Rain, rain UK stylie
When it rains in Americaland, like it is doing today for a change (it’s been sweltering this past week!), people do say to me ‘it must be just like being back in England’. Yes, I can confirm that stereotype is true! I felt that today!
The American Dream
This weekend I was sitting at the community pool here in Columbia MD, just watching. I was watching all the folks who live here (in one of the top zipcodes in the USA), saying hi to them because they know me from my work, the community and school, and I began wondering what they would be doing with their lives if I returned from the UK again in three years to this very same place. Would they be doing the exact same thing? Would the wives be doing the school run, then hitting the gym, then having lunch, then running some errands, then grabbing a Starbucks and a quick pedicure before returning to do the school pick up and then ferry the kids to their evening sports events? I say this because this happens a lot in my part of the world, and I see it every day. Will it be any different in three years’ time?
And I began to wonder if this was the actual American Dream, or at least one of them, that I was witnessing in front of my very eyes. If this, with the pools and the schools, and the big houses and the cars and the handbags, was their American Dream fulfilled. I don’t the answer, but I suspect for many it is.
And all of a sudden I felt a little weary and a little anxious and very claustrophobic. If this is it, I’m not sure it’s my dream at all. I’m guessing for many this is their dream: they have achieved and made it.
And I then realised this is the perfect time for me to be returning to the UK, because, as much as I have loved my life here, and all the fun and wonder that it has given me, I could not live in this Truman Show-like American Dream World for much longer. This is not my dream; I feel like I’m in a load of other people’s dreams. Nice as it is, I feel an urge to break free.
If this life is those folks’ dream fulfilled, then good for them (not meant in a British sarcastic way!). I’m not knocking their choices or their journeys or their hard work, but for me all the apparent safety and comfort of this particular American Dream leaves me wishing and wanting a different adventure, and so at that very moment, staring at the pool and the blue skies, with the sun on my face, I realised that it is time for me to leave America and return to the UK, and to chase my own hopes and dreams. My expat time is up.
America has given me fantastic opportunities and I’ve met amazing people, but it can’t go on forever, and so I like to think I’ll be leaving on a high. I’m curious as to what all those folks will be doing in three years’ time and I wonder if they harbour other aspirations and dreams, or if they’re content with this. I shall certainly pop back to see 🙂
I asked a few blog readers what they thought defined the American Dream and what it meant to them.
V: Aspiration – starting from nothing, studying or working hard and becoming successful in whatever field you choose (success being to me a nice home, family, good career or position in society and the lifestyle to match.)
A: It’s different for everyone, but I think it has centered for far too long on materialism and wealth in society. We have created a charade, a myth, a facade and everyone thinks that’s the dream. There is a cookie-cutter brand of happy moms, who are actually on the gin at home; smiley kids with perfect teeth, who are actually secret meth heads and lost their virginity rings a while ago; and dads who work longer than they have to just so they don’t have to go home. It’s not a dream: it’s a self-perpetuating nightmare and one day we’ll wake up and realise it’s a load of BS. And, of course, for many the dream we are sold is unattainable. Does this mean they’ve failed at their one chance at life? That’s a sad thought.
T: The dream is a self-fulfilling prophecy that you are responsible for. Whether it be workplace success, travel, homelife or setting your long term goals, the American dream can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you work hard for it. Are we the land of the free though? I’m not always sure about that one.
This is what the American Dream is defined as if you tap it into Google:
The ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.
“He could achieve the American dream only by hard work”
One of my favorite reads about this topic is this blog. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the American Dream – feel free to add your comments on the blog!
As with all things in life the next stage is beckoning you.
I think the American Dream basically means the idea that you can achieve your dream—whatever that might be—through hard work and the freedom to be your own person, rather than being limited by family background, birthright, the socio-economic situation you were born into, etc. I’ve never thought of it as primarily in economic terms. It could mean being the first person in your family to go to college, having a job you love, pursuing your passion, finding a loving relationship and raising a family, owning your own home, inventing something that makes a difference, simply being free to practice your religion free from persecution…whatever it means to you. I work for a small conflict resolution NGO with a small salary and live in a one-room apartment in government-subsidized low income housing. But I feel I’m living and pursuing my American dream every day because I’m doing the work I want and pursuing the goals that are important to me—i.e. working for peaceful resolution of conflict, greater friendship between people of America and Muslim-majority countries, and reduction of terrorism through peaceful religious engagement. It doesn’t guarantee you will always fulfill all your goals in the way you hope, but you have the freedom, opportunity, and some degree of support to try. I hope and believe the American Dream will always be part of what defines us as a country, both in terms of our values of respect for the value of each human being regardless of background and our persistent optimism.
Very well put Rebecca! 🙂
You have a very good point! If this is the American Dream, I don’t want to be stuck in it either. If we are not growing, we are in a rut. I might just have to visit Britainland one of these days!
Funny ain’t it?! Come to Britainland, the kettle’s always on! 🙂
Piggybacking on Rebecca’s eloquent post, I was corresponding with a young woman in Austria. She said she had the American dream. I told her that the American dream did not have to happen in America. It was much more of a state of mind. It could happen in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, or even in Vienna. It was far more about believing in yourself and what you can do and finding the place where you can achieve it.
I just looked up the rainfall stats in the web. Clarkesville apparently has 45 inches of rain a year whilst sunny Bath get 29 inches only!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That’s cos we get it all in mad bloody storms!!!
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I know exactly where you’re coming from Claire. Before we went to America I worked, had two children, ran the home etc. etc and it was my dream to stay home, have time for me, lay by a pool in the sunshine etc. but I soon tired of it and found it boring. After two years I’d lived my dream and it was time to move on with mine and the family’s life. Having said that I took so many things back to Britianland with me that money can’t buy. Time to start the next chapter of your adventure! 😀
Thanks Sally! It’s an interesting journey and mindset to be in!
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Here’s my American Dream: every generation has the opportunity to go a little bit farther. My father’s parents came from Canada (Prince Edward Island; farming folk) and settled in a small factory town in Louisiana, to give their kids a better life. My mother’s parents came from Mexico and Ireland, and settled in Denver, working three jobs between them to give their kids a better life. My father didn’t want to work in the factory and stay in that small town, so he joined the Army. The Army sent him first to Colorado, where he met and married my mother, who by that time had become the first in her family to finish college and was teaching high school English and Latin. For 23 years they traveled all over the world, good and bad – I was born in Germany. They finally retired in another town in Louisiana. They had emphasized our entire lives how important college was. Even though they couldn’t afford to pay for it, they did whatever else was necessary to support us. And by working three jobs and getting merit-based financial aid, all of us graduated from college. I moved here for a job that meant I was contributing to society, met and married my wife, and we had four kids. By scrimping and saving, we were able to live in HoCo, where the best schools are, and we paid for all four of them to go through college. Three are now out; they have good jobs and are contributing and giving back. The last is still in college; in a couple more years she’ll be done, too.
Each generation goes a little farther – from immigrants with blue collar jobs; to a career soldier and teacher; to kids who could make it through college on their own; to kids who are getting a boost and will hopefully use that for the next generation.
I love this! Thanks for sharing on this blog 🙂
Interesting. I’m in the US at the moment on holiday and much as I love coming here, I get v very frustrated at what appears to be the pursuit of the American dream at the expense of the planet. We were out on a boat trip yesterday and the guide was talking about how the coral reef has basically depleted by 90%. No mention of why though. They can’t bring themselves to mention climate change and gently suggest people might want to drive smaller cars. Or indeed drive less and walk more. Or use less air conditioning. Or install solar panels….
I hear ya!
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What you describe, and what you do, is not the American Dream. Most people are doing what they have to do to pay the bills, live in a safe area, raise their babies, get them through school, pay off their debts, then try to get a little taste of their real dreams if they get the chance to retire on livable resources. Not everybody gets this, and then you try to find a little dream in the little things in life, just like in the rest of the world. After they’re exhausted from working they’d like a little peace and quiet in a pleasant little corner of this world. If they’re lucky enough to retire with a little saved, God bless them and may they find good and creative outlets to pursue. So we’re the ugly Americans now? Bye, bye.
Not ugly in anyway The lifestyle here is what many Brits would crave too. I just realized my time in this part of the world is done. And boy, it’s been fun.
I’m curious about the American Dream and would love to know if, for the people in this small corner of the world that I live in that I observed that day at the pool, they feel like they’ve achieved their version of the American Dream. It’s fascinating stuff.
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