Korean Person: Hello. I don't speak English very well.
Me: I'll be the judge of that.
Korean Person: (uncomfortable laughter). I think you like Korea very much. You are almost Korean. Can you eat spicy food?
Me: Yes, I like spicy food. We eat spicy food in America too.
Korean Person: Korean kimchi is number one. How long have you lived in Korea?
Me: Four years.
Korean Person: Wow. Are you married?
Me: Yes, my wife is Korean.
Korean Person: (aloud, to self) Oh, so that's why he's like this. (To me) Ah, you really are almost Korean! Do you have a baby?
etc. etc. etc.
Me: Where are you from?Foreigner: I'm from (some country), how about you?Me: I'm from New York [note I no longer say "America" since people no longer like America and I am tired of deflecting questions about George Bush and Iraq].Foreigner: Wow, I would love to go there some day/Oh, I've been there, I [unmemorable anecdote].Me: Yes, well, I'm not from Manhattan, I only misled you into thinking I was so that you'd feel inferior to me. How long have you been in Korea and what do you do here?Foreigner: I've been here for less than one year. I teach English at some school. I've only ever worked there, and based my entire impression of Korea and Korean people on my coworkers, the way my boss treats me, and the things I see people do on the streets and subways.Me: So when will you be going back to Canada.-or-Foreigner: I've been here many years. I speak Korean and I have a well-informed but highly idiosyncratic view of Korea that I apply to every new piece of information in such a way that it would seem to confirm my by now ossified concept of this country and its inhabitants, which may be either positive or negative, nuanced or sledgehammer blunt.Me: Me too. Let's make our unchangeable opinions crash into each other like Battlebots.
[T]he British men can be identified by their cropped hair, which they shave to obscure their genetically endemic premature hair loss. They imagine it gives them a street-hard look. Most Americans think they look like gay Marines with deformed ears.
Indeed, Brits are rarely seen in New York without their magic cloaks of invisible irony—they think that, on a fundamental level, their calling here is as irony missionaries. They bless everything and everyone with the little flick quotation marks, that rabbit-ear genuflection of cool, ironic sterility. How often their mocking conversations about the natives return to the amusing truth that New Yorkers have an unbelievable, ridiculous irony deficiency, which ignores the fact that a city that produced Dorothy Parker, Robert Mapplethorpe, Abstract Expressionism, Woody Allen, and Woody Allen's love life has quite enough irony to build the Brooklyn Bridge.
[British expats] just think [Americans] are lucky to have them. They walk into a room and imagine it just got classier.
The British in New York are not good mixers. We hunker together, forming bitchy old boys' and girls' clubs where we complain about and giggle over Americans like nannies talking about difficult, stupid children. An English girl, newly arrived, has been picked up by the expat coven and asked for tea. And rather nonplussed, she says, "It's sad and sort of weird. This is the way our grandparents used to behave in Africa and India."
Don't tell me about your latest script. You're not a film writer. You're a handyman. You've never made so much as a wedding video. You do a bit of decorating, some plumbing, and you house-sit plants. There's no shame in it. It's what immigrants do.
In the Red Lion, a bar on Bleecker Street, half a dozen televisions pump out the Rugby match between England and Scotland. It's 9:30 in the morning and the place is packed with geezers and a few chubby-cheeked, ruddy rugger-bugger girls. . . . And it strikes me that there's something unreal about this. It looks right and smells right. It even sounds right. But it's not right. They're all playing extras in their own me-in-New-York movie. They're putting on the Britishness as a show. They're going through the motions only because they're here.
The third specializes in English comestibles, the sort of thing that Englishmen abroad are supposed to yearn for: Bird's custard, Marmite, Bovril, Jammie Dodgers. The window looks like a pre-war Ealing Studios film set. Nowhere in Britain has looked remotely like this in living memory. Inside, four young Englishmen from the Midlands are reminiscing over lists of Edwardian boiled sweets, like a spoof of High Fidelity. With an intense reverie, they fold me into the conversation for a balming moment of confectionery nostalgia. "So, Victory V's or aniseed balls? We were just discussing Curlywurly versus Caramac." After we've all had a suck on the humbug of Blighty's tuck box, one of them asks, "Ever tried an American sweet? First time I ate a Hershey's bar, saddest day of my life." I managed to get out just before I turned into Oliver Twist.
These ex-Brits who have settled in the rent-stabilized margins of Manhattan aren't our brightest and our best—they are our remittance men, paid to leave. Not like the other immigrants, who made it here as the cleverest, most adventurous in the village. What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don't mellow, their consonants don't soften. They don't relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.