Living In America Used To Be A Dream Of Mine — Not Anymore

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Living In America Used To Be A Dream of Mine— Not Anymore

Growing up in the UK in the 90s, the influence of American culture was everywhere.

Whether it was The SimpsonsFriends or Britney Spears, American culture had a big impact on our lives. In some ways, it had a bigger impact than British culture. I remember watching WWE when I was younger, repeating the catchphrases and mimicking the accents of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Even though this was happening on the other side of the Atlantic, it still felt close to home. You felt like you understood America. That we weren't so different. The shared language reduced the barrier, but it felt like we were cousins. Similar in nature with different outlooks.

With the influence of American culture so strong in my childhood, I always imagined what it would be like to live in America. Would it be different from the UK? Would it be as good as I imagined?

My first taste of America was when I visited Florida in 1998. I was eight at the time, so the trip revolved around visiting Disney World and Universal Studios. The first thing I noticed was how much bigger everything was in America.

The highways, the food, the cars. It was like someone had injected the UK with steroids and now everything was twice the size. The mantra, 'the bigger the better' fit perfectly in America. I had an amazing time and thought at one point in the future I’d end up living here.

I mean: what isn’t there to love? I’d seen a small part of the country but I got to visit amazing theme parks, see weird and wonderful wildlife and visit the place where space shuttles blasted into space. It was every eight year old’s dream!

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I went back to America another two times in my childhood, each time to Florida. By the time of my last visit, something had begun to change. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but something felt different. The fascination with America began to wane.

The big McDonald’s portions that once seemed like a novelty now seemed excessive. Far from thinking America was similar to the UK, I realised there were many more differences than similarities. I still enjoyed visiting, but I became aware the UK and the US were not as close as I thought.

Politics in America emphasised this. In 2001, I started high school. A few days into my first year at high school, 9/11 happened. I’ll never forget coming home from school to the images on my TV. Even though I was 11, it felt like the world had changed in that moment.

Up until that point, George W. Bush was a non-entity in the UK. Now, he was everywhere and the more we saw of him, the more he was mocked. One comedy show portrayed him as a petulant child. A big baby who had no real idea of what he was doing.

This was the moment the love affair with America started to sour. From seeing America as a beacon for peace and freedom, the view began to shift toward a country that was aggressive and demanding. A bully. ‘Dubya’ epitomised this with his tough talk and ridiculous statements.

I could still picture myself living in America, but the desire to live there had dimmed. The election of Obama smoothed over the cracks, but by the time I’d left university in 2011, the pull of America had died. My heart was set on other places instead.

I ended up living in Australia and New Zealand and then moving to Spain for two years. I still harboured a desire to move to America, but the dream felt further away than ever. On November 8, 2016, with the election of Trump, I knew my dream had died.

Since his election, America has become a car crash in slow motion. The craziness unleashed by his election has changed our perceptions of America in Europe. The idea of living there has never been further from my mind. Trump’s not responsible for the change in my thoughts, but he’s the culmination of a process which has been playing out in the country for a couple of decades now.

The America of today is different from the one of my childhood, but it also feels very similar. What was bubbling under the surface back then is now out in the open.

The Columbine shooting was horrifying. I remember hearing about it on the news, bewildered at how that could happen. A similar event did happen in the UK in the 90s, but we tightened gun laws afterwards. I don’t see this happening in America any time soon.

When you consider a member of Congress believes certain politicians are satanic worshippers and that Jewish space lasers cause wildfires, you know there are serious problems.

America bills itself as the land of the free, but if I moved there from the UK, I'd have less freedom. I'd have to pay for healthcare; in the UK it's free at the point of use. If I was a woman, I'd be living with the spectre of the aboltion of abortion laws hanging over me. Although we also have student loans in the UK; the terms are nowhere near as bad as in America.

This isn’t to say the UK is a bonafide paradise. It’s not. There’s a lot that could be improved and we have terrible weather. Australia, New Zealand and Spain have their problems, too. Nowhere is perfect.

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But it feels like America has jumped into the deep end of the pool and shows no sign of coming up for air. The storming of Congress took my breath away for all the wrong reasons.

Scenes you’d associate with a failed state in a far-flung country were taking place in the land of the free. The foremost democracy in the world. Twenty years ago this would have been unimaginable. As much as I never thought I’d see these scenes in America, there was a grim inevitability about it.

Those times when I imagined what it would be like to live in California, Texas or New York seem far away now. Back then, I could picture myself living in America. Today, those thoughts are further away than ever.

For a lot of us here in Europe, we grew up with an image of America as a heavenly paradise. A place where your dreams could come true and anything was possible. This still holds, but we can’t help but look across the pond and wonder what the hell is going on over there!

I hope America recovers and returns to its former glories. In the back of my mind, there’s still a voice urging me to go and live there. But deep down, I know that dream has died.

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Tom Stevenson likes to write and like to travels. Follow him at The Travelling Tom and Alone With Books.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.