Dear British friends,
Friday night was crazy. We are talking dancing-nurses-bouncing-sick-kids-for-the-NHS-reenactment-of-the-industrial-revolution-fireworks-like-an-atomic-bomb-the-Queen-parachuting-with-James-Bond crazy.
I couldn’t dream up something so weird. Seriously. Crazy.
Danny gave us some strong stuff and it was real good. For 27 million quid, it should have been but wow. Just wow. I don’t even know how we got home, but I’m pretty sure a cauldron and David Beckham were involved at some point.
I had a lot of fun and I know you did too.
But listen. You said something I can’t forget. Even as my hangover subsided, your words didn’t. They persisted, subtitling everything as I went about my weekend in London, this city I love so dearly.
You said you loved your country. You said you loved the United Kingdom.
I know what you’re going to try to tell me. “I was saying lots of crazy stuff, Mon. It’s just what you say in the moment.”
I’m not buying it. This is not like that. I remember you at the Diamond Jubilee. This was different. This meant something–to you.
You fell in love with your country.
And I get it, albeit as an outsider. You’ve never had to convince me the incredibleness of your tiny island, which despite your colonizing history (x2 for me), has still managed to occupy my heart with affection and inspiration. So much so I have redirected my life to spend the last four years here, for all the reasons Danny showcased and more.
Granted, ex-pats tend to associate love for the country we live in with the happiness of our current lives. And I do love my life here. Such fickleness underlines why my feelings, as American living in London, are not the same as British patriotism. In fact, my displays of obvious sentimentality towards the UK are probably quintessentially American behaviour. I know because you’ve told me, bluntly, despite my efforts there is no “Britain fuck yeah” and never will be.
And honestly, there doesn’t have to be. It’s just that, before Friday, there seemed to be no representation of British national love you were remotely comfortable with whatsoever. In fact, you were staunchly uncomfortable with all representations put forth so far. You’re not that into the monarchy. You’re definitely over the empire. And you’re not the BNP. So what’s left? A whole lot of “everyone but England”. A whole lot of awkward err-ing and ahh-ing. A whole lot of identity baggage for 20-somethings.
Until Friday’s opening ceremonies. Danny put together more than a killer show. He put together a visionary narrative of what it means to be British now, and maybe, for the future. And that is something really special. I imagine it akin to my first Obama moment in 2004, hearing him deliver the keynote address at the Democratic Convention as the Senator of Illinois. I remember listening, attention rapt, thinking, this is my country and I want to part of this. It gave me hope for change before it was plastered as a 2008 campaign slogan because I so desperately needed to see an alternative version of my country to feel like I was still part of it.
I know. You can already taste the cynicism in your mouth. But before you say anything, that same mouth told me you loved the United Kingdom.
So give in and get that Britain’s number. Because you can’t look me in the eye and tell me any other convincing vision of and for Britishness, with shine and self-deprecation, in the last five years grabbed you like the opening ceremonies did.
Friday night was awesome. But from one friend to another, don’t leave things there because I’ve never seen you like this before. And that’s important.
Yours (dependent on my visa status),
An American living in the United Kingdom