You can't go home again — but you can try


I returned to California, after my two-week summer trip to England, confused and disappointed. For whatever reasons, I believed that by going back I could regain what I had lost.

However, during my time there, and the subsequent visits, I realized it was not the same, and I was a tourist in an unfamiliar land.

Well, maybe that is somewhat of an exaggeration. I still felt comfortable and at home for the most part, perhaps a little out of touch with the recent fads and cultural trends, but it was not as if I was taking cheesy photos next to the royal guard or the inside of red phone booths.

I returned to my Christian high school in Northern California, and resigned myself to forever being the lanky, pale English kid -- because at 16, everything and anything seems like it will last for eternity.

As the semesters passed, my fondness for all things English grew stronger and I embraced my role as Jonny Foreigner. My mind and body were in California, but my heart remained in Great Britain.

America had become commonplace. It still did not quite feel like home, but the magic had worn off. My brother and I were no longer shocked when we saw someone with a Confederate flag tattoo or impressed by a mile of fence covered in hubcaps.

We were, however, captivated by old British comedies and old family photo albums of our vacations to slightly warmer, less damp parts of Britain.

Our experience had, rather stupidly, come full circle. We rejected the childlike longing for America that had dominated our early years in England and, now that we were in the U.S., thought only of Britain. We latched onto and identified with all things English, often illogically, and usually because of fear, nostalgia, or bragging rights.

We would wear cricket and rugby jerseys of teams we had barely heard of, let alone cared about. Any television show that was set in Britain became our new favorite, and we would always laugh or comment about how a certain character or incident was so English -- even though we had never worked in a British office or encountered the London mafia.

I listened to English pop groups, some old and others new, and was always quick to point out, to anyone who would listen, if a talented rock band or attractive actress was British.

We flew the Union Jack and St. George's cross from our cars and windows in what would be considered a display of outright neo-nationalism in Britain, but worked out as a nice promotion of diversity and cultural heritage in the U.S.

We were the non-threatening equivalent of the Midwestern patriot encouraging everyone to "Buy American!" while wearing a stars and stripes necktie.

Perhaps most strangely, my family, who I never believed to be an overtly patriotic bunch, placed a previously unseen photo of Britain's current monarch Queen Elizabeth atop our television, especially during the Olympics or the World Cup.

Soccer became maybe the best example of how I held on to England. It reminded me of collecting soccer trading cards, and it reignited our family's decades-old traditional support of Manchester United and hatred of all teams from London.

We even drove to Los Angeles to see United play, in what is still one of the greatest days of my life.

My brother and I woke up early on the weekend to watch soccer games, much as we had in England to watch Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

I plastered my walls with posters of my favorite players, imitated the hairstyles of David Beckham and subscribed to outrageously expensive imported soccer magazines.

Hollywood may churn out blockbusters every year that make tons of money in England, but England's own film industry has produced several gems over the years that occupied prominent spots in our DVD cabinet.

Our family watched films like Billy Elliot over and over again, quoting the dialogue, singing songs from the film by Marc Bolan & T.Rex, reminiscing about life in England and about how different things are in America.

I still did not feel truly at home in California, and I missed England dearly, but the inside jokes that we made about the two cultures brought our family together and gave us a special bond that did not exist before. Our fixation on all things British may have been somewhat contrived at times and bordered on the silly, but it gave our family a unifying sense of identity, something we could all share, and something great to laugh about at the dinner table.

Walla Walla University student and U-B freelancer Martin Surridge is sharing his experience of moving to the U.S. in a series of columns. Watch for more in an upcoming Sunday edition of the U-B.


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