UK craft blog, What's Up Wednesday, Where I Live Wednesday

Adventures of an American Living in England

So I was going to show off the goodies I got at the Stitch & Craft show and that was about it, but for some reason I’ve decided to share a bit more of my life with you instead, while showing you pics of what I bought. Because you guys did say you wanted to know more about me, although I can’t remember when so I don’t have a link. Here’s a link to this week’s Manic Monday Linky Party instead.Β Β WARNING: This is a long post, so if you don’t want to know more about me, you could totally spend your time more fruitfully elsewhere. I won’t even be offended. And I mean no offence to any fellow Yanks or Brits. πŸ™‚

Yes - All the fabric I bought at the show is UK patriotic stuff. I am SO American!

Most of you know I’m an American living in Southampton, England. I married a wonderful Englishman in 2003 and the plan was always to stay here in England for his job. I know this may sound shocking, but I don’t want to live in America. I don’t fit in there. (I was going to get on my soapbox about universal health care, but you probably don’t care and I don’t want too much kerfuffle over this post.)

The weird thing is that even though I’ve been here 10 years, I”m still an outsider, an interloper. Every time I leave the house at least one person asks me how long I’m here for, as though I could only logically be here on holiday. My accent marks me out and when I speak in a shop, people do triple takes. Sometimes it gets on my nerves and I stare back imperiously or if I’m with Savi, I’ll casually say to her ‘Be more quiet dear, people are getting very confused by our accents.’ But most of the time I try to be aware of the fact that everything I do in public will colour how people think of America. If I act like an asshole, that just confirms their view of us as uncouth savages. If I am dignified, it surprises them and they remember it. Or at least I don’t confirm a negative stereotype.

My first Malabrigo! Thanks for the recommendation, Bonnie!

So, yes, despite the fact that I like living in the UK and have been here a decade, I am probably more aware of being American than most Americans are. Everything I do reflects on our country. Even when I’m just ordering a coffee, I’m representing America. If the English person in front of me acts like a jerk, no one really remembers. If I act or am perceived to act like a jerk, everyone around me remembers it forever, even subconsciously. My bad hearing has gotten me in trouble a few times.

Sometimes people can be very nasty. Out at local pubs, I’ve had ignorant drunk asswipes blame me for foreign policy decisions made before I was born. (Like seriously, what am I supposed to do about stuff that happened in WWII?) I try to be nice in those kinds of situations. Some people are even less pleasant than that. Frankly, they’re xenophobic-bordering-on-racist. Once I was in a shop in Romsey and some lady paid for something and started a convo with the shop owner (both women) about going on holiday. The lady was complaining about how truly awful it was that their plane and hotel had so many Americans in it. God how she hates going on holiday with Americans. They do this, they do that, they’re so annoying and loud. And the shop owner sat there agreeing. It took every ounce of self control to remain silent. If, for example, she’d been bitching about how truly awful it is to take a holiday with black people…well, actually she wouldn’t be saying it publicly like that as it’s bloody intolerable. But bitch about Americans? No problem. ButΒ I didn’t bring up the racist point with the 2 hateful ladies. I put down what I was going to buy and walked out. I’ll never, ever spend a penny in there.

You have to admit it's very cute stuff. I even ordered more!


My daughter has also had to suffer for people’s prejudiced views on Americans, which is pretty despicable of an adult to do, as a 12 year old kid hasn’t the ability to properly defend herself and instead ends up feeling ashamed of who she is, which is completely intolerable. We might love living here, but we’re still Americans, dammit. In her first year at Mountbatten, other students treated her like a performing dog. You know, ‘Say this, say that, OMG it’s the American girl.’ Things are better this year – they’re over the novelty factor now of her being the only Yank.

But sometimes it’s funny. People always ask ‘What part of America are you from?’ And I say ‘Illinois.’ Sometimes they know exactly where IL is, sometimes they’re in the ballpark. Some of the time, they ask, ‘Is that near Florida?’ And I say, ‘Yes, in the relative scheme of the universe, it is close.’ (I should point out here that I’m fairly ignorant of English geography, unless it was an important place in the 1500s or I’ve been there.) Florida is the main American holiday destination of English people. They go to Orlando to Disney and all that stuff. (No comment here.)

However, a great majority of the English people I meet are simply curious about America and Americans. Obviously, their personal interests colour the types of questions I get asked. Some people ask about food. I love the food here and they’re always surprised. They’re surprised when Savi and I praise the education system in our area. Savi was in a very poor, very rural small town school and in comparison, Mountbatten is like attending the most expensive private school in America. I like the NHS, I love London, Romsey, Southampton, Winchester and the huge amount of culture that comes along with living here. The history, the ability to go see a different play or concert every night if I wanted to without driving more than 30 miles. And of course, entwined with my feelings about the UK are my very strong feelings for my husband. So, yeah, I love living here. That is in no way derogatory to the States, or a claim that the US is sans culture. But there wasn’t much to do in the small farming town I grew up in, so for me this is a paradise. Esp as I’m an English royal history geek.

