The United Nations Charter of Human Rights guarantees everyone a nationality – whether they want one or not. In “HMS Pinafore” (Gilbert & Sullivan) the Chorus sings the praises of being English:
“For he might have been a Rooshan
A French or Turk or Prooshan,
Or perhaps Eye-tal-eye-an –
But, in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!”
Nevertheless to me, the whole concept of nationality has always been bewildering, and slightly repugnant. Although “Globalism” in our time has become almost a nasty word, I still cling to the ideal of a world without borders, and with a common language.
It may therefore seem a little odd that, although, like George Washington himself, I was born British – and indeed still have a valid British passport – in two distinct segments of my life – separated by some three decades, I was – or at least felt myself to be – an American stranger living in England.
First let me make it clear that I am an American citizen – and have been since 1969. After immigrating in 1955, it took me nine years longer than the usual five, because, in that paranoid era, certain aspects of my character, which today would have probably been overlooked, were considered – at least by the Immigration authorities – to be objectionable. I was done in by my own naïveté.
For starters, I had, in my idealistic desire to improve international relations in the depths of the Cold War, attended a Communist-inspired “World Youth Festival” in Vienna, and followed up that crime by actually visiting what was then still the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, there was my evident immorality, in that I was actually living with a woman to whom I wasn’t married. And I made the hideous blunder of presenting that woman to the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a witness to my good character!
So my application for citizenship was repeatedly rejected – and I had to wait until times had at least slightly improved – before I was at last officially able to call myself an American.
But, on either side of this whole debacle, there were those other times about which I want to tell you. First, throughout my teens, beginning in 1946, I found myself back in England, after having spent all the war years over here, and become totally Americanized – or, to my English relatives, “a little Yank.”
I couldn’t help constantly comparing my new habitat with what I remembered of an earlier American life.
I had come from a land of abundance, where, even in wartime, the impact on lifestyle had been comparatively minor, to a country, still partly in bombed ruins, where shortages persisted for years.
Everything was also on a much smaller scale. This was a country which could be crossed in a few hours. The cars were smaller, the shops were smaller – even the radio had somehow shriveled down to just two stations (both without advertising).
But the comparisons weren’t always one-sided. For example, I found I liked cricket much better than baseball. In baseball, no matter how well you hit the ball, you were only up at bat for a short time. But in cricket, you could stay “in” for as long as you kept hitting the ball.
And the British sense of humor was to me vastly more appealing. How could Bob Hope compare with Monty Python?
I also felt, and still feel, that the British Parliamentary system makes more sense. It seems inherently unfair (I dare not say undemocratic) for states with relatively tiny populations to have equal representation in our Upper House with much larger states.
Anyway, my second season as an “ex-pat” came in the 1970s, when I returned to England for most of a year, to live in the center of London, and plant the business based on my epigrams, which had already done so well over here.
This was a very different, “swinging” England, prosperous, and open to new ideas. Despite some negative predictions, my work proved enormously successful. One of my happiest memories is of riding a bus at Piccadilly Circus and seeing, in one of the stores, one of my own racks of PotShots postcards spinning, as people were inspecting, and presumably buying, the cards it displayed.
But one factor eventually brought me “home” again – the awful WEATHER. England was not California. Nationality hardly mattered. I knew where I belonged.