Being an expat can be a lonely business, especially if you have no close family to tie you to your home counties. I have family, but until recently I had no compelling reason to see them more often than once every other year, and even then it was always in conjunction with a larger vacation. My wife and I might spend a week in Halifax (lovely place, by the way) and then swoop into the Albany, New York area for a few days of “Hi how are you good seeing you great to be here good-bye now” before breezing off to another location.
After a few years of that, a strange thing began to happen: I lost track of America.
For the better part of a decade, news from home came primarily from media reports, Twitter tweets and Facebook postings that, over time, went from puzzling to startling to alarming. The media I could rationalize: they weren’t reporting dreadful news about America because America is dreadful, they were reporting dreadful news about America because reporting dreadful news is what the media does. “Local Scout Troop Fundraises to Save Home for Orphaned Kittens” always takes a back seat to “Religious Nut-Jobs Massacre 50 at Gay Wedding Reception Before Setting Themselves Alight.”
In a country the size of America (or even Andorra – look it up) there is always something bad to report if you look hard enough, but that doesn’t mean only bad things happen there. Still, month after month after month it sort of wears on you, and you begin to wonder. And then you look at Facebook.
An agenda-driven media is one thing, but seeing opinions posted for the world to see by real people, some of whom I have been at least peripherally acquainted with, posting declarations that, in the best of light, push the boundaries of “Lunatic Fringe” can be quit disconcerting. (No, I’m not talking about you, of course: JFK’s assassination was definitely a mafia hit that was covered up by the CIA.) Dire predictions concerning the imminent collapse of democracy, the rise of a fascist totalitarian state and myriad methods of a coming apocalypse made me pause, and wonder: “Has everyone gone batshit over there?”
Well, I was pleased to find out they have not.
Provided with the opportunity to live for a full month (albeit interspersed with a few weeks in the UK) back in my hometown, not as a tourist but as a normal person doing normal type things and interacting with other, normal people while I did so, I found America to be pretty much how I left it.
America is still filled with friendly, mostly happy, contented people who bitch about paying too many taxes, think the liberals (or the conservatives) have it wrong and worry about rising prices and what future they are preparing for their children, but who—when pressed even a little bit—admit that, yeah, they have a pretty good life. It was pleasant beyond words to reacquaint myself with home, to live among people with whom I share a common background and to sit, luxuriating in the summer sun, listening to the land that, as my friend noted, is in my DNA.
I felt, not home, but at home, comfortable among the people and familiar places, and I left refreshed in many way. Sussex is now my home but America will always be my base, where I am from, what defines me.
So thank you, fellow Americans, for not being as batshit as you seem from a distance. And I promise to not pay too much attention to the media or to the nutburgers who espouse views that are probably as radical to you as they are to me.
And I really, really need to stay away from Facebook.