Monday, August 24, 2015

'I Won't Become Americanized': 5 Lies British Expats Tell Themselves

Mark Twain once wrote—and it's a view I share—that travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness. Upon leaving our own nation for another we should not only prepare to respect that nation's culture but, to a large extent, immerse ourselves in it.

That said, there comes a point—usually early on in a move—when this admirable sense of flexibility gives way, if only somewhat, to one particularly conservative conviction: that I—the traveler in question—won't be changed.

This internal conflict manifests itself rather heavily in the mind of a British expat upon his or her relocation to the United States. I can say this unequivocally, of course, as a Brit who has undertaken such a journey myself. We remain so steadfast in our defense of Britain—its food, its customs, its vernacular—that Americans probably detect a level of resentment that isn't actually there. We don't mean anything by it; moaning is honestly just a British pass-time of which even the most optimistic Brit is occasionally guilty.

Instead of facing up to reality and accepting that a place has more chance of changing you than you it, we tell ourselves little white lies—designed, of course, to prevent this new place from leaving blemishes on our otherwise flawless faces. And so, without further adieu, here are five such lies.

1. 'Everything is so much better back home'
Most of us are familiar with the phrase "home is where the heart is." Because Britain informed much of who we are, what we believe, and—most importantly—what we eat, nothing in America can quite hold a candle to its British equivalent. You take a bite of Hershey's and proclaim, "this tastes like sick. Give me a Cadbury Fruit & Nut." You drink iced tea and wonder immediately what became of your human rights. You look at your human rights and determine that these were better accounted for in the UK. Actually, you determine that everything was better accounted for in the UK. Except this isn't always true. We just think it is because—until this point—we'd never known anything else and because, when all is said and done, we are the narrow-minded people Mark Twain was referring to. And sometimes—in the case of the Hershey/Cadbury debate—we're simply just correct. But that's another story.   

2. 'Obsession with my accent is getting old'
The second lie is perhaps the biggest of them all. British expats adopt a high-and-mighty attitude upon receiving oft-repeated comments such as, "wow, which part of Australia is that accent from?" or "you sound so intelligent." But any perceived offense at these sentiments belies one very particular human need—being the centre of attention. Even the most introverted among us like to feel the warm sensation that comes with being noticed. Deep down, when you—the American—become the eighth person in a week to ask us, "how do you pronounce 'water'?", our ice-cold retort is often a British way of saying thanks.   

3. 'I won't become Americanized'
Becoming Americanized—at least in the eyes of those Brits you left behind—is the ultimate sin. "Once you move away, don't start talking like a yank," said approximately all of my friends and family before I'd even packed my first suitcase. "Always remember that it's 'football', not 'soccer'" The problem—if you can call it a problem—is that not only do we British expats inherit various Americanisms, but the process of doing so is utterly unavoidable. Picture, if you will, the confusion that would arise if I always referred to soccer as "football" when in the company of Americans, especially in light of the popular U.S. sport of the same name. Adopting Americanisms is simply practical. It negates confusion. Of course, such a broad modification of our vernacular could have interesting consequences if the next entry ever ceased to be a lie.

4. 'One day I'll definitely move back'
The fourth lie is one very dear to my heart, mainly because my transplant from London to Indiana—now going strong at seven years—was meant to last just one. I had moved here as an affordable alternative to recession-era London and because my wife was from here. The agreement had been that we'd camp out at recession-era Anderson, Indiana (population: 56,000) and wait for all of this to blow over. As of 2015, we're still "waiting". In the words of American cartoonist Allen Saunders, life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. 

5. 'I bet my British friends are envious'
Somewhere behind that otherwise modest and humble countenance of ours, we develop a narrative that contains the following controversial subplot: my friends back home are secretly jealous of me because I live where all the best movies are filmed. The truth is, people are rightly so caught up in their own lives that even the merest consideration of mine would be a stretch. While the thought of Laurence owning his own swimming pool surrounded by banks of palm trees (I don't. Mine is surrounded by banks of conifers) sounds glamorous, it is not in any way a true depiction of American life. Thankfully, deep down, I think most of my British friends are more than aware of this fact. 
This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana, and writes for BBC America and Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts. Today however I learned through your post that it was NOT John Lennon who said " Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans". How sad ( and slightly pathetic) am I? *sighs* I enjoyed it anyway!

thisbritishamericanlife.com said...

Lovely post, Laurence.

Do you mind if I share my chocolate post from a seasoned American wife perspective? It may explain some things about what you are going through with Hershey's. I will admit, I do address my exasperation with the extreme complaints, but I have my sympathies.

http://thisbritishamericanlife.com/2015/08/13/lets-discuss-american-and-british-chocolate/

Elizabeth West said...

I agree with you on sounding like an American--I tend to pick up the vernacular of a place if I'm there for any length of time. I spent nearly six weeks in the UK recently (broken into two visits). LOL I think I said "Sorry" while there more than I've ever said it in my life! "Excuse me" just felt wrong.

Since I've been back, I have begun to slowly drop Britishisms and it makes me sad. I'm still saying trainers, loo, toilet roll, mum, transport, and assorted curse words, ha ha. It helps that I'm working on a book with a British character. But I miss the place.

I hope you can go back for a visit soon. :)

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