Friday, May 20, 2016

Letter From America

20th May 2016

When I was growing up, my father would have Alistair Cooke's Letter From America on the radio on Sunday mornings before church. Cooke had such a distinct voice - mostly English with a hint of American. He had, after all, lived in America for decades (like myself), was an American citizen (unlike myself), and was trying to give his British listeners a taste of what it was like to live in the Good Ole USA, sometimes a bit of a tongue-in-cheek taste. Cooke's Letter From America started in the 1930's and went on until a few months before he died in 2004. He could be a bit of an old moral fuddy-duddy, but much of his assessment of Western civilisation was right on. Clearly people wanted to hear what he had to say.

Brits have a kind of curiosity for America anyway. Loud obnoxious Americans, culturally insensitive Americans, gun-wielding maniac Americans, they bemoan, but there is always there, too, something of a fascination. Perhaps it started in the war, when American servicemen stationed in Britain would frequent local hops and expose the locals to a kind of easy-going laissez-faire that most Brits weren't used to. Many was the young GI bride-to-be who fell for American charm and swagger and ended up in some American backwater for the rest of her life, drinking tea and dreaming of digestives biscuits.

My father had a fascination for Americans. When he was a boy during WWII, he would encounter them on trains and be offered a piece of gum, which to a youngster from a staid British home must have felt like a scene from one of those movies. America spelled glamour and luxury and esprit de corps. So, perhaps that's why as I grew up, he listened to Alistair Cooke who was living that dream.
Thing is, once you've lived in America for decades, or any other country that once seemed dream-like, the bubble sort of pops and you're left with a sticky kind of goo, which isn't glamorous at all. Right now in presidential primary season, that goo seems particularly offensive.

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