How the USA Made Me More Self-Assured, By A British Expat

Thursday, October 03, 2013 | | | Best Blogger Tips

Whatever you might think of the United States of America, it still has the potential to become as great (whatever that means) as some Americans already perceive it to be.

During its very short history, this country has seen slavery come and go, sent men to the moon and landed fully functional motorized vehicles on Mars. It has given us the iPod, Google and Facebook and has entertained us with some of the world's greatest singers, actors, writers, movies and television shows.

More than anything, it has instilled in many the belief that anything is possible; that if you work hard and dare to dream you can achieve whatever you desire.

It is precisely this sense of national determination, as well as other factors, that eventually helped me overcome many of the insecurities I brought here in 2008.

Understand that growing up in the UK - itself an over-achieving island of 63 million people - I was routinely exposed to my country's otherwise pessimistic outlook; an outlook wrought with needless apologies, excessive politeness and the phrase it never rains, it pours.

In fact, purely by instinct, there were times, years ago, when I would apologise to someone because they bumped into me in the corridor. Moreover, and I'm not afraid to admit this, I was the kind of fellow who occasionally said thank you to the cash machine (note: this is not considered normal British behavio(u)r). As a citizen of old Blighty, overt friendliness was my strong suit.

Assertiveness, however, often eluded me when I needed it most.

Actually, so overwhelmed was I by the sheer size of American life - its cars, its food, itself - that my former insecurities stayed with me for a few years after I moved here. In fact, the only way I knew how to react to directives such as, "hey, say the word rubbish" was with a sense of self-deprecation.

But as I continued getting to grips with the endless myriad of American idiosyncrasies, and as I threw myself into the working environment that was initially customer service, I began to notice a style of interaction so very absent from the majority of life back home. Americans were direct. Very, very direct.

I initially mistook this for confrontational rhetoric, but would eventually adopt a similar style myself, learning, for instance, to order a sandwich thus: I want a foot-long on wheat bread. Prior to 2008, I would have framed such an order in the form of a question, preceded by the words, please can I... , as if the supreme keeper of my diet was the sandwich maker himself.  

So what?, you might be thinking. So what if you learned how to tell a fast food worker what you want; isn't that how it's supposed to be? Yes; yes it is. But this action was indicative to me of something wider; that being assertive in every aspect of your life was okay and that putting yourself down was only giving others the opportunity to do the same.

Recently, and I suppose I also owe this to the natural process of growing up, I have learned to strip my life of fear, to understand that it truly does not matter what others think, and that spending time recounting the past is the antidote to creating a meaningful future.  

Now don't worry; I haven't become insufferable, or anything like that. There is a fine line, I have found, between efficiently expressing one's feelings and hurting those of other people. Americans, like any other nationals on Earth, sometimes fall either side of this line. But those who get it right, who retain a diplomatic tone while expressing exactly what he or she wants, are the very people I'm talking about.

Today, my new-found self-confidence has led me places I wouldn't have imagined 5 years ago: a fulfilling job as an editor, freelance work for BBC America, and soon, my very own podcast (watch this space).

The truth is, America has taught me that, the more you can directly communicate your wants and needs, the more frequently these will come to fruition.

After all, it never rains, it pours.


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3 comments:

Rita said...

This is lovely. Although, as a Hoosier who has never travelled outside of the US—my double-L preference is deceptive—I'm beginning to think I can solve my self-esteem issues simply by moving across the pond ...

Expat mum said...

Interesting. I do think there is more of a "reach for the stars" attitude here. I doubt I would be doing my writing, occasional TV and radio if I had stayed in the UK.

Anonymous said...

This resonated SO much with me. For years I apologizing for everything even my own existence. Finally American optimism and courage prevailed, I went onto get the education I would never have got in the UK and now am cheerfully assertive and successful in my career. This is occasionally seen as "being bossy" by my UK family many of whom still maintain that behaving like a doormat and tolerating poor service as being "who we are" and as essentially unchangeable. Give me that good ole USA optimism every time!

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