Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Self-Conscious Redneck

Though it would be untrue to say I feel unsettled in Scotland, I do believe it would be very fair to say that, settled as I am becoming, I am still far from comfortable in my own skin on another soil. Sure friends are slowly being made and I'm spelling correctly with S's and not Z's, but I am so very conscious of every move I make, every word I say, every joke I crack, aware that I am expected now to be British and not justified when I am American.

I am aware that Americans (at least Southerners) and Britons are both genteel and mannerly, yet is starkly different ways. As a Southerner, I am apt to smile politely at strangers, smile a hello, smile a thanks. In the South, this is friendly and considerate. No one is a stranger, at least not in the superficial sense. It is indeed false, but it is sincere all the same. Here, a smile is awkward, making people look away uneasily. Yet a "thanks", "cheers", "thanks" is the proper way of addressing everybody for everything. Also popular is the "sorry", "pardon me", "so sorry" superfluousness when one does anything. It is equally false and equally sincere. I am fully aware of myself in these situations, noticing when I haven't pardoned myself adequately when bumping into someone at the station or thanked someone enough for the coffee brought to my table.

I am overly aware of the jokes I make - Are they inappropriate? Do they translate? Is that okay to say? Did I just say something I shouldn't have? Did they just take that wrong? I observe those around me and the things they say and absorb them for my own reference later - Well, so and so made a similar joke yesterday so I think it's okay that I said that. And so on.

Similarly, I watch myself when I eat or drink with others. I am careful to use my knife and fork correctly, though I've never learned the correct way. I mimic the people across from me. I grade myself on my performance, based on a scale of what I perceive as their A+ work. I notice every guesture I make that may be considered vulgar. I admonish myself for every inappropriate (or what I perceive as possibly inappropriate) act, such as biting my nails or adjusting my skirt or picking the food out of my teeth. I believe myself to be viewed as a loud, vulgar Arkansas hick. I believe that their perception of me created by me is true.

I spend so much time worrying what other people think of me, that if it weren't for Scott constantly reminding me that I am fine, I would quite possibly dissolve into a puddle of nervousness and die.

I keep expecting to get back to normal, back to where I once was, self-assured, non-chalant, happy and confident. But I'm seeing that it's going to take a long time to get there. I suppose my worth has always been based on what people think of me; it's just that in Arkansas people thought I was fine and here I expect people don't.

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