Do you ever catch sight of a reflection in a shop window and, for a split-second, think it’s someone else before realising you’re looking at yourself?
I usually avoid looking at myself in shop windows. I recall once sitting on my own in a deserted restaurant in Manaus, Brazil, feeling rather self-conscious as people walking outside kept staring in at me. After lunch, I walked outside and realised the windows were mirrored and all those people had just been vain bastards.
Yesterday as I walked to work, I saw the reflection of someone in a shop window, a woman, ponytail swinging, smile on her face. There’s a happy person, I thought, and then I realised it was me. And it got me thinking about perceptions. Moving to a new country where you are unknown and untested is the best excuse ever for reinvention. And we can reinvent ourselves until we’re blue in the face and gasping out our safeword, but how we think we are perceived by others, and how they actually perceive us, is as far apart as a pair of fish-eyed boobs on a really wide lady.
I did try the whole reinvention thing when I first arrived in the States. Admittedly I was a little ambitious with some of my resolutions and frankly, I would rather French-kiss a monkey than relinquish my regular usage of the word ‘fuck’; it’s just such a lovely, chewy word and, like a decent bottle of wine, goes with almost anything. Sadly it doesn’t often have the same effect here because, due to my accent, my work colleagues think it’s ‘cute’ when I swear. Fuck’s sake.
Having been here for some time now, I have managed to disabuse my colleagues of some basic perceptions of the UK and its inhabitants:
- no it doesn’t rain all the time;
- yes, boys beat smaller boys on the bottom at posh schools and toast crumpets on their tiny, glowing cheeks;
- no, we don’t all wear hats to weddings;
- yes, we hate the French as much as Americans do (but that’s allowed because historically they are our old enemy and both sides take pleasure in what is basically a severe case of sibling rivalry);
- yes, our media is both the best and the worst in the world, but my twelve year-old nephew could bitch-slap Fox News into a coma with his basic understanding of world events.
Likewise, my perceptions of Americans have changed for the better. This does not include Republicans. My perceptions of them are on the button, although I am very happy to be set straight on this, particularly if you are single, male, heterosexual and not mental, a commodity sadly lacking in DC along with corner shops and decent cycle paths (I have found that yelling “get off the fucking pavement!” followed by a quiet mutter of “Oh fuck, I meant sidewalk, fuckityfuck” doesn’t quite have the desired effect). Blame the Republican presidential nominees. Mitt Romney is, as I type this, unhinging his jaw to sate his hunger for another week, whilst Newt is riding high on a wave of new-found popularity and fouling yet another decent American sofa. The Campaign to Occupy Michele Bachman’s Brain is advocating the closure of a non-existent American Embassy in Iran, and Rick Santorum is probably in a barn somewhere whipping himself into a non-extremist frenzy with a bunch of good old-fashioned, non-extremist American twigs. Given the competition, if Jeremy Clarkson inserted himself into the race for the nomination, he’d walk it. Well, no, he’d drive it. At speed, over a few public sector workers.
One of the rather endearing things about Americans is that generally they are not on automatic mock-mode (I wore pearls to work once and nobody cracked a liquid joke). But their determination to find the good in everyone means I spend a decent portion of my day saying in exasperation “Oh god, I was joking!” as they gaze at me in horror as if I was clutching Bambi’s severed, dripping head when actually I was just having a mini-mock about the numbers of women in DC who wear wellies to work when there’s a wee bit of rain (do you work on a farm? did you have to cross a muddy field to get to work? no. I didn’t think so).
To sum up, appearances can be deceptive and perceptions even more so, unless you’re Jeremy Clarkson where the following is true: if you look like a twat and act like a twat, then you’re probably a twat. If only my spam emails had a different perception of me; those I get most regularly are ‘Dating for the Over 50’s‘ (er fuck off), and ‘Ass Rimming Made Easy‘, which is interesting and also informative, should I ever find myself in a situation where an ass requires a rim.