I’ve spent much of the last 25 years often as the (only) American in the room – be it with family, friends, or workplace colleagues. As you know if you visit here regularly, I’ve now also spent several years writing novels in which I’ve created characters sourced from some of my (especially early) “travel” and “expat” experiences. They are full of types of people I’ve encountered, and even cherished, and what I’ve seen here in Europe.
I can’t begin to list the nationalities I’ve met in just London: nearly every European country; Africans from Egypt and Morocco all the way to South Africa; Afro-Caribbeans; Middle Easterners; Indians; Chinese; other Asians; Canadians; Australians; New Zealanders; Brazilians; even a few other South Americans. And all the religions: not only Christians of course, but Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. It feels like a far more “diverse” city than even New York.
I will always remember a Pakistani student, right after 9/11. He offered me personal condolences. He flat out called the attackers “terrorists”: no qualifications, no hesitation.
I also recall at a university work get-together being “complimented” by a South African who said I was the first American he’d ever met who “got” sarcasm. “You’re the driest American I’ve ever known,” he observed with a smile over a nearly empty beer glass.
“I’d like another pint,” I replied deadpan. “You want another?”
It took him a few seconds. When he caught my joke, he laughed.
I’ve written previously of “Simone” from that same workplace and she’s worth revisiting here:
We had lunch a few times only the two of us. (It was normally a small mob.) I always hate talking shop over lunches. So when provided with any one-on-one opportunity, I usually sought to get her to share a bit about her life in France.
In turn, she’d sit in the pub with her glass of red wine (seriously; but never mind about that), and angle instead to talk with me mostly about England and us foreigners living in the country. She once observed wryly, “I came to London to get a Ph.D. I ended up with an English husband, and no Ph.D.”
In a stretch of four houses in north London, there was ours that belonged to my English wife and myself. Next door was an older English couple – the husband was a retired opera singer. (Yes, really.) The other side of them was a young Indian immigrant married couple; and they had had a holiday home in Colorado: he liked to ski. (Yes, really.) One farther on was a divorced, Greek Cypriot woman, with her teenage, British born children. (No, she didn’t ski.)
We used to call it “international row.”
“Your movies are American.”
Unfortunately, though, not everything can be Casablanca. We do try. But we can’t always get it right.
And you have our sincerest apologies for some of them:
In any case, I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point.
This is not to sound naive. We all know the world is full of many ugly people doing ugly things. And I know I’ve written that we all just can’t live wherever we want: every country has immigration laws and probably always will.
But most of the time as individuals we should relax a lot more. We mustn’t forget to see each other as the people we all are. How uninteresting our world would be if we were all “exactly the same.”
I wrote this post on my (Chinese?) iPad (using a Bluetooth keyboard). Next to me on my desk is my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (not sure where that’s made) on which, staring back at me, is my current mess of an early manuscript. It sits waiting for today’s input.
Novels don’t get written by writing blog posts. Time to get going. “Ok, friends, so what are we going to do today?”
Have a good Tuesday. 🙂