Thursday, June 12, 2008

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.


At 12 June 2008 at 14:34, Blogger laurie said...

what a fascinating post, ann. and how generous of you to go with option c which is, i agree, the best solution but not necessarily the easiest.

beyond your natural and admirable desire to blend in and become a local--and how long does it take to become a local in a small town? generations, i think.-there is baggage with the "i'm from the united states!" proclamation.

maybe not so much in ireland, but certainly elsewhere in europe. i was always happy to be mistaken as a canadian. not because i am ashamed to be american; i'm not. but because there are so many angry perceptions toward our country and its policies, and because our country has taken so many positions that i cannot defend.

much easier to be from somewhere else.

whether the bartender recognized you as a local, or just got busy, is not the point. the point is that your dad is a very sensitive and nice guy

At 12 June 2008 at 18:28, Blogger Kaycie said...

What a great guy your dad is.

When traveling in Europe, I'm also careful not to advertise where I'm from. Unlike Laurie, however, I never get mistaken for a Canadian. Once I speak, it's quite obvious I'm from the American South. The thing that surprised me most, though, was that usually the local people were just interested in exactly where I was from, rather than treating me as a "stupid American". Even in France.

At 12 June 2008 at 20:46, Blogger Babaloo said...

Ann, you've spoken right from my heart! I have gone with option C on previous occasions but always found it hard, at least at the start. Once you get into the spirit of it, it can be quite liberating and fun, though!
I'm also trying to blend in, wherever I go really. Doesn't always work, though.

By the way, how come you could vote in the referendum? Do you have Irish citizenship? We couldn't vote. Which was a relief really because I would've had a hard time making up my mind.

Btw, we have applied for citizenship 2 years ago. They said they'd look at the paperwork in 2008. We'll see.

At 13 June 2008 at 08:03, Blogger -Ann said...

Laurie - It's definitely not as much fun to be an American in Europe as it was ten or 15 years ago. But hopefully that is changing. My dad is a pretty good guy alright. :)

Kaycie - He is...I think I'll keep him. :) Treated well in France - you must be doing something right.

Babaloo - I was eligible for Irish citizenship after we were married for 3 years. They've since changed the law, but when I got mine, it was as simple as going to the consulate in Chicago with some paperwork and then waiting about 8 weeks. I have two passports and it makes me feel like a secret agent when I travel to the States. (In Europe, I can just travel on the Irish one but US citizens must enter the country on US passports.)

I did vote in the referendum. It was a tough decision - I think I might have to suspend the family vacation tales for a quick post on casting my first vote in Ireland.

Good luck with your citizenship. (Although I'd say if you don't hear from them by September or October, I'd try to go chasing. Paperwork has a way of going missing sometimes.)

At 14 June 2008 at 03:06, Blogger Career Guy said...

That bartender so thought you were local. I saw him do a double take and size you up. I was so proud to be with you at that moment (and of course whenever I am with you).

I would have voted Yes as well.

At 14 June 2008 at 06:33, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

"Jameson and red" = Possibly Irish, though maybe the D4 variety.

"Jemmy and red" = Definitely Irish!

At 16 June 2008 at 12:13, Anonymous Amy P said...

Great and thought-provoking post, Ann! I'll be thinking about this for awhile - always the mark of good writing and good thinking!
Amy P

At 16 June 2008 at 13:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved reading about your family trip! I have a question, will we need to dress as warm as you (in pictures) July 11-21? We are taking our first trip to Ireland and want to make sure I have the right clothes!

At 21 June 2008 at 11:01, Blogger -Ann said...

Hi Kathleen - Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you, I'm only after seeing your comment. I don't know that I have a good answer for you. Layers are definitely a good idea, since the weather is very changeable. I rarely wear shorts here, except when I'm playing sports. A good waterproof windbreaker is always handy to have. It really depends what your cold tolerance is. (Funny enough, I didn't think that we were dressed all that warmly. :))


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