As a Yankee Doodle living in England, i’ll tell you what- expat living is confusing. Everything from white cheese to the metric system throws all concepts of normality out of whack. You literally have to throw out your recipe book and start afresh.
Don’t say, ‘at least they speak the same language,’ because that is naive. We don’t. I’d ask any American to try to interpret one of my first conversations with my now brother-in-law, Junior (you may remember him as this guy)
Junior= I’m going to meet my ol’ China at the rubber dub for a Nelson, wan’t to come.
Junior= wind your neck in
Junior= keep up
I know how hard it to live in a country when you don’t speak their language. I did that for 6 months in Thailand, living with villagers half the time. Actually I was pretty good at engaging with my non-English speaking host family, so the programme (which had been running for more than a decade) decided to do an experiment and dropped me off in a village for 5 days, with no English speakers. I cried- I wanted to come back to the programme the first night, where were my Americans?! No one knew what I was saying, and I didn’t know what anyone else was saying. But some things you don’t need words for, and by the evening of day 2, I was loving it. When my Americans came to join me on day 5, I was a little disappointed the experiment had ended.
I know living in a foreign speaking country is tiring. All that new language can hurt your head. But it can be just as tough in a country where you do speak the same language, because you are expected to understand everything they say in funny accents and the cultural references they allude to. And really, I’m 5 years into learning this new culture (thank God for that Anthropology degree- see Dad, it was good for something) and still get regular surprises and have no idea what people are talking about- like Blue Peter who?
So here are some tips, if you ever find yourself living as an expat.
1. Laugh at Yourself
You have got to be able to laugh at yourself, because everyone else is going to be. So a Zebra crossing doesn’t mean it’s a crossing for actual zebra’s? Insert laughter at silly American here
2. Throw out your cook book and start again
No matter how hard you try and how much money you spend on ingredients- you will not be able to make food taste the same in England – probably due to the lack of preservatives here.
Just due to repetition, you’ll start to like the taste of different foods. i use to hate eggs, now I love them. That goes for most foods in this country. I’ve got a completely different palate now- besides spaghetti, I still think the American version is better than British bolognese.
3. Jealousy is normal
Warning here is where I get whiny
I don’t think I ever appreciated this enough when I lived in America, but you will miss just the feeling of being around old friends- you know, people who know your parents and your siblings and you know all their ex’s. You love new friends just as much (and one day they will be old friends), but there is something really magical about old friends, and you will get jealous when people who have lived together all their lives meet up for drinks, or whatever. You’ll want your besties- but you’re too far away (and growing a part).
not my old friends, but I’d settle for this crowd
Same goes for family. It’s so wrong but sometimes when we go to Will’s for a family BBQ and we are all having a good time, I start thinking about how much I miss my family. Even writing this is making me teary. Perhaps therapy would help? Or a dog.
I mean, I’ve missed my sisters graduation and her big move to her new school. I’ve missed meet ups for football season and best friends weddings (ok that one was the fault of ridiculous airline flights during the Olympics). You’ll miss everything from holidays and meet ups, to crying together over bad break ups. Prepare to use all of your vacation time and money going home to try and recreate some of those moments. But really, there are some experiences you can’t recreate and being jealous of British friends who take those experiences for granted is normal (I hope) but not helpful.
4. Assimilation is A-Ok
Whenever I go home, I always hear- ‘you sound British… your jargon has changed.’ I’m telling you now if I moved to the south I’d sound southern, and if I moved to Amsterdam I’d sound Dutch and/or stoned. I subconsciously just try to fit in.
But people I don’t just live in this country, I liiivvveeeee in this country. I work for a local government with 320000 people and I swear, there is not another American. And I am married to a Brit. His name is Will and his younger brother is Harry. I am the first foreigner in this family since William the Conquerer.
I’m not trying to be all annoying like Madonna. I don’t think British accents sound nice (the exception is if they are coming from children). I just can’t keep my Cheboygan accent unless I’m home for 2 weeks and consume an unhealthy amounts of alcohol. Only then does Cheboygan sounding me come back. And I miss Cheboygan me!
5. Embrace your new homeland
Wave the flag, eat the food, root for the home team. This is your new home- not enemy land. If you want to be a part of it- you have to play the game. In England that means developing a serious amount of sarcasm, a love for a curry and a chippy and a bit of cheese (edible and romantic).
The key is to plug in and live like a local, this means in Texas you wear a cowboy hat, in France you eat uncooked mince and in Thailand you harvest rice
So enjoy your time in your new country. Make it your home. But start racking up sky miles now.
Have a good weekend friends. Keep it classy, and by that I mean walk home with heals in hand— the classy bit is that you are standing on your own.