It’s not always easy being an expat in city like London but it has got easier. I went through a phase when I felt totally out of place. It was like looking at a work of art hung crookedly on a wall. Everything felt slightly tilted on its axis. I got dizzy.
I’ve lived here for so long now that I don’t even think of myself as an expat anymore. I seem to have a vague cultural identity these days. I’m neither this nor that. I try to come to terms with it.
According to the last census, in 2011, there are about 180,000 Americans living in London; these are people who were born in the United States. It’s not, for instance, people born in the UK to an American parent.
Perhaps because I believed my stay here was temporary and bound to end some day, I’ve never sought out places where I’m likely to encounter Americans en masse. Where would that be anyway? I don’t have a clue because everything here labelled ‘American’ seems to be massively stereotypical. It’ll be a sports bar or a place serving ribs, burgers and hot dogs.
If you want to find places with an American identity in London, your best bet is to hit the high street. There are Gap stores and Starbucks aplenty, more than I have in my hometown of San Diego, for instance. If you want a grande caramel mocha frappaccino with whip cream, you won’t go without.
Then there are things that remind me of home – like the sudden proliferation of Mexican food chains selling everything from burritos to enchiladas. There are no Taco Bells here, but you are likely to stumble across a margarita at some point. None of it is truly authentic, but that’s beside the point. What these places are selling is the Mexican experience for Brits. In other words, the food is barely one step above Tex-Mex most of the time.
The trend for Americana has invaded supermarkets too, even in my little enclave of north London, which is not particularly touristy. I recently visited my local Tesco and discovered a small section dedicated to American (junk) food. In fact, it’s the worst representation of American food you could assemble – and there is quite a lot of bad food to choose from.
Should I despair that some buyer in Tesco seems to think that pink marshmallow spread qualifies as a product worth exporting to the UK? It makes pretzels look sophisticated. You can get Lucky Charms cereal, new varieties of M&Ms and Twinkies for a price. A box of the yellow sponge cakes will set you back $13 here. If you’re lucky you can find Aunt Jemima pancake mix and the syrup, also at inflated prices.
I wonder if other nationalities here feel the same. Do the Spanish cringe every time a new tapas restaurant opens on the corner with patatas bravas on the menu? Are the Italians sick to death of pizza and pasta restaurants claiming to offer an authentic experience? Do Indians get sick to death of serving creamy kormas to spice-averse Brits?
At least their food choices are vaguely palatable. It’s not easy to make a meal out of the ingredients you’d find in the American section of supermarkets here unless you’re happy to overdose on sugar.
I did give a large Tootsie Roll to my two hybrid kids after coming across it at Tesco. They weren’t complaining. And that’s pretty much in a nutshell. American food here seems to cater only to children.