show. Of these organisations Lowe’s the national hardware chain complied. This is the US equivalent of B&Q withdrawing ads from Desmond’s because it’s about people coming over here, taking our jobs, and I’m not racist but why don’t they fuck off home?
It’s obscene behaviour guarded under a mantra of free speech, which makes it even more unsettling that the government is currently debating whether or not to censor parts of the Internet in an unabashedly ironic move that echoes similar regulations from–wait for it–Communist China.
These ostensibly anti-piratic laws are being driven by lobbyists from the top levels of America’s entertainment industry, and seek to take a sledgehammer to those sites that host pirated materials, making them available to everyone residing in the United States. At it’s most obvious level this would mean access to, say, YouTube wouldn’t just be forbidden or outlawed: it would be removed altogether. The removal of large swathes of the Internet would interrupt the freedom of communication America’s historically renowned for. No longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, this great nation is being caged, its people fearing for its future.
And I’m one of those people, I suppose. For all the worried talks and legislature like doom falling around us, I like it here. I like that the woman picking milk in front of me at the supermarket yelled “The 21st? Are you kidding?” when she saw the expiry date. I like that a house a couple streets along has among its nativity scenes and snowmen on its lawn a wooden American soldier saluting among a miniature field of poppies. It’s like living in a theme park.
These concerns feel far away because I can’t believe they’re happening. Hollywood uber-execs can’t pay their daydreams into law. Racist mal-breds can’t dictate the viewing of a nation. Perhaps Britain’s so small and quaint it’s never had the chance to get out of hand. When riots erupt it’s the people at fault, not an out of shape cop spraying Tabasco onto a peaceful protest. Hell, the only thing our deputy prime minister has contributed to British politics is a constant look of misery, as if he wishes people had never voted for him in the first place. Britain manages to be great in spite of those who’re privileged and those who breathe through their mouths. That a country can be maneuvered by the chaff at each end rather than the wheat in the middle is a nightmare I steadfastly refuse to believe.
Yet corn is everywhere, pushed upon a nation by an industry with too much corn to consume. High business commands the nation, while thoughtless, blinkered sheepdogs round the rest of us up, barking to their whistle.
Today and for the first time, I wondered if I’d made a mistake in coming here. In the search for a Christmas tree my sister-in-law suggested we visit Lowe’s. “That racist place?” I said. “Do we really want to shop there?”
“Eh,” came her reply. “It’s close.”