When it's best to be Canadian

Observations on embarrassed expats

The cold reception that President Bush will get when he comes to London will strike a chord with many Americans who live here.

Elizabeth Field, 28, who has been in Britain for two and a half years and is married to a Brit, finds that as soon as people realise she is American, they mention the war on Iraq.

"Sometimes, it will be mentioned hesitantly, such as: 'Do you know anyone who supports the war in Iraq?', and sometimes much more aggressively, such as: 'Your government is responsible for the deaths of innocent citizens.' Often I am aware that someone will test the waters and ask something like: 'Are you glad to be here while all that's going on over there?'"

Zachary Dominitz, 32, an American writer who worked for the Clinton administration and was arrested in San Francisco while protesting against war in Iraq, could hardly be less of a Bush supporter and even moved to Britain rather than live under the current administration. Yet he says: "I have had a bad time simply because of my accent and because I'm from the States. Most people make some assumptions. I'm not used to being in a position where I defend the States, but I'm being forced into defending it."

My own experience as an English backpacker is that, although I have often been blamed for cultural imperialism, and, indeed, actual imperialism, I have yet to be held to account for any of Tony Blair's actions - even though I have been a member of the Labour Party since 1994 and work for the affiliated Fabian Society. However, the tendency to blame the individuals for the actions of their governments is growing. It stems from the approach to history, popular in Holocaust studies, that insists on collective responsibility for a government's deeds.

It is not just American expats who now find themselves embarrassed by their governments. James Fontanella, a 20-year-old student from Italy who has been in Britain for three years, says: "I am often asked by new people whether I like Silvio Berlusconi. I immediately find myself telling people that I hate Berlusconi.

"Now when I meet an Iraqi or an American, the first thing is not to attack them but to gather information about their beliefs."

Elizabeth Field expects more criticism of America during Bush's visit and thinks that "American friends here will be quick to assert they do not support Bush".

Some Americans (see preceding item) will be joining the protests against their president, asserting that they are "proud to be American but ashamed of Bush".

Others will be less forward. To avoid constant accusations and questioning, one of Field's friends, an American who has lived in London for 15 years, has taken to telling people that she is Canadian.