Americans in London 2012 – The USA Wuz Here

Simple plan: Head to Westfield Shopping Centre, wait at entrance to Olympic Village, take pictures of patriotically dressed Americans for blog. Complications: five year old son, could work to advantage as strangers always warm to a child with a winning smile.
On the penultimate day of the London Olympiad.
Given that I wrote ambiguously to disparagingly about how we wear our colours abroad a couple weeks ago in this blog, I thought I’d do a little photographical essay on us supporting Team USA, resplendent in all our ‘Old Glory’ red, white and blue.
And here we are, our true colours proudly, unashamedly displayed for all and sundry.
Above is my first victim, Ashton from California, whose cape turned out to be quite a fashion among Americans abroad in E20 (as I suppose we must call it from now on. Isn’t E20 where Eastenders is set?). Ashton was a great sport seeing as how I disturbed his lunch in the food court in order to take his picture. Excuse the ‘Shaky Auteur’ style if it’s not to your liking. I was still a tad nervous about approaching people to take pictures of them, about which I learned a lot and became more comfortable with as the afternoon wore on.
Bonnie, from the Washington DC area

Funny thing is that people can get awfully paranoid about strangers stopping them in the middle of the mall. Probably happened enough times before. Initially, they probably all thought I was after money, or trying to sell them The Big Issue, or worse, about to rob them blind of their Olympic tickets like the famed historical highwaymen of Angle-land. But once I told them what I was all about and that I wanted to take a picture of them for my blog, there was such a softening. Almost a thrill to feel the sensation of fame running at the fingertips. Bonnie here was keen, though her husband, not dressed nearly as patriotically, didn’t seem to want to be snapped at all. I suspect he thought I was stalking his wife, a suspicion that I shared with my son afterwards, perhaps wrongly, because it put me in the position of explaining rather too loudly what ‘stalking’ meant to a five year old within earshot of many equally suspicious looking Olympic fans who looked like they might have social services on speed dial.

Mind you, some were especially hostile to being approached. We’ll put those people in a category that I’ll call ‘the British who I mistook for Americans’. One of them was wearing an American flag t-shirt and carrying a plastic bag labeled ‘NBA’. Isn’t that like wearing a neon sign emblazoned with ‘American as Apple Pie’ on it? I think our English cousins are just a bit more closed and jaded than we are and I think the few who fall into this category were decidedly not Londoners.
Steve, from California
Steve was great. He really embodied one of the things that makes me proud to be American. I told him about my limited and sheltered northeastern existence, having never been west of the Mississippi in my life (True. All true. I know. Hard to tell with my worldliness). ‘Really?’ He said, ‘That’s a such a shame because as you go west the weather just gets better and better,’ and from Steve with that wonderfully honest American smile, I believed it. Because it’s true and also because there is a sincerity that goes beyond simplicity or literal-mindedness, which is what the Brits generally call us. There is an untranslatably beautiful honesty in a smile and pure delight in the sun shining every day. Steve’s never had Seasonal Affective Disorder and clearly no Scandinavian homicide drama could possibly have anything to say that would relate to his experience. And because of that American sincerity, that delight in the simple pleasures, I just felt like taking a trip out west, just to visit Steve and see the weather. Alas, were there time to exchange numbers in a heaving mall, but here in London, we live by a faster pace.
Virginians Abroad (Read that carefully, will ya?)

This family taught me another one of those lessons about approaching the public, a heartwarming one this time. The teenage son in the foreground had been exchanging words in a tone of mild irritation more than matched by his mother. They seemed to be arguing about how to get where they were going, but I was desperate to get a couple more snaps of Americans so I decided to disturb them. At first the young lad had no interest in being in the shot, but I cajoled him and he looks somewhat reluctant, but a poised reluctant, as though he’s turned it into a modelling pose. The mother was only too happy, as you can see, to smile for the camera, as was the cute little girl. As I walked away I could hear, just within earshot, milder tones of concordance between mother and son and a general harmony between the three. Being approached by someone asking you to pretend you’re happy can have that effect. Pretend for long enough and some of it spills over into reality. You forget the bagatelle that you were annoyed with and move on. Quite a lovely, uncomplicated moment.

Fellow Expatriate Americans
I end with this adorably sweet couple because I know neither their names or where they are from. So astounded was I when they told me that they live not anywhere in America, but in Bury St. Edmunds and in such a rush were they to get to see Athletics that we didn’t have time for niceties, but I was elated to find two kindred intrepid spirits, fellow expatriates abroad, supporting the home team in all their glory, as we can’t help but do when we support our compatriots and separate ourselves for just a moment from the darker side of this Olympiad. Objectors will say that this act of forgetting is just what perpetuates a world run by megaconglomo-corporate entities and believe me, I’m on your side, which is why enjoyment is all the richer if you can celebrate the good in things while, with a fine sense of balance, understanding the underlying cost of all of our joy. Here’s to Rio in 2016. Well done, America in London 2012.
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2 responses

  1. Never been west of the Mississippi?! I'm shocked! You must go, as pretty much everyone looks and acts like Steve (just avoid LA). Loved this post, though it does give me homesickness to see those smiling faces and read "literal-minded" comments from your subjects. Slightly off topic-I loathe those tacky Ralph Lauren shirts everyone was wearing. It's like the designer couldn't let us celebrate American sports without celebrating his brand as well. Although I suppose it stays true to one of the less flattering aspects of our culture: in-your-face commercialism.

  2. Thanks, Marina. Yes, my lack of experience in my own country is a bit embarrassing. Maybe summer 2013 will be the year we live out the dream of flying into the West Coast and driving East.

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