I’m in my sixteenth year of living in the US—which is a third of my life. That’s a scary thought. Naturally, that length of time in any place is going to have an effect on a person, especially when it comes to your cultural upbringing, speech and the way you go about life. So from time to time, I get sudden attacks of conscience when it comes to my Englishness. Namely, is it being eroded? I’ll be honest, there are times when I won’t know if a phrase is English or American. Or a word will pop out with an American twang, like omitting the letter T from the word twenty and pronouncing it, “Tweny.” Absolutely frightful.
So imagine my dismay when I came to an odd and frightening realization the other day that I have been driving on the right side (aka the wrong side) of the road longer than I’ve been driving on the left side (aka the proper side). Naturally, the left side is the correct side. I believe it’s the side of the road God would choose if asked.
I don’t think this revelation has changed me as a driver or a person. I’m comfortable driving on either side, although I wish Americans would learn how bloody roundabouts work. Airdrop me in good old Blighty right now and I wouldn’t miss a stroke driving on the left. I have been concerned by this in the past but every time I’ve gone back to the motherland, I’m back in the old groove. There’s something about the gear shift being on the left side that flexes some old muscle memory and alerts my brain that I’m in England again. So at least on that front my Englishness is as rock solid as the white cliffs of Dover.
Where things get a little crumbly is with the time factor. I think my Englishness and English identity is hardwired into me, but time is a great leveler. Every year that I stay here, the more my identity shifts. For example, I still feel like a tourist in America but I’ve spent more of my adult life here than I have in the UK. There’s a sobering thought.
To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I know there have to be consequences—and big ones! Does this mean I’m more American than English? Icky. Will the embassy stop taking my calls? Hope not. Does this jeopardize my knighthood chances? I may need counseling over this.
Oh God, this is getting to be a little more than I can handle. I feel like a traitor. I’m frightened that people will put me in the same company as other British traitors such as Guy Fawkes, Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Jonathon Ross. There’ll be a day named after me where kids will sing “Simon Wood is no good, chop him up for firewood” and burn copies of my books…which is OK if they’ve purchased them first because I’ll still get the royalties and that would be some comfort at least.
Then again, I could be overreacting. That’s an American thing, right?