Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Who am I?

Living in the UK for almost eight months now, I’ve starting paying attention to the different ways and occasions I think of myself as either American or British. Case in point: Rosie and I were watching something called Welcome to Fatland on TV the other day. It was a documentary program about five obese Brits sent on vacation to a Mexican resort catering to overweight people: wider beds, bigger showers, reinforced furniture, fat staff, etc.

The first half of the program was just about how these people found the resort and the ways it differed from typical resorts. Then they introduced this woman named Marilyn something-or-other, an American woman who gives talks on acceptance and self-esteem to fat people. She was going to lead group sessions with the British people about learning to accept their bodies and love themselves the way they are. You know, blah blah blah.

Marilyn was really hard to watch. She was so...wait for it...AMERICAN. Even the accent sounds funny to me now when I’m not expecting it. But it wasn’t just that. She was like a cartoon of the American stereotype, so peppy, so enthusiastic, so energetic. And, of course, she was fat. The British people just didn’t get her at all. In the interviews, they were like, “I don’t think this workshop is something I would benefit from. She’s nothing like us. Her methods do nothing for me.” I was with the Brits -- I didn’t get her. But I recognized the type with a clarity that only made watching her more painful.

An example: Marilyn explained that she doesn’t believe in weighing herself, she believes in...wait for it again...YAY-ING HERSELF. She brought out a bright pink scale with the word “YAY!” painted on it, and she had each member of the group “YAY” themselves. Please believe me when I say I am not making this up: instead of the dial spinning around to a certain number, it spins around to a complimentary word, such as “sexy,” “wonderful,” or “fantastic.” So these Brits would get on the scale one at a time and Marilyn would be like, “See that? You’re beautiful! Way to go! Good job! Who’s next?” She spoke in a tone of voice I used to believe only came out of cheerleaders.

Then, at Marilyn's "Flirting Workshop," she announced that the first thing everyone would need to do if they were going to practice flirting was to be comfortable looking silly. So Marilyn put her hands upside down over her face (you know, with the eyeholes and everything) and sang a children's song in a funny voice. The Brits were absolutely stone-faced. "Did I look silly? Good! Now you try it!" At that point there was a little mutiny and the group told Marilyn she had totally lost them. Then Marilyn cried and talked about her feelings for like a year.

It was kind of like seeing yourself on video and thinking, Oh my god...THAT’S what I look like? Being removed from American culture for so long, I’m surprised at all the things I used to take for granted, like Marilyn, and fake politeness, and cheerleaders. Yes, cheerleaders are real! I have explained this many a time to an open-mouthed Rosie and her friends.

Sometimes I see American guests interviewed by British talk show hosts, and I go back and forth and back and forth identifying with the Americanness and Britishness on display. It’s also interesting because I can see where stereotypes (sometimes fair, sometimes unfair) of America and Americans are perpetuated by the aspects of it that reach Britain.

Eek, this is just too much to tackle in one blog entry. I’ll have to elaborate some other time! All I can tell you is, I am 100% sure I am American when I hear a British person pronounce “lieutenant.” That shit is just wrong, yo.


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