Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My special relationship

I arrived from the US 17 years ago and each time I go back it seems to have morphed further into a Simpsons episode

Tim Dowling - Guardian CiF.

One of the planks of Gordon Brown's Mansion House speech last night was the affirmation that Britain's "special relationship" with the United States was still going strong. After a summer of hints that the nature of the peculiar alliance was destined to change, came an assurance that nothing would change: Britain would remain the stolid, sensible friend that America never listens to.

My own special relationship with America, my homeland, is under considerably more strain. I came to Britain 17 years ago, and I have never been back to the States for any length of time since. Before that, I had barely been anywhere else. In the meantime, the place has changed so much that I sometimes wonder if where I'm from still exists.

When I go back now everything is bigger - the cars, the houses, the portions, the people. At first I think that I have been in a small country for so long that my eyes have shrunk. This bigness is not considered a disease of excess, but some bizarre form of constitutional entitlement - the right to drink Coke from a container the size of your head.

Every time I leave the States they add another rule to the already overregulated game of American football. As a spectator sport I never really liked it; now I can't even follow it. They don't play music on the radio any more. The airwaves have been commandeered by rightwing gasbags. How bad must music have got for this to happen? Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California. Sometimes I still wake up believing that this only happened in an episode of The Simpsons.

Above all, it is a country that voted George Bush Jr into the White House twice. When I left America, the idea that another member of the Bush family would ever be president seemed remote; that the acknowledged screw-up eldest son would get a shot at it would have been considered preposterous. Not only did he get in, he formed a cabinet with a bunch of people from the Nixon administration, and then they set about improving his war record (which currently stands at dodged 1, started 2). America seems to be, if anything, a slightly safer place than it was 17 years ago, but everybody seems much more frightened. Passport control has become a hostile and forbidding place, even for US citizens. The oddest thing, of course is to spend time with friends and relatives who don't find any of this weird. They're like lobsters who've been put in a pan of cold water that is slowly, imperceptibly heating up. I drop in at boiling point, and I feel pain.


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