What is An American Sandwich?

American Sandwich
An American sandwich. What is that, exactly?

In an attempt to spend down my euros before leaving Austria (I hate having spare change in multiple currencies–I still have about €0,69 in a piggy jar at home), I buy every prepackaged thing in the Vienna airport. (Der Flughafen, a word I adore.) Even their airport cappuccino is amazing, although I can’t say the same for their plastic-wrapped sandwiches. Plastic-wrapped sandwiches taste exactly the same no matter where you are: slightly moist bread slathered with slightly warm mayo with a limp piece of lettuce and tomato with half-hearted bits of filling in between.

Today is for being in-transit. Soon I shall be back in England. I have missed England. I shall always miss England. As much as I have enjoyed my stay in Austria, I am not regretful at leaving it behind…for now. I loved Vienna and I would love to return again someday, fluent in German and with a little more money in my pocket. (A girl can dream, right?) But today I return to the land of English-speaking peoples, and it feels a little like a homecoming.

There was a point, however brief, that I did call London home. It was when I was young(er), when my liver was better equipped to deal with the copious amounts of alcohol I forced it to process, and when I was at the height of my Anglophilia. I am, of course, an Anglophile and sometimes it is a little embarrassing. It’s always embarrassing to admit you admire a culture not your own, I think, mostly because you have no ownership of said culture. I’ve mellowed some as I’ve grown older, but I still have that little fannish squeal that goes off within me whenever I think of London.

It’s embarrassing because it feels pretentious. Again. I know I’m pretentious in many other regards, and I’ve mostly made my peace with it, but every once in a while it comes back to haunt me. No real reason, or no real external reason, just the fact that I feel as though I am somehow snubbing my own people. Listen to me, saying “my own people” as though I could possibly make that claim either (can anyone?), but nevertheless, it’s true. I like being an American, for the most part. I like being forthright, I like my boundless optimism, and I especially like our washing machines with our very nice wring cycles. (If I ever have to hang my laundry to dry after an hour tumbling in the dryer, it will be too soon.)

But the tricky thing about admiring a culture not your own is that you start to get judgemental. I am judgemental and I know it, but it feels weird to place qualitative judgements on something as broad and as deeply, subconsciously ingrained as national character. But I do. It comes out in the weirdest, most nitpicky ways–the ways place names should and should not be pronounced, the ways I spell certain words, the way I cut vegetables on my plate. How much is affectation and how much is just…ingrained? How do cultural quirks become ingrained when you didn’t grow up conditioned with them?

People point out to me that my diction (and spelling) is 1) old-fashioned and 2) British. I know my spelling is a weird hybrid of American and British spellings, but I blame this on being fed a steady diet of British children’s books when I was wee. I think of Roald Dahl’s MATILDA in particular, which had spellings like “practise” instead of the American “practice” and the row I pitched over that in the first grade was nothing sort of epic. If you must know the full story, I got “practice” wrong on a spelling test, threw a fit (because I was the school swot and ALL MY ANSWERS ARE CORRECT), and then came in with my copy of MATILDA to prove to Mrs. Bortz that I WAS RIGHT. (She eventually gave me credit. Eventually.)

But it comes down to judgements again (there’s another word: judgement vs. judgment–WHICH IS CORRECT?) because why was the British practise incorrect and the American practice not? Even worse are the words we use to describe correct and incorrect when it comes to test answers: right and wrong. Unlike the former set of words, the latter have moral judgements attached. When comes to small things like this, to call one right and the other wrong is making the unconscious judgement that one is superior and the other inferior. Or am I the only sort of person who has these sorts of identity crises?

Here are the British things I love: comedy (especially sketch comedy, and the more absurd the better), satire, theatre, spelling, tea, cheek (cheekiness doesn’t translate well to America–the closest we have is snark), ITV dramas, Indian takeaway, rock music, children’s fiction.

Here are the American things I love: movies (the bigger the spectacle the better), country music, pop music, snide sarcasm, CW dramas, plumbing, YA fiction (hell, the majority of book publishing in general, when its not being wanktastic).

Here are the New York things I love: forthrightness, neuroticism, bagels, pizza, literary activities, queer visibility.

