My American friends ask whether I’ve started to feel English after twenty-two years of living in London.
Not a bit, I tell them.
I love London, I love living in England, I’m proud to own a British passport, but I couldn’t feel English even if I wanted to — it’s not allowed, any more than pretending to be French after living 22 years in France would be allowed. In France, you’d be considered as inexcusably foreign as the day you arrived. It’s pretty much the same in London.
This is not due to a lack of acceptance. No one in London ever asks when I’m moving back to America — it’s merely a case of Us and Them.
The funny thing about America is that everyone is Them. With the exception of Native Americans, everyone is a more or less recent (historically speaking) immigrant. My family came to America from Eastern Europe about 130 years ago to escape pogroms against the Jews — and the Ashkenazy Jewish identity persists through the generations. So, I’m an American who’s lived in Europe for two decades with roots in Lithuania and Latvia. Wherever I go, I’m Them.
There’s a great poster advertising something or other in London at the moment. It says “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.”
Same goes for immigration. We’re all Them.
The only difference is how long each of us has been pretending to be Us.