I’ve been asked if I know where the town is which apparently provides the best view for the next eclipse (it’s somewhere in Kentucky I’ve never heard of). I’ve been asked if people really eat at McDonald’s every day (I answer that only an elite few are granted that privilege. LOL). I’ve been asked how the nomination process works for presidential candidates (Ha – try explaining that!). I’ve been asked why Sarah Palin gets any attention paid to her at all, as she’s clearly an idiot (I have no idea.). I get asked if I’m still able to vote in US elections and how the logistics works (Yes, and it’s complicated). I get asked about Watergate (which is not a short convo, is it…). Knowledgeable people ask about their favourite president. I get asked about the gun culture a lot. UK police don’t all carry firearms like US police do, and many Brits have very strong anti-gun feelings. There is no right to bear arms here, and very little gun crime.

Sometimes people think I’m Canadian, Australian, or a Kiwi, and I’ve even been asked if I’m Scottish or from Yorkshire. If you’ve seen my videos you’ve probably noticed I have a pretty odd hybrid accent. That confuses the hell out of people. I’ve noticed that even when I’m reading, my brain has changed the pronunciation of some words, which is super weird.Β 

These are Wonder-fil threads and I'm VERY pleased with them. Highly Recommend!

All in all, living here is pretty sweet. I have a few good friends and I get to do pretty much whatever I want, including buy stupid amounts of quilt fabric and supplies and have a sewing/quilting website thingy. I’ve made a lot of good friends through that, too. I’m happy enough here that I don’t often miss ‘home’, although I do miss my family terribly. (There’s an occasional pang for Dairy Queen and Sonic, I admit.) I haven’t seen my fam in over 3 years. Since that time, my sister Serena has gotten married and had a baby, my parents have moved from IL to Texas, and my sister Nina has had some pretty momentous things happen with her kids that I haven’t been able to help with. I’m hoping to go see everyone this summer, so I’m saving up my teaching money.

I don’t know if that answered your curiosity, so I guess if you have other or more specific questions, ask away and maybe I’ll do another post to answer them. I do realise I’m in a strange and rare position – there aren’t too many of us American bloggers living here in the UK, and I get asked just as many questions from Americans about the UK when I’m ‘home’. As for the food thing, the only thing I don’t like is peas. I hate peas and they seem to come with everything. They feel disgusting and taste even worse. The only thing worse than a pea is two of them.

P.S. Because the Google Overlords want to force the entire planet into using their crappy social application, my Google Friend Connect has been cancelled. But you can still get me in your Google Reader (or any other reader) by pushing the Feedburner (RSS) button below. πŸ™‚

Β Subscribe in a reader


Β© J C Excell, 2012

Spread the love

33 thoughts on “Adventures of an American Living in England

  1. Wow what a very interesting post.
    You are right fundamentally it’s a form of racims (xenophobia?) and basically ignorance I would say. My hubby is Greek and he had a customer come in to the shop and he (sorry it) started asking hubby a question when it saw my husband’s name it shut its mouth (yippee!) starting shaking his head and pointed at hubby and wanted to be served by an Irish person. They threw it out of the shop as they refused to serve it if it couldn’t be served by my husband then no-one was going to serve him! Also the recession and horrendous stuff going on in Greece oh man the amount of people taht have asked me how we feel and so forth? Er hello? We didn’t start it and er we live in Ireland, yes Ireland part of the PIGS acronym i.e kettle and pot?

    Great read!

    Thanks Fi

  2. Thanks for sharing this, I’ve actually been curious about how you ended up in England but didn’t want to risk being rude and asking. I went to England twice when my aunt was stationed there in the military and loved everything, the history, the old buildings, the way shopping for food there is different, the people who were willing to talk to curious Americans. I wasn’t crazy about the lady complaining about the “damn yanks” when we were about 5 ft. away at the big American style supermarket (Teslo I think?), but I guess that shows that all nations have at least a few rude sorts.

  3. Thanks for sharing with all of us. I guess my biggest questions would be what do you have a hard time getting out there supply wise for knitting and sewing AND what is the cost difference like? When I went to Germany 5 years ago everything was SO expensive to me and I didn’t even go to a fabric store (my fiance at the time, hubs now, was not so into fabric shopping). I love the fabric you got! Hugs!

  4. This was so very interesting. I’m an American living in Ireland. The Irish at work or near home know me and incorporate me fully into their life and social circles. It’s only the shop owners, etc that remind me I am an “outsider”. How long are you staying? How are you enjoying your holiday? Where are you from? Well, I live right around the corner, thank you. It’s a difficult balance between being friendly and reminding folks that the world has expanded to incorporate folks from all origins. The lowest point, though, was when I was in an airport (with co-workers on a business trip!) and I tried to buy a pack of gum and a newspaper. The vendor actually took the money out of my hands, counted out what he wanted and gave me the “left overs”. Now, I’m sure he is asked a million times a day for help with the mysterious euro from travelers, but really? It was just insane.

    That being said, I love it here. I am American, will always be American, but I love my current home fully.

  5. I imported my Canadian husband to America and get similar “say this, say that” comments from Americans toward him. It is so odd.

