Returning to America With No Blinders On (Maybe the First in a Series)

As noted before in this space, our adventure in London will be coming to a close this summer, five-and-a-half years after it started. We will be returning to the United States, which sometimes makes me feel like we’re returning to a home where the memories are evenly split between endless sunshine and eternal darkness.

Technically speaking, there is a lot of sunshine in America – at least compared to the UK, where the clouds are always lurking in the corner, just daring you to come outside when a sliver of sunlight makes an appearance. “HA! HA! – fooled you again, wanker!”

Compare that to some parts of the United States, where the sun shines 300 days a year, and you find yourself just begging for a rainy day so you have an excuse to stay inside and veg out. I used to live in Los Angeles. I know of what I speak.

Metaphorically, the sunshine in the USA is captured in its relentless spirit, its wide-open spaces, its goofy optimism and ever-present smiles, no matter how forced. This is not the way of the Brits. It can be the best day of their lives, filled with love and riches, and they still keep their emotions in check, God love ‘em, because they know all is fleeting, and we all end up in the same place someday….

Then there is the darkness. I don’t claim to be an expert on British culture or thought. We’ve only been here about half-a-decade. You’d have to be here maybe twice as long to really get to know it.

But one thing I have noticed is that the Brits – and maybe most Europeans, and maybe the rest of the world – have a wizened, world-weary outlook on things. These are ancient societies compared to the USA. They’ve been around thousands of years. They’ve seen it all and then some. They know potential tragedy is just around the bend, and nothing is permanent, and that we are all vulnerable to the same demons, and you may one day find yourself facing the worst possible situation at the worst possible time.

Consequently, they tend to adhere to that old Rudyard Kipling adage about meeting triumph and disaster and treating those two imposters just the same. It is no coincidence that Kipling was a Brit born in India.

I’m not sure how well America has learned that lesson. My home country still seems to believe that it is destined for triumph, and that disaster is simply something it can sidestep through the sheer force of will.

This is a funny thing to say, since Americans as a whole seem to see disaster around every corner, which encapsulates its dark side. I’ll give you a couple examples. Some Americans seem to believe that certain books can lead us into eternal damnation, so they try to keep those books out of others’ hands. Others believe that buying a sandwich at certain fast-food joints is an affront to humanity, and will bring about the collapse of civilization, so they call for mass boycotts of the sandwich and the fast-food joint.

Yet despite all that, America has an innate optimism – simply by believing we are one step away from salvation by banning this book or boycotting that fast-food joint. If we can just do this one little thing, if we can just take this one little step, if we can just, if we can just, if we can just….

It all reminds me of not seeing the forest for the trees. You may not like that book, or you may detest that fast-food joint, but meanwhile children and teachers are still dying in school shootings with regularity, and America is still maybe the most violent “civilized” country in the world by a pretty fair distance, and the hate between the tribes is ratcheted up to a fever pitch.

But let’s focus on books or whatever.

An ex-president whom I personally cannot stand just got indicted on criminal charges, and we still don’t know much about the extent of it because the indictments have not yet been made public. Yet his political party has rallied to his defense – including many of the people who we know for a fact hold him in utter contempt. But they defend him, anyway, because they want to protect and further their careers. This is the apex of cynicism in a country that prides itself on optimism. The facts no longer matter. It’s the narrative that matters.

Maybe the same can be said about the other party. I’m too entrenched in my own emotions to even know anymore.

I’m sure these problems are not unique to the United States. But they are amplified in my mind. I keep wondering if I am overthinking it. An old friend and high school classmate recently reassured me that on a macro level, the U.S. seems totally dysfunctional. But in the day-to-day world, life goes on as normal. That gives me hope as we prepare to return to the USA.

If I’m being honest, I don’t put my faith in the United States any more than I put my faith in the UK or anywhere else. They are simply plots of land with borders and laws devised by people who died a long time ago and who I will never know on this earthly plane. My patriotism, such as it is, lurks deep inside me, for only my nerve endings to recognize if they so desire, and they don’t seem to desire it that much anymore. But man, I still break out the American flag and hot dogs every 4th of July, and probably always will.

Once an American, always an American…

Otherwise, I am fairly agnostic about all this. The USA, the UK, the Congo – it’s all the same to me. I just want my kids to be safe and have a decent shot at a good life – and your kids, and everyone else’s kids. This is not me being noble. It’s the very least we should expect. The bar for me is so low a slug could clear it.

I admit, I partly want to return to America for purely superficial reasons. The bigger homes, the backyards, the greater opportunities, the baseball and late-night restaurants and endless highways. The other, more important reasons have to do with being closer to family.

I keep telling myself those are good reasons. I hope I’m right.

Note: The image is from the American Revolution Institute.


  1. Vance, you have a very interesting take on all this having been in the UK for the last few years during what has been a historically-challenging time for the entire world, not just the US. I agree with your friend. From a 50,000 foot view, it looks like the US is completely off-the-rails. Yet, on the ground life pretty much goes on here as it always has. That’s not to say some chaos won’t eventually show up down the road, but none of us have a crystal ball to tell us one way or the other so we gotta go with the here-and-now. I think Americans remain optimistic about the future, in no small part because that’s who and what we are. Optimistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bruce, thanks for sharing and thanks for the insights. I do have to keep reminding myself that there’s a difference between what happens from a broad perspective and what happens during the minutes of the day. I guess if I weren’t a parent I wouldn’t really worry about it all. And being a parent over here, you really don’t worry about it, at least the random shootings, violence, etc.

      But as you say, we’ve been over here during a period of high drama around the world. I imagine everyone is sick of the drama and would like a nice boring decade for a change. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You remind me of an Americanism I always wondered about: why a McChicken is called a “sandwich”, when in fact it seems like a burger.

    Anyway, your friend’s comment about day-to-day life being normal is something that resonates with me, because I hate the news and politics, and I think it’s when we let those things invade our consciousness and taint our perception of reality, we believe that things are a lot worse than they actually are.

    Your government may have a horrible record of wars and mistreatment of other people who they deem inferior or enemies, but for the most part, the regular people in the country – at least those I’ve encountered – are amongst the nicest in the world. So the news doesn’t do justice to the reality on the ground, in my view.

    Anyway, all the best with the move and the homecoming. There’s no place like home 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the encouragement and kind words about everyday Americans, Yacoob. The only headlines I really care about are the all-too-frequent mass shootings and random acts of violence. Those are real, and real people die for nothing, and it’s something we now have to be aware of after five-plus years away. The rest of it is just the usual sound and fury, and it’s more of an annoyance than anything else. But having to keep your eyes peeled for potential psychos carrying guns is something most of the world doesn’t even have to think about.

    Love your McChicken comment. Another question is how much actual chicken is in that pattyish substance. 🙂


    1. Totally forgot about the school shootings…which I guess is more evidence that the rest of the world doesn’t really have that problem. (Or to the degree you guys have, at least.) Hopefully it won’t be an issue at all and the kids will get through their school years without incident. THe worst we had were bomb threats, back in my day. And those were fun because we got to miss classes and everyone gathered on the field. (Nothing was ever found.)

      Well, if the fast food places all operate the same, I think it’s the pink slime – pasted chicken of some kind. We found it in Burger King nuggets a few years ago, and the kids have never eaten there again since.

      Liked by 1 person

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