From Across the Pond
A Columbus native’s life as a Londoner reveals our cultures are not as many miles apart as one might think
Story Candice Partridge
I always thought that the longer that I spent in a foreign land, the more normal it would seem to me. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, even after spending nearly nine years in the UK, and despite the fact that I now hold a British passport in addition to my American one. It’s only recently that I have come to realise how much I retain my Mississippi roots and how much of an influence growing up there has had on my character. It forms the benchmark by which I hold all things to be holy — namely good music, good weather and good food.
I once got in an argument with someone who was running down Americans for being fat and lazy and not knowing good food from bad. I told him that I was from the fattest state of them all and quite proud of it. Why? The reason we are fat is that our food is so incredible that no one can stop eating it. There wasn’t much he could say to that.
He knew better than to argue about good barbecue. Very fortunately for me, there are actually a couple of good barbecue places in London where I can go to get a pulled pork sandwich. One of them even has the good sense to have an ESPN satellite feed so you can watch SEC football games on Sunday night. Now that’s civilised.
I am just as prejudiced about the weather. I know everyone there does nothing but complain about it — too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, and yet what I miss most is the heat and summer thunderstorms. When I moved to London, I was unprepared for the unrelenting greyness and darkness of the winters. They aren’t especially cold, just bleak and long. The summers aren’t great either. There are weeks on end in summer where I feel as if I absolutely need to wear shorts and flip flops … and to do so I have to fly south. Literally. To GTR. It’s a long way to go to warm up.
I think the problem for me is that nothing, not even 5,000 miles, can erase the sacred geographies of our childhood hiding places. I wonder if living in this country so long has changed me, and that maybe I embrace my Southern past more tightly to keep it from being erased. Yes, my voice is different and I have a strange hybrid transatlantic accent, but I’ll never stop saying “y’all.”
The strange thing is that the character of Britain is in many respects similar to the South. We all believe in good manners and being respectful of others. We believe in forbearing when faced with troubles, and we value good, common decency. Strangely enough, growing up in Mississippi was the best possible training for living in Britain because I instinctively understand the manners and the unspoken rules. Southern women have a softness that makes it very easy for us to charm Britons, but we also have a hidden strength that means we are indomitable when it comes to getting our way, just like many English women.
I am not sure how I am going to manage this division of my identity in the future: I feel displaced in the UK, but somewhat at home, and I feel at home in Mississippi, but somewhat displaced. But deep down, no matter how many passports I hold, the deepest one within is stamped Mississippi.