When Americans Meet

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Yesterday, I discussed romance at 39,000 ft over the Atlantic. Today, we return to earth. Uh, “foreign” ground, to be specific.

Since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, oh, and John and Abigail Adams (geez, never leave out John Adams, or he goes volcanic), Americans in Europe have provided storylines in countless books and films. Tourists form one distinctive source. Expats another:

“You’re American, right?” she asked James.

He answered, “You’re an American, too.”

“We’re from L.A.,” she said. “My husband works in Paris, and we’re on vacation. He had to go to the States for a time by himself. I thought the boys would like to see Normandy.” She concluded as one of her sons gestured restlessly that he wanted to sit on her lap and she waved a hand trying to dissuade him.

I’ve lived in Britain for over 15 years. I’ve run into Americans now and then. A few years’ back I read somewhere that there are around 250,000 non-military Americans residing in the United Kingdom, of whom some 100,000 live in London. (But please don’t quote me on that.)

When we bump into one another, of course we never quite know “who” we each are at first. I’ve always had the distinct impression we sort of eye each other up decidedly more than if we had met in the U.S. It’s as if we are trying to ascertain, “Who are you really? And why are you here too?”

Perhaps the major reason we may be rather wary of one another initially is because back at home we are sooooooo nastily divided politically. That often translates on this side of the water into meeting Americans who may be quicker to attack U.S. policies than even the most fault-finding, stereotypically “anti-American” of Europeans, while simultaneously also admiring Europe more than even many Europeans. I’ve also stumbled on the polar opposite: the expression “What’s that in real money?” may no longer be heard, but there are still Americans for whom the U.S. can do nearly no wrong and Europeans almost nothing right.

Myself, I’ve always been “careful” over here. Some right-wing Europeans think I’m rather conservative. Leftists often think I’m more left-wing than I am. Very good. Keep ’em guessing….

But regardless fellow American let’s not draw swords on each other about whatever is bugging you about back home and wash our dirty laundry among these non-Americans listening to us because many of them have not been to the U.S. so are looking at us to provide them a first-hand glimpse into what our country is because their usual insight into life in the U.S. is through the media prism provided by the likes of the BBC and Le Monde. Oh, I should take a breath? You can tell I’m from New York originally? Buy you a drink, friend? 😉

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I also recall once meeting the proverbial “American in Paris.” Politics wasn’t his obvious interest; but a certain woman definitely was. Working there for a time, he had within weeks of arrival become infatuated with a French friend of mine whom he had met through mutual acquaintances. (Editor’s note: this was well before Robert met his future wife.)

Smitten by her? Well, what a surprise? As she introduced us at a party, I sensed immediately he also wasn’t exactly thrilled she knew me.

“This is Robert,” she grabbed my arm, “my friend from in New York….”

Yep, that’s right, dude, I am from New York. And I’ve known her a lot longer than you. And you are, from, uh, some town in some state no one in this room’s ever heard of. 😉

The intra-Yank “tension” bubbled hotly just below the surface. Moreover she had already also told me she was not interested in him “that way” anyway. “And he’s Protestant. I would not go with a Protestant,” my Catholic friend had made quite clear.

Thinking back on it, I would characterize the scene as akin to an awkward bit we might see in a Woody Allen film. At some point years after, I came to think nonsense like that might serve as a launching pad for a little literary endeavor of my own someday. Yep, Henry James, watch out. 😉

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