    I love google reader, even if google friend connect has gone the way of the wind for some blogs. One place, all the blogs I find interesting, sorted in descending order. Love it.

  6. great post – also some fabulous booty you have there, lovin some of those fabrics. My family moved to Alaska when I was 13 and I spent 35 years there before moving to the “lower 48”. I still get asked if I went to school in an igloo! People ask if our currency is different, and if we speak english or another language. It’s the 50th State people, part of the US. What really gets me is when shippers don’t consider Alaska as being part of the “continental” US. I know it is not “contigous” but it is in North America. My youngest daughter still lives in Alaska, has 9 month old triplets and still deals with the stigma of being from Alaska. I had the opportunity to visit London in 2007 and loved it. I also am a history buff and was thrilled to be walking in the steps of my pre victorian heros – would love to spend more time in the country – maybe someday. Keep up the good work, love your quilt along.

  7. I can’t get over you not liking peas! They are little green balls of yummy goodness, but each to their own!
    This is a lot of info to take in, but kind of echo’s what some American friends have said, especially being blamed for political events over which you have no control.
    I think its great that we can move around relatively easily and experience different cultures and what not, its a shame that some folk see it as a problem and voice stupid opinions.
    It’s disgusting that your daughter has experienced other peoples narrow mindedness.
    I do like how you seem to gel both the American and English parts of your life, like doing pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, most folks over here probably don’t realise you can actually eat a pumpkin!!

  8. Thank you for the insight Jenna! I will be moving to London, in the Orpington/Bromley area some time this coming year. I worry about those things, too. For my kids, and the way they will sound and be perceived. It was good to read this and I’m sharing it with my husband!
    We are looking forward to the move, but are nervous, too.

  9. Hi there!
    I loved this post…I’m surprized your daughter doesn’t have more of an English accent after being over there so long…Usually young people catch on quickly.
    I’m from Canada, and we also complain about vacationing with Americans…We’re *almost* the same accent wise, and culture wise it’s pretty close too (all of that imported American TV I say..).
    This is why canadians choose to vacation in Cuba! No, seriously, it’s one of the big reasons. I have nothing personal against americans…Sometimes when you go to resorts american guest just enforce the stereotype. And Jersey Shore doesn’t help! In general I just stay away from resorts…I can’t stand the heat.
    My sister is in Edinburgh and she hasn’t gotten much of the “you american” or “you canadian” type thing…I can’t wait to visit as it seems pretty nice!

    1. I am sorry if my response seems negative, but most Americans are not at all like American TV (and certainly not Jersey Shore). That is a terrible stereotype, and I am guessing that you would also be offended if someone in turn insinuated something as equally unkind about all Canadians. Unfortunately it sounds like you have also had some negative experiences of Americans in your personal life. It is too bad that you might assume through those bad experiences that the individual’s behavior is indicative of an entire nation rather than just their own poor choices and actions. I think you may have missed the point of Jenna’s post.

    2. Hmm. I confess I have NO idea what Jersey Shore is, so I can’t comment on that.
      What I can tell you is that Americans don’t have a monopoly on being drunk and disorderly at resorts. Hubs and I took Savi (many years ago) to Minorca and the resort was mostly populated by English peeps . There were many very nice people there who didn’t drink to excess, but I do remember we got very little sleep. As soon as we were drifting off, another family would be walking back to their flat with their family, drunk and loud and obnoxious. With their hyper sleep-deprived kids. At like 2am. So that was our first and last resort holiday. (I had to buy sleeping pills in a Spanish pharmacy. Interesting experience.)
      I suspect many people see resorts as drinking and tanning festivals, regardless of nationality. (I would NOT claim that “English people are obnoxious on holiday”, because most of them aren’t. You only notice the jerks.) So yes, if you want to avoid drunk behaviour, avoid resorts. Worldwide. I know we do.

  10. Jenna, I can absolutely understand your feeling…. cause I was being treated like that as well. My situation even worse than yours. I’m a Malaysian Chinese…. People shouted “sweet and sour pork” , “Beijing” , “Konijiwa”( Hi in Japanese) etc. to me at the street.

  11. I’m a Californian transplanted to Illinois and say many words with a Boston accent (never been to Boston and only on the east coast 5 days out of 40 years). I’ve been in Illinois 13 years and STILL get that ‘say this….say that’ from folks πŸ™‚

    I really enjoyed this post and learning more about you and your life in the UK

  12. WOW ! Interesting stuff ; thanks for sharing . Aren’t people ignorant ??? My big move was from a medium sized city in Northern Indiana to a small town about 15 south of where I lived . I moved here when I got married almost 8 years ago . Neither one of us is from here , and oh boy , most people treat us that way . We’ve lived in our house for 7 yrs . and maybe know 1/2 of our close neighbors ! everybody gossips about everybody ; we don’t know who they are talking about so we don’t fit in . However , amongst all the drama and ignorance , I do like it much better than the bigger city ……… I grew up in the kinda rough part of the city ; there is a alot of crime and even more stupid people ; so we stay in the small town and are ignored by most ! