Things I forgot about being an American living in the U.K.
It’s been a while since I posted on here and, oh look! It’s 2019 all of a sudden. I’ve now been living in the U.K. for 20 years. That’s nearly as long as I had lived in the States. Being an expat and living a life abroad means many things but one thing is for certain – it’s mostly a lot of fun. Especially when I go back and visit the States and realize, again, that there is so much that is different between the two cultures. I love discovering the things my kids like or don’t like about the country I grew up in and meeting and talking with my fellow country men and women too. Americans really are extraordinary people.
A lot has happened since July; there’s been another royal wedding, we discovered the beauty of Seville, Spain, I guest lectured at Lipscomb University’s study abroad program in London, I thoroughly enjoyed a weekend stay in Copenhagen and learned about The Danes and the true meaning of Hygge, we visited my parents in Charleston at Christmas time, and Brexit continues to be a complete misery. It’s a new year and I don’t have any new year’s resolutions. I simply want to continue to do good in every way possible. Part of that is supporting others, who like me, are living here (either long term or short term) and sharing my story and experiences. We feel more connected hearing about shared experiences and finding comfort in the fact that we are not alone and that others are going through a similar challenge. And, living in the U.K. is definitely challenging (this is not necessarily a negative thing)! It’s also a challenge going ‘back home’ and not feeling 100% confident you’re doing the right thing and also wishing you could just stay for a while and just be there – not on holiday, not as a ‘visitor’, but as a resident – as an American. It’s not a practical idea, nor is it at all possible right now, but it’s a real emotion that never goes away.
Here are some of our observations and things I forgot about being an American living in the U.K. during our recent week in South Carolina:
- The first few times I turned right at a red light, I got all sweaty from the feeling that I had just broken the law and that I’d be immediately pulled over by a cop and given a ticket.
- You don’t just ‘pop into’ CVS. It can be a whole afternoon of shopping.
- Target was so overwhelming that my teenage daughter couldn’t cope and we had to leave!
- Target was one of the highlights of the trip (for some of us). I went a bit mental stocking up on clothes for my youngest and the decent, very large and hot coffee for 80 cents was unbeatable.
- The food court portions at the mall are giant and it turns out I ordered enough food to feed two families of 5 instead of just ours.
- I was finally in a place where my British husband couldn’t argue that I over-tip. In fact, I was probably under-tipping.
- There is no Boxing Day so we got an unexpected extra day of exploration and shopping.
- There is no winter hibernation in the south at Christmas time. People are out and about as usual because the weather is gorgeous and it’s warm enough for T shirts and shorts during the day. Such a difference to the days of Christmas and Boxing Day slob/cosy fest we’re used to!
- Charleston is incredibly southern and I was initially stunned the first time I got a “No ma’am”. I’ve decided to use it to on sales calls here, accent and all.
- Americans are still charmed by ‘our’ British accents. My kids are posh in the States!
- First chance my kids got, they ordered Shirley Temples. Thanks to their Aunt Molly who introduced them to this non-alcoholic cocktail drink in Austin, Texas a few years ago.
- The open space. Space in general. Aaaaaah. So relaxing. It’s another way to exist. I’ll never stop missing the sense of having physical space. Of course that also means you can’t go anywhere without a car!
- Love, love, love and miss the customer service. It just works so well. I wanted to cry after my first interaction with a sales assistant back in the U.K. My expectations had been raised only to have them brutally shot down. I’m fine now, I’ve normalized again.
What do you miss about living in your home country or forgot that you missed? Is there anything that you’ve become more comfortable with in the U.K.? For me, it’s probably the walking culture here. My parents look at my husband aghast whenever he suggests walking anywhere at all in Charleston and were amazed at how much ground we covered walking around downtown. The kids are used to it and love it too. But they also enjoyed being driven around. For them, it’s simply a holiday.
Folly Beach, Charleston
Ashley River, Charleston
Sea grass in Charleston
The Battery, Charleston
Mercy and Rylee, our beloved American pets
Meghan Peterson Fenn is the author of Bringing Up Brits, co-author of Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs, co-founder and Director of Shake It Up Creative. And, she is an award winning expat blogger and mother of three.