Here are the California things I love: avocados, sunshine, being active and healthy and happy (this is probably related to the sunshine), Mexican food, Spanish architecture.

I am not passing judgement on any of these things, but there always seems to be an inherent comparison between the things I love. (Well, in the case of California’s weather vs. the world: there’s no contest.) Why? I love many things about other countries but I don’t have the same sort of existential shame I feel when I consider my Anglophilia. I love Vienna–I love its relationship to classical music, I love its coffee, I love its language. I can love it because I feel no part of it. I am obligated to love Korea because my mother is from there (but my Asian/not Asian identity crises are for another day), but it’s really like saying “I love my family”. Do I? I mean, I do, but do I really like my family? (The answer is actually yes, but I realise I might be a rarity in this regard.)

I will be landing soon. I hope the line through immigration doesn’t take forever for unlike the British, I cannot queue up politely.

Playing the game of Spot The American Tourist is a horrible, horrible compulsion. I find I am wrong most of the time anyway; they all seem to be carrying Canadian passports.

I am going to Hell.

There is a drunk passed out in the lobby of the hostel, the wifi is being very English (i.e. slow with poor connectivity), the rooms in which I’m staying are industrial and ugly, there are no bathrooms ensuite anywhere, and there is no lift in this 4-story–excuse me, 3-storey–building.

Oh London, I have missed you too.

  1. Day 0.5: In An Aeroplane Over The Sea :: More arriving in London photos
  2. Day One: I Am Not Fortune’s Fool :: More first impression photos here
  3. Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing
  4. Day Two: Oxford, the Kingdom of Make-Believe :: More Oxford photos here
  5. Day Three: Verloren :: More first day Vienna photos here
  6. Day Four: City of Music, City of My Heart :: More second day Vienna photos here
  7. Day Five: Like Being in a Fairytale :: More Salzburg photos here
3 Responses
  1. Haha, I love that “Spanish architecture” is listed as a Californian thing.

    You sound like a global citizen, and I think that’s great. The world needs more of that. More appreciation of cultures beyond the one(s) we’re born to. Appreciation, and criticism, because that’s how we figure out what works and what doesn’t. That’s how we create change for the better.

  2. Ah! I LOVE London, although obviously I am an American there. I will actually walk out of a shop after inquiring after the price of merchandise and will not feel in the least bit guilty for not purchasing it, even after wasting all the shop keepers time. I will actually walk into a restaurant, ‘scuse me, PUB, and eat a meal ALL BY MYSELF! Sitting down! With cutlery! Except for a penchant and evil chain-smoking habit (tho’ not roll-ups), I am obviously American.

    Even more so in Korea. Lived there for 6 months back in the 80s and really loved it. There’s more reason to love it than just your parents. I’m sure it’s changed a great deal in all these years, but I hope it retains its optimism and color. In many ways, it felt like a brand-new country.

    New York is always lovable, but then I was born there.

    I understand that ‘judgement’ is equally obsolete in British English, as well. I’m always arguing with my spell-checker over it. I retain my fondness for the Zed, but have edited so many British, Canadian and Australian manuscripts that I often fear I’ll mix everything up. I have to do an extra check for that.

    1. I keep taking the “e” out of judgement and then putting it back in. IT LOOKS WEIRD WITHOUT THE E. Otherwise I feel it should be pronounced “JUD-gg-ment.”

      I feel as though I’m fairly American in London, but it’s never bothered me much. I like being an American in London. I like being different. I am, however, conscious of being rude, probably to the point of exaggeration. When I lived there, I felt as though I were constantly tripping over myself to be polite and considerate, which is probably not a very American thing to do. (I still retain my essential forthrightness, but politeness and courtesy and the occasional disapproving sniff have entered my cultural lexicon.)

      I like Korea (I really love their food), but I feel FOREIGN over there in a way I find extremely uncomfortable. Korean people place judgements (judgments? ARGH.) on me because they have expectations of me. As a child of half-Korean descent, and as an American. It’s as though I’m always playing catch-up, which is why I only feel obligated to like the country, for ethnic solidarity’s sake. (That too, is expected of me.)

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