>Why You Can’t Go Home Again: A Fortnight in the US

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Well, this corner of the internet is back for June.

I’ve gone back Stateside for the first part of this month due to family matters, and I have to say that after a year living in Australia, it’s put an interesting spin on American life.

One of the things that does irk me a bit about living in Australia is that I’m constantly asked “what do I think of Australia?” It’s well-intentioned, but I want to scream “I LIVE HERE! Of course I like it.” Now, I’m getting the reverse from my fellow Americans. Here’s a typical conversation:

Fellow American: Where are you from?

Me: Here [meaning Wisconsin].

Fellow American: Really? You don’t sound like you’re from here.

Me: I live in Australia.

Fellow American: Seriously?

Me: Yes.

Fellow American: Why would you want to move there?

Me: Work.

Fellow American: Really?

It’s like no one can fathom the idea of an American living in Australia. I’ve even been asked what language Australians speak…by people who have completed college degrees!

Fair enough, every country is pretty insular (particularly away from the major cities), but it still blows my mind at how myopic things can be Stateside: The oil spill, as bad as it is, has been framed as US v. UK standoff. It’s almost like CNN & NBC are keen to restart The War of 1812!

If that wasn’t bad enough, every single local and state politician from the affected region is trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. Fine. Yet, it reached a certain level of absurdity when there was a huge line of them in Louisiana at a press conference, each of them saying the same critiques about how they aren’t getting any assistance. Heaven forbid they just chose a spokesperson and then got on with trying to do some clean up.

Then there is that Sunderland debacle. When half of Australia was losing its collective mind over Jessica Watson, the other half was saying “who cares?” I was in the latter camp. Personally, I think it’s a daft thing, and I can’t imagine why it’s so impressive to go around the world solo. Now, an American needs rescuing after attempting to do the same and the US media is all “aww, bless.” Meanwhile, not a single word about the fact that the Australian taxpayers are footing the bill for her rescue, not even a clip of a Sunderland saying thank you made the national news. (I’m going to assume that at least one of them did.)

The one major thing that has really blown my mind, however—and I mean in a good way—is how things seem less segregated here. Most likely demographics have not changed radically in one year, but the slight apprehension that I used to feel as a minority has largely disappeared. It used to feel like there were so many different Americas co-existing within the same borders and that it was only a matter of time before we all declared war on each other. Now, it feels unified…at least on a racial level, and the one good thing the GFC has done is that it has made conspicuous consumption something to be frowned upon.

In respect to LGBT matters, I can honestly say that I’m extremely glad that DADT looks likely to be overturned. That said, I still have no idea why the Federal Government (not to mention most of the states) can’t at least say “civil unions for all” and just get out of the marriage racket all together. (The same applies for Australia, too, although the de facto legislation is a major step that the US could at least consider.)

Even though as an American citizen (which I still am—boy is it fun explaining how I can be an American citizen but resident elsewhere), I benefit from all of these changes, there’s one thing that has made me realise that I’m not emotionally American anymore: I don’t take everything so seriously.

This is the land of extreme emotional reactions to everything. If someone wins, it’s like the second coming. If someone loses, it’s the apocalypse. Everything is put into an “us-versus-them, point-of-no-return, we’re-all-gonna-die” perspective. I mean everything from oil spills to box office receipts to celebrity relationships. Stop taking yourself so seriously, America.

Reading some of my pre-Australian posts, I definitely can tell that I’m guilty of this as well. There is just something about the atmosphere in this country* that just puts you in this frame of mind that everything you do must be written in bold and underlined three times, or else it doesn’t matter.

* I blame it on the fact that this country was settled by ultra-capitalist and ultra-religious zealots.

When all is said and done, it matters most that you just enjoy your life. Wherever you happen to be.

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One comment

  1. Anonymous · June 13, 2010

    >it's always been true that america is a horrible country filled with ignorant people. the only thing that has changed is that you've gained some distance and a fresh perspective.

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