When I wrote ‘Bunco’, my initial idea was to explore some of the differences between US and European lifestyles and cultures. When we lived in the US, we enjoyed a very particularly ‘American’ lifestyle. Initially, I had moved to Manhattan. I feel that New York City and London have more in common with each other than either does with the rest of the countries of which they are a part. The restaurants, theatres, concerts, museums are essentially the same, as is the focus on business and making money.
However, when we moved to Maryland, we became part of a world quite unlike anything that would be found anywhere in Europe. The community was very privileged in a material sense – beautiful large houses, a community pool community dock, basketball court and so on. But more than this, it was organised to develop cohesion.
My friend Gerry has lived in the same house in a Hertfordshire village for over 20 years. From what I understand, his is an unusually tight community. A group of neighbours have lived together for all of these 20+ years. They socialise together, take trips together, take holidays together. They represent a very tight, organically evolved community.
Fair Oaks (our Maryland neighbourhood of around 150 homes) wasn’t like this. There was nothing accidental about the community cohesion of Fair Oaks – it was structured that way. There was a board to manage community assets, a newsletter, a directory, a social committee, a swim team, a landscaping group, a welcoming team who visited every incoming resident. Most of all there was a year-round social calendar.
The events portrayed in ‘Bunco’ (I mean the social events, not the affairs, assaults and financial shenanigans!) were based on the social life of Fair Oaks – Memorial Day, July 4th, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Veterans Day, were all marked by elaborate events – parades, flag raising, parties, BBQ’s, children’s games and so on. My theory is that Americans use these public holidays and events to establish and reinforce a sense of community and patriotism.
Europeans are much more likely to live in a place where their families have lived for generations. Their bonds and connections are deep-rooted and often invisible to outsiders. America is organised to integrate an unending churn of incomers through shared rituals, many of which revolve around patriotic themes – the flag, national anthem and the armed forces. Because of their mobility, our neighbours didn’t have school, family or sports teams in common, but they could and did coalesce over their shared nationality.
So, while it may seem a bit forced or artificial to European eyes, American suburban community spirit serves to very quickly embrace strangers and reassure them that they are welcome additions to the neighbourhood.