On Gratefulness, and Working for Minimum Wage

Gratefulness is a concept I’m pretty familiar with, and something I try to practice every day. As a former Buddhist, practicer of mindfulness meditation, and mental health service volunteer, I find myself constantly discussing the concept of being grateful for what we have and trying to make the most out of what we are given. I often tell people that, in my travels, I have seen people who have less than nothing, who live in what many would consider unlivable circumstances. I remind myself, and others, that we should be grateful for any beauty and happiness we can experience. When one of the people I volunteer with tells me about a negative experience, I make a point to try and tell them how strong they are for surviving it, how resilient I think they are, and how grateful I am that they have come through the other side. This is in the hope that they, too, will come to see the silver lining, no matter how small, to understand their own power, and to be grateful that they are alive.

Recently, I was reminded of this by a snarky friend(?) of mine whilst complaining about my day job. This person felt it necessary to remind me to ‘practice what I preach’, that I shouldn’t complain about my job because so many people would be happy to have any job at all, and that ‘it’s better than being out on the street’. This is not the first time this friend(?) has made a similar comment, and since I have had a difficult past two years it only gets more frustrating every time. This particular unwanted, sarcastic, and frankly infuriating response to what I saw as legitimate complaints, however, really got me thinking. Perhaps, I thought, I should stop complaining so much. But the thing is, I do hate my job and I do feel sometimes that life has dealt me a crap hand. I do not feel that I am being, as the friend(?) put it, ‘melodramatic’ and ‘overemotional’. I started to wonder where the line is – that is, how grateful am I expected to be for things which do not make me happy, and which I do not enjoy? Is it being ungrateful to expect more for myself, to hope for more out of my life? Where is the line between gratefulness and lowered expectations? Continue reading On Gratefulness, and Working for Minimum Wage

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‘Englishness’

Some days, I talk to my co-workers about mundane things like the weather or what I had for dinner. Other days, it seems, the conversation is doomed to descend into a racist, xenophobic, and often factually incorrect rant about immigrants, the EU, and the ‘destruction of England’. This seems to be inevitable in a country which, until recently, I considered to be part of Europe (my American education never disputed that idea and it is, you know, right there next to it). Men carry bags, people go to cafes for lunch and tea, they have a queen: Europe! Many of the residents, though, would be strongly opposed to that assumption, and would likely voice their opposition very loudly. Central to all these conversations is the assertion that ‘Some day, there will be no one truly “English” left in England’, an assertion I find really laughable. After all, the government deemed me to be ‘English’ enough for it to say so on my passport, and I still get confused by the difference between ‘chips’ and ‘crisps’ sometimes.

As a person who hails from a country often referred to as ‘the melting pot’, and specifically from a state where white, English-speaking Americans (‘real Americans’ as many unabashed bigots would happily tell you) are often in the minority, I find this strange conversation to have heavily racist undertones. The same person who will tell you that ‘Englishness’ is under threat will start the next statement with ‘I don’t mean to be racist, but…’, leading me to roll my eyes and immediately exit the conversation. (If you don’t mean to be racist, I think, you should probably just not say what ever it is you are about to say). After all, no one has ever confronted me about my easy citizenship, granted to me simply because my biological father happens to be from England. And, if you wanted to be really pedantic about it, you could point out that my fathers family is actually from Scotland originally, and therefore isn’t really even English at all. I may very well have distant cousins who recently marched in the streets for their independence from the British Parliament.

But what really strikes me as interesting in all this is the idea of ‘Englishness’. What, I find myself asking the speaker, does it mean to be ‘English’? What is this ‘Englishness’, and how exactly is it threatened by immigrants and refugees? Once, in the US, we had this crazy idea that all you had to do to be ‘American’ was to live in America. People came from all over the world simply to become American, and once they were granted that privilege they took great pride in their new titles. However, in England, this doesn’t seem to be the case. People who immigrate to England, it seems, often still identify as whatever they were before they arrived. I remember my confusion is university when a girl introduced herself to me as ‘from New Delhi but grew up in Islington’. I though, if you grew up in Islington, aren’t you English? After all, I’m from Nottingham but I grew up in Alabama, and despite my issues with the title I still identify myself as American most of the time. It seems, then, that ‘Englishness’ isn’t something people particularly want. Why then are we defending it with so much anger and vitriol?

Continue reading ‘Englishness’

A Foreigner at Home: When Your Accent Works Against You

Growing up in the American south, I was always acutely aware of accents. I can remember clearly my mother scolding me for adding extra syllables to words, an unmistakable twang that betrayed me as an Alabama girl. “The word is ‘bat’!” she would say. “Not ‘bah-yat’!”

I went to an expensive prep school, well known in part because of the eloquent, well-spoken young men and women it produces. I knew from a young age that the way I spoke sounded more like the people on CNN than the people down my street. I wore this as a badge of honor.

When I decided to come to England for university, it seemed like my accent would only prove to be an advantage. I assumed, somewhat correctly, that an American accent here has the same effect as a British one in the US. I assumed, completely falsely, that everyone in my university would be intelligent, well-spoken, and sound like a BBC News presenter. What I found, instead, that I was hit with a tidal wave of accents that I was in no way prepared to face, much less interpret. I had grown up with two accents: well-spoken and country. How, I asked myself, could there be so many accents in a country so small that it would fit easily inside Texas (with room to spare)? I was flooded with accents that somehow, were all British, and were all distinctly different from my own American-speak.

Continue reading A Foreigner at Home: When Your Accent Works Against You