It's a blessing and a curse, being an expatriated American who's lived in London for almost 21 years.
A blessing because it's an instant icebreaker in any situation. My accent is weird. Not weird in the same way that my fellow New Englander Lloyd Grossman's accent is weird – that strange, pretentious, grating midatlantic drawl. Just weird in that it can't be placed. I've had all sorts of guesses about where I'm from, ranging from the understandable (Ireland, Canada, the generic "North of England" – presumably the latter due to my flattened vowels), through to the bizarre (South African, Dutch). It seems to me that accents are very important in the UK – an instant way of classifying someone – and so my own accent immediately triggers a line of questioning.
And so the conversation opens – usually in a predictable way. Why did you come here? Do you ever want to go back? Why are you here when you could be in America? (This is normally accompanied by a mournful gesture to the weather, or the delays listed on the board at a station platform.) I have the story down pat and can rattle it out on demand. I don't mind. It's an instant icebreaker, like I say. It's led to some great chats and good friendships and working relationships.
But here comes the curse part. People make an awful lot of assumptions about Americans. I've been asked some real jaw-droppers over the years. "You're Irish-American? Did you donate to Noraid?" (I'm not Irish-American in the "my great-great-great-cousin thrice removed was in Dublin once" way of presidential candidates; my grandparents are Irish and I have an Irish passport.) "Have you ever used a gun?" (The only guns I've ever seen have been in the holsters of the police.) "Americans don't speak proper English." (I've been an editor for around 18 years and I'm a word nerd – say this to me and you'll get a history of the language, including a potted history of lexicography, Webster and Johnson.) "You're not very fat, for an American." (Erm. Thanks?) "Yes, Trish, you're American, but you're not really a proper American." (This is meant as a compliment, and in this intention becomes an insult.)
Americans are fat. Americans are stupid. Americans all wear baseball caps. Americans are religious nuts. Americans are trigger-happy. Americans are bullies. Americans are loud. Americans are brash. I've heard 'em all. And I'll have a response to pull from the dogeared file in my brain labelled Yank-Bashing Response Templates.
Here's the thing though. I'm no rosy-spectacled patriot. I choose to live outside of the US. Part of the reason is the way my country has turned, particularly post-9/11, into a more insecure, paranoid and reactionary place (at least, so it seems to me). In part, it's also because living abroad for my adult life opened my eyes and horizons. I feel more like a foreigner in Boston than I do in London. I use English slang and Anglicised spelling. I can no longer complain or have someone bump into me without saying "sorry". I sometimes pretend to be English when I'm visiting the US to avoid having to explain why I talk funny even though I was born in Massachusetts.
When I'm asked what my nationality is, I really don't know how to respond. I have an American passport, but I haven't lived there since 1990. I have an Irish passport, but I've never lived there at all. Half of my life has been spent in the UK, where I live, work, play, and even vote.
What am I, then? I've no idea, frankly. I own a baseball cap, but I don't wear it. Make of that what you will.