Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What it means to be American

I was reading 1776 last night—not a crack book, but I did go to bed early so I could spend some serious time with it—and I was absolutely livid with glee when I read “…to most Americans, the ships now appearing over the horizon were enormous, but they were by no means the biggest ones the Royal Navy had to offer. HMS Victory, for example, could boast 98 guns…” To which I responded: “Ha! Victory had 100 guns because it had two mounted on the front so it could fire foreward!” Then again, maybe those weren’t attached until later. The ships that were sent to aid in the suppression of the rebels were 50 and 64 gun ships of the line like Rose and Eagle (she read with delight) which were picked for speed and manoeverability. Hey, have you tried to sail a ship up the Hudson? By the time the Navy had assembled their fleet, they had over four hundred ships, and EIGHT of them had more firepower than all the artillery of the Americans combined! Let the battle for New York begin. I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out: I think that General Washington certainly has tenacity on his side, but who needs tenacity when you have pretty ships?

It’s ironic that I’m reading about the Revolutionary War (that’s the American War for Independence, for all my Britty friends) at this point, because I read yesterday that five Americans recently tried to claim asylum here in Britain. I learned this from thelondonpaper, which is a horrible free one that is shoved at you as you’re just trying to get home. The asylum-seeking Americans were given a full page to themselves not to discuss rationally why people from the richest country in the world might want to leave, but to give angry Brits a chance to unleash their wrath, via text messages and paragraph-length emails. Most of them sounded like they had simply changed “illegal immigrants” to “Americans” in their normal rant, but I was really surprised at how angry people were at the idea that Americans might honestly want to stay in Britain. “They just want to take our benefits and not pay taxes!” is a familiar cry. I think you’ll find most Americans want to come here for legitimate reasons: I know I’d like to stay because the theatre scene is amazing, and, hello, I’m here legally AND paying taxes. I do not, however, “take advantage” of benefits. See below—geez, I haven’t even registered for the NHS. Yet.

I know that the people who write such hurtful things simply don’t have all the information: one of the asylum seekers claimed he was a victim of racial discrimination in America and thought it might be better here. To which I would agree, despite everything you read about race-hate in legit papers. As horrible and unwieldy as the NHS is, it’s HERE and it’s FREE, and for people who genuinely cannot afford health insurance, it is literally a lifesaver. Instead of getting angry that we’re trying to screw the system, it would be great if people would stop and ask themselves why Americans would want to live in the UK permanently—obviously in some ways, for some people, this country is a better choice. It is EXTREMELY difficult for an American to get a visa to stay for any serious length of time: unless you have a company sponsoring you for a work permit, you cannot stay past six months. We are not members of the EU or the British Commonwealth, so if we want to come, we have to fight tooth and nail to be here, proving that we’re going to be a valuable addition to society. Isn’t that the kind of people Britain wants here? As I sit here, sipping my tea, thinking about Trafalgar Day coming up and looking forward to going to the Tate Britain tonight, I can’t believe that the vitriolic comments I read in the paper were about me and my friends—much the same way I can’t believe I’m going to have to leave.

PS: Elections coming up! Don't forget to vote!

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