So Nearly American

Jan. 16, 2011, 3:41 p.m.

I was so nearly an American. It was that close. In the mid-1950s my father was offered a job at Princeton University – something to do with the emerging science of semiconductors. One of the reasons he turned it down was that he didn’t think he liked the idea of his children growing up as Americans….

Most people who are obsessed by America are fascinated by the physical – the cars, the music, the movies, the clothes, the gadgets, the sport, the cities, the landscape and the landmarks. I am interested in all of those, of course I am, but I (perhaps because of my father’s decision) am interested in something more. I have always wanted to get right under the skin of American life. To know what it really is to be American, to have grown up and been schooled as an American; to work and play as an American; to romance, labour, succeed, fail, feud, fight, vote, shop, drift, dream and drop out as an American; to grow ill and grow old as an American.

~ From Stephen Fry.

I have for a long time been a fan of the British comic, skeptic, documentarian, and all around Mr. Nice Guy Stephen Fry. But I really began to understand him when he shared my fascination with the American saga in his documentary Stephen Fry In America. It refreshed my view of the nation for which I carry a passport. Amid all the cynicism about America’s declining place in the world, it was wonderful to view my nation from the point of view of an educated and impressed tourist.

The reason I recommend the documentary to every American — whether you were born in this country or not — is that it gives you a new glimpse at the nation and the world we take for granted every day. Fry goes through every single state, trying to characterize it in 5-10 minutes (much more for some, much less for others) and in the process travels through this nation more than I have myself. In the process, Fry reminds me of a fact: that we are at our core (whether it is due to our youth, our stupidity, or our idealism) optimistic.

Want a snippet? This clip will show you all you need to know. The sound may be a bit out of sync, and the image may be somewhat manipulated, but the message is clear enough.

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