Why I feel more American in Britain

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going somewhere and feeling the differences between yourself and the natives more keenly, realizing you’re more different than you previously thought. Whether it’s language, race, religion, politics, clothes, whatever. There are even differences within the US, from city to city, state to state. Well, that’s how I feel when I go to the UK, and I haven’t even spent that much time there yet. As many people do, I’ve spent a lot of my growing-up years trying to fit in, whether consciously or not, sometimes with more success than others. Wondering if I’d fit in better somewhere else.

I’ve often said I feel like I belong in Europe, or Canada, or somewhere else liberal, but that’s only while I’m in Indiana that I think that. I’m not the patriotic type. I said the pledge of allegiance in school and I watch parades and fireworks on Independence Day like anyone else, but I’m not of the belief that the USA is better than all other countries. Everywhere has it’s pros and cons. Everywhere has good and bad people. No one’s religion is “more right” than anyone else’s. And that is one big thing that makes me stick out around here. I don’t have the usual “God Bless America” license plate, because I think God should bless Canada and Morocco and Ecuador too.

In London, I feel much more like an American. Aside from the language differences I’ve been writing about, there are definite cultural differences. Despite its cultural inclusiveness, most of the people I came into contact with were British, and they have a certain way of doing things.

These are the main things I think would separate me from fitting in with the Brits.

1. I’m more casual

I’d wear jeans and a t-shirt or hoodie every day if it were left up to me. But in Britain, when you go to work, the guys wear suits, and the ladies wear jackets, skirts, and heels. You won’t see the stereotypical big, weird hats like Kate and the Queen wear, but dress is just more formal.

That butterfly hat is actually kind of fun with the dress.

My company’s office in Indiana is mostly casual when we’re not meeting clients, but in the UK it’s “smart” (I’ve taken this to mean business casual or slightly more formal) every day except Friday, and no one ever seems to wear khakis. I figure I can get away with walking around the city in flats instead of heels and rarely wearing a skirt because I’m American. No one has berated me yet.

2. I’m less polite

This actually goes along with the formality theme. I often say “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me,” and even the occasional “bless you,” but beyond that it’s not natural for me to be extra polite. I swear I don’t try to be rude, but I’m pretty sure I come off that way sometimes in the UK.

In our UK office, whenever someone leaves to get a drink from the “tea point”, they will ask if anyone else would like something to drink while they are there. Invariably, someone always wants coffee or some milk for their tea. But I’d rather get up myself and get my own drinks, so I’d rarely offer or ask. I like the break anyway. It just made me feel rude. But really, sometimes having manners like that just seems like a waste of time to me. Yep, there’s my Americanness again…

3. It’s dangerous for me to cross the road.

Ever since I started crossing roads, I was taught to look left, right, then left again before crossing the road. Always look in the direction a car could be coming from first. Right? Well, my brain is not so great at suddenly changing this direction. I am not even going to attempt to drive there.

Not as easy as you might think.

They write “look right” on every street for anyone who isn’t from one of the handful of countries with their strange road layout, but it doesn’t help me much. After several attempts at crossing the road and nearly getting hit, I decided I should just stick to the crosswalks and wait until the little man turns green. Much safer that way.

4. My accent

I almost didn’t include this one because it’s so obvious, but it’s true. I’ve heard a lot of people from Indiana say they “don’t have an accent”, but everyone has an accent! It’s just that most of Indiana has what I would call a standard Midwestern American accent (officially called a North Midland dialect), which is very similar to what most people in movies and on the news have, so it’s “normal” to us. But in the UK, I most certainly have an accent and I’m immediately pegged as an American. Annoying, but hey, what can you do – I really don’t want to go so far as to try to speak in a British accent on a regular basis. While it might be fun, it seems almost offensive.

Here’s an interesting article about different terms for the same things throughout the US. Did you know that in part of Wisconsin they call a drinking/water fountain a “bubbler”? I want to start calling it that.

So, I may never be just like the natives wherever I live, but I’m okay with that. It just makes other people more interesting.

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I’d rather wander freely than be a kid again

A lot of things on Facebook annoy me. But one of my biggest pet peeves is when people say, “I want to be a kid again. This growing up and paying bills thing isn’t very fun.” For some reason it’s a very common complaint on Facebook.

This is one of those phrases, commonly uttered by young adults right around my age (mid-twenties) that I feel like people are not thinking all the way through. I get that paying bills and having to have responsibilities is not fun. But this is what you get for the major trade-offs of adulthood. And if your childhood was really that much better than your life now, then I do feel sorry for you, because that just sucks and it’s all downhill from here. But I think most people are just forgetting what it was like to be a child.

My childhood really wasn’t bad; my mom was loving, fed me, and bought me all the books I ever wanted. And kids can be a joy because they look at the world in a whole different way. But I just really prefer being an adult. Everything has positives and negatives (even ice cream – I know, shocking, but it’s true) so let’s review them.

Pros of Childhood

  • No bills
  • No job
  • More imagination and creativity
  • Lots of play time
  • More open-mindedness

Cons of Childhood

  • No control over one’s own life
  • Only had money if given by guardians
  • Only had food provided by guardians
  • Homework
  • Parental rules and punishments
  • Inability to envision the big picture past the next 5 minutes
  • Inability to choose the people you spend time with
  • Inability to go anywhere an adult doesn’t take you

By all means, if you’d like to dream of going back to the days of, “Go to your room,” “No, you can’t go to your friend’s house tonight,” and “Because I said so,” go for it. Just weigh the pros and cons before saying that phrase again.

Don’t forget, you can be an adult and still be a kid at heart.

How To Move Overseas

My story is part luck and part really really wanting something. One of my life goals was to live overseas (Europe, NZ, or Australia preferably, or maybe Canada) but I wasn’t sure how I would get there.

To all those who think it’s impossible to move to a different country or overseas, or even to a different state: it’s really possible if it’s something you want. You don’t have to make a ton of money; you just have to be willing to leave everything and everyone you know. Of course, it’s much more difficult if you have a family, so doing it while you’re young is optimal. But it’s still possible even with a family! The hardest parts of the process are getting the money and the visa. Money is easier than you may think for most people – if you have a decent full-time job, prioritize your budget around saving up money for a couple years.

So the trickiest part is the visa. If you are from the European Union, you have an advantage because you can move to any other country within it without a visa. But for an American who wants to move overseas, most other desirable countries have very strict immigration laws. More than I realized; basically you have to be married to a citizen of their country, or already have a job there. And how does one get a job from thousands of miles and multiple time zones away? Yeah, not easily.

Step 0: Save.

I’ve been saving money ever since I graduated and got this job for travel purposes and so I could move. I’ve thought about a trip around the world, but generally that would require quitting my job (and saving even more money) and that has some decent risks in it. I’ve thought about going on a work-holiday visa to Australia for a year. When you save money, the possibilities are much less limited.

I wasn’t sure quite what I was saving for, but I just put aside a bit of money each month – the key is to make a separate savings account and have an auto-transfer set up. $100/month over the course of a year, and you’ll have saved $1200! You don’t have to make a ton of money, but if you do this over the course of a few years, it will add up, and you can make your big move. Of course, you can save for a wedding, or a kid, or whatever your heart desires; it’s all about priorities! My priority is to experience new places.

Step 1: Work for a company hiring people in an overseas office.

The announcement came at work: “We are opening a new UK office and hiring three new people to start it up.”

Cool. But there’s no way they’d let me go – they rarely send me anywhere outside the office, and that would be a huge deal to send me that they wouldn’t want to deal with. Forget it, Bethany.

Two months pass. I get increasingly restless and am seriously thinking about moving to Portland, Oregon, an ideal living city in my mind since college. But I like my job too much.

Step 2: Don’t be a wimp. Apply for a position in said overseas office.

I hear they are still looking for people for the new office. One day, I get the sudden urge to try for it, but it still seems like a crazy, futile idea. So I put out my feelers by asking my immediate manager what she thinks, because she’s a good one for crazy ideas who won’t judge me too much. And she says, “Yes, I think you should go for it! That would be so exciting!” and gives me some tips on how to go about it.

So I go to the director of my department with my proposal.

I would be the best person because I’m already familiar with our software and processes, so I wouldn’t need to be trained. I can go for one year or two or indefinitely, whatever works best. I’ll take either of the two positions I’m most qualified for, whoever you need. I think I would be really great for this!

She seems confused because it seems like this came out of nowhere and isn’t completely sure I’m serious.

Step 3: Be flexible but serious about it, and plan.

I spent hours and hours looking into what it takes to move overseas. I thought about how much it might cost. Whether I could bring my cat, and if so what that would entail. How all aspects of my life would be turned upside down. I’d have to change phone companies, probably get a flatmate, and have a significantly higher cost of living. Leave everyone.

But there was never a doubt that this is what needed to happen. This is what I want to do, what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I had to reassure the higher-ups several times that I was committed and would not change my mind. This was not a random idea. I wouldn’t beg to come home after a few months. Once they were convinced, the plans commenced.

My company is being super helpful with the visa process and making sure I’ll be happy, but I’m going to have to move to a different role than the one I have now. My living situation won’t be quite so comfortable. I will be relatively poor. I figured out that I can’t afford to move my beloved cat back and forth. I STILL don’t know when I’m leaving, so I have to keep my summer plans open.

Yep, I really want this!

Step 4: Wait.

It takes a long time to get a visa. This process started back in March, and I still haven’t gotten mine. We’re just guessing that I’ll be moving in July, but it’s hard to tell. Originally I was going to go for two years, but that one would’ve been more complicated and taken even longer, so it switched to one year.

Stay tuned for part 2 once I move, starting with Step 5: Move!