Monday, 4 June 2012

You say zucchini, I say courgette

You had to be pretty far away from any kind of media, phone device or Brits to have let the Jubilee Weekend pass you by. The torrent of facebook status' alone would have alerted you to various opinions on the occasion, the need for the occasion, hatred for the occasion, national pride in the occasion, debates around the whole existence of the British Monarchy and of course the weather. Despite living in a part of the world where summer tends to be 6-8months long and cold is now somewhere around 20degrees, I did feel incredibly sorry and sad that the festivities ended up taking place in torrential rain and freezing temperatures - something most people would claim to be pretty typical and others would say provided an opportunity to show the infamous stoicism of the British.
I wouldn't really class myself as monarchist OR a republican on a normal day. I know the Royal family costs the taxpayer a lot, but I in turn believe that they do a lot of diplomatic good, both home and abroad; that it's important for dignitaries across the world to be invited to events hosted by a senior Royal, that the triad of William, Catherine and Harry have brought a certain sex appeal to an otherwise staid tradition, that the children in hospitals, the old ladies running bakeries and all sorts of other "normal" people in between feel included and special thanks to a visit from this family.

But it's funny what moving abroad suddenly does for your patriotism. We are holding a Jubilee Party (albeit next weekend rather than the one just gone, as our guests of honour are doing a charity cycle ride and we just can't celebrate the Queen without our LA queens), complete with bunting, Union Flags, cups and paper plates adorned, I'll be baking up a storm and the only drinks on offer will be tea, Pimms and G&T's. A right old mixture of Americans and Brits have been invited - a loose fancy dress (come "British") has been taken up with gusto and all of a sudden I seem to be a monarchist!

Except for me, and for a fair few of the Brits I know here, this isn't about celebrating the Queen being queen for sixty years. It's about feeling part of something, somewhere, a unique event not many countries will have the opportunity to commemorate anymore. And in America, the country that has never had a Royal family, it feels poignant to stand up and say "I am British". A friend posted on my facebook wall a while ago "you seem determined to ignore the fact that you don't live in the UK anymore and are doing anything you can to pretend that you do??" The winking emoticon belying a comedic touch but I jumped on the defensive somewhat - because, yes, I do feel it's important to remain who I am, to talk about my country with my children and my friends, because frankly at the moment it feels like it's all I have. I am happily embracing many aspects of Californian life but I am and will always be (so long as I live abroad) an ex-pat. I am part Welsh part English, married to an Englishman born in Stirling, with a surname that describes a small but beautiful area north of Fort William. I moved around a lot as a child - we didn't settle in the UK until I was 8, and have consequently had itchy feet ever since. My earliest memories are living in Nigeria and I'm desperate to return to Malawi, where Paul and I lived and worked for a bit before we were married; I have even been humbled by a Malawian politician saying I now have Africa in my soul. I certainly didn't anticipate wanting to hold onto my Britishness as much as I have, but give me a break - it's only been 3.5months!

So the Jubilee celebrations, while kitsch and fun for some, a (somewhat inevitably and not without a whiff of bah-humbuggery) reason to be politically angry for others, have been emotional for me. The sight of my flag, the conglomeration of three of the countries that make up my little family and our United Kingdom, makes me proud - not least because I have a brother serving in a war waged by the politicians not the Royals, representing and fighting for my country, my people. I'm not interested in getting into a debate about whether we ought to still have a monarchy or not, but I am glad of the opportunity to explain to my children where they are from in a way I wouldn't have done if I'd been at home.

We will always say pavement instead of sidewalk, put pants in the their proper place (underneath our trousers) and eat courgettes rather than zucchini...actually, I take that last one back. We've definitely assimilated zucchini into our phonetics already, as I'm sure we have welcomed Americanisms in many other nuanced ways. But for one weekend, it was good to have random people congratulate us in the street when they heard our accents, purely because of where we were from. So maybe our Jubilee Celebration will be a Thoroughly British Piss Up With Cake instead.


  1. I wish I'd had the forethought to have a Jubilee party asking people to 'come British'. I expect maybe a Clash t-shirt, some comedy bad teeth and tweed? I think you should post pictures!

  2. Our LA Gays did us proud and came as their favourite British couple - us!! An odd experience seeing myself as a drag queen but then imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!