Blowing My Cover
This winter, we had a short visit with two friends from Chicago who now live in London. While making small talk, I asked them if they went back to Chicago every year. Their answer was surprising to me: they haven't been back at all and won't go back until they move back permanently. Since their stay in London will be limited to a few years, they figure they'd rather spend their holidays seeing as much of Europe as they can.
A perfectly reasonable answer that made me realise both the difference between long and short term residency and one of my character defects. I tend to look at the world in my way, with my background and parameters, and it surprises me when other people come at issues from a different direction.
Ever since moving here, I've taken great pains to blend in as much as possible. I'm the goose who wants to be a swan. Intellectually, I know I'll always be just another American blow-in, but in my heart-of-hearts, I want to believe that I can become Irish through sheer force of will. (Well, that and playing camogie.) I don't advertise my nationality, but I don't hide it either, probably because I can't. My accent has stubbornly stayed deeply rooted in the Midwest.
It was a big surprise to me when my mother started announcing to all and sundry "We're from the United States!" I understand she was on her holiday, but I'm not the sort to proclaim the fact at every opportunity. However, as part of her traveling group, I was automatically included in her identification. It was weird for me, and a bit uncomfortable.
I figured I had three options. Option A - I could go the sullen teenager route, walk 20 feet behind my mother, and pretend not to know her. Option B - I could tell everyone "Yeah, but I live here now," as though that would have any effect in explaining my inexpressible feelings on citizenship, belonging, identity, and culture. Option C - I could just let it go and enjoy the time with my parents.
In the end, it wasn't really that difficult a decision. I had to let go of my self-consciousness and vanity and just enjoy being a tourist and spending time with my family. We did things I would never dream of doing ordinarily - like taking a jaunting car tour through Killarney National Park. (We did not go to Blarney Castle. There are some activities that are just a diddly-idle too far for me. That poxy stone and castle would be at the top of the list.)
When we were in a pub in Doolin, my dad and I went up to the bar to order dinner and drinks. As we were waiting for the bartender to pull the required number of pints, I somehow had cause to remark to my dad that Mom was blowing my cover. He said "I know" in a way that made me feel like he understood this weird place I inhabit, this place of wanting to be something I'm not, of blending in but not actually belonging.
The pub was quite busy and we watched a couple of bar staff scramble around preparing drinks and taking payment. They seemed to have a policy of requiring payment upfront. When the bartender gave us the pints, my dad's coke, and my Jameson. I had to remind him for the 'red' - a weird sort of soda called red lemonade, which is unreasonably delicious when combined with Jameson whiskey. The bartender handed me the 2-liter bottle of red and I poured a bit into my glass, then accompanied my dad back to the table. It was only later that we realised the bartender hadn't asked for payment.
Dad was convinced that my ordering Jameson and red had singled me out as a 'local' and that's why the bartender didn't require payment when we ordered. I'm convinced my dad was just being nice and that the bartender was swamped and made a simple mistake. I'm also convinced that Option C was the most enjoyable way to experience my holiday - everyone should occasionally try being a tourist in their own backyard.