By Aine Greaney
One summer night in 1987, an American man I knew took me to one of those big-venue country music concerts. It was just six months after I had immigrated here from Ireland, and the gig was somewhere south of Albany, New York.
Since my wintertime landing at JFK Airport, I had seen and enjoyed a small slice of snow-bound USA, but that trip to the country music concert was to be my first safari into big, full-blown Americana.
I may be fusing memory with nostalgia here, but that night, I remember feasting on those sights and traits that, back then, I tagged as “American.” Though we were miles away from cowboy-country, many of my fellow concert-goers were in full regalia–lots of John Wayne Stetsons and red `kerchiefs and fringed jackets and pointy cowboy boots.
Then there was that all-American smileyness—a party sense of shared bonhommie. Also, before and after concert night, it was a very safe bet that, had I been hungry or thirsty or suddenly fainted, at least 80% of those folks would have turned good Samaritan and come to my aide.
That warm New York night, I would never have guessed that, 28 years later, I would find myself at another summertime concert at another outdoor pavilion–this time with my American husband and on Boston’s waterfront.
Of course, 28 years have brought lots of personal changes and life lessons. The first and best expatriate lesson: The minute you think you’ve pegged America–this huge, polyglot country where many people’s grandparents were born in another country–you are already wrong. It’s hard to say what makes Americans American.
However, last month in Boston, I would need to have been drunk or distracted not to have noticed that America has, to quote from W.B. Yeats, “changed utterly.” For starters, we have all grown cautious. We have learned to keep our mouths shut. We have learned new and sinister meanings for heretofore ordinary sights and phrases. Continue Reading…