Today we welcome Laura Stephens to The Displaced Nation to comment on our themes from her third culture kid perspective. Although Laura’s parents are both British, she has spent most of her life in the USA. She is currently studying film production in Boston – most conveniently for us and this month’s Oscars theme.
At the beginning of a semester, it’s only a matter of time before a professor draws upon some of that “Teacher Training Camp” gold, and suggests we spend half a class playing name games. That way, the reasoning goes, we’ll be vaguely aware of the proper nomenclature of our lecture hall peers, with whom we will probably not speak for the rest of the course anyway.
Or worse, the self-proclaimed “hip” professor will pretend to be struck by a brilliant idea, and suggest, “How about we go around in a circle – say your name, and your major, and where you’re from?”
And I’m all, “How about we… don’t.”
Why? Because apart from it evoking irrational anxiety that sends my inner monologue into a manic babbling fit (“What’s my name, again? What was his name? I wasn’t paying attention because I was too busy preparing my answers to make sure I don’t screw up my own name.”) — I never know how to answer that last question:
“Where are you from?”
Where am I from?
I know my options here.
1. I can take the easy way out, and say I’m from Connecticut – lovely New England, just like most of the kids in the class. It’s not untrue, either. I’ve lived there most of my life.
2. I can inflict upon myself the task of revealing unnecessary further explanations about my background. To a bunch of people I only just met, courtesy of the name game? I don’t think so.
Which is why I never come right out and say I’m from England.
My brother and I differ on this. He kept his English accent, although he wasn’t even born there; he just copied it from our parents. He kept it to pick up chicks, and I mock him regularly for this. He seems to do all right with the ladies, though, so he puts up with it.
Me, I always found my English accent more of a hindrance than help; asking for a glass of “water” at a friend’s house was more trouble than it was worth. As a result, I tried to get rid of my accent as soon as I could – somewhere around fifth grade. This helped me get away with not mentioning where I was from, if I didn’t want the attention. I could always mention it later if I felt like it.
At some point after that I decided I wasn’t going to introduce myself as, “Laura, from England.”
I don’t have an English accent, so why should I?
If I introduced myself that way in the College Name Game, people would either pass over it (as they do everyone else’s responses) or perk up and ask some irrelevant question about London (the only place in England, according to Americans) or Harry Potter, or tea and crumpets.
How English is English?
When I mention I moved to the U.S. when I was three, people appear dejected or slightly peeved, as though they’d been ripped off.
“Oh,” they echo knowingly, as if to say, “So that doesn’t really count.”
This irritates me. I was born in England, lived there until I was three, and have visited relatives overseas every other summer since.
I get defensive:
“I drink tea, for crying out loud! I drink tea daily, and I drank tea before it was the cool thing to do. I like crumpets with butter and honey. I’ll take the Pepsi challenge between true Cadbury’s and the Made-by-Hershey’s imitation.”
I stop. “Do you watch The Office?” I ask them.
“No, no. The British one.”
And that’s when I realize: one of the major brag points I rely on, when proving to someone just how English I can be, is British film and television.
British television – a treasure lost in the Atlantic?
I’m a film major. Today in my History of Media Arts course, we learned about the introduction of cable television.
My professor lectured, “…and originally there were only three channels…”
(At which point my inner monologue interjected, “Cheese or snow?” – National Lampoon’s European Vacation reference, in case you missed that.)
I’m assuming we stayed within the realm of American television throughout class today, because by the end of the lecture, people had 52 TV channels, and CBeebies had not been mentioned once.
I think it is a shame that British television hasn’t become as popular in the United States as it is in its native country. I’ve introduced a lot of my friends to shows like Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, The Office, The Royle Family, One Foot in the Grave and Outnumbered. Top Gear seems to have gained a foothold with American audiences, but I’d like to see things like Extras and Episodes become more widely known and appreciated.
It’s not just because they’re British that I like them; I like them because they’re funny. I might enjoy them more than my American-born friends do, because of the references within the shows that probably contribute to my understanding, but generally my friends are appreciative of any British video clips I show them.
ABC meets BBC
My American boyfriend and I have a list of films that we intend to watch at some point, and we add to it regularly. We have a list of television series too – ditto. These lists are written on virtual Sticky Notes for Mac.
He, however, has a separate Sticky: “Weird British Shows.” It contains many of the shows I listed above.
From his reactions to the shows to which I’ve already introduced him, though, I know that Boyfriend is not really serious about the “Weird” in the title.
He’s a fan.
What is being English all about, anyway?
Being English is not about crumpet consumption – not entirely, anyway. There is a strong popular culture built around witticisms, subtlety, and sarcasm. I may have only lived in England for the three least memorable years of my life, but I have an intrinsic love for all those lovely British shows of which most Americans have never heard. I don’t care that this is all I have to defend my culture – I push like nobody’s business to get my American friends to watch these shows.
It’s good television, that’s all – even if it is a little weird or different.
Much of British programming is simply an acquired taste.
Which makes sense, right? It’s kind of like…tea.
STAY TUNED for Monday’s post – our own thoughts on the Academy Awards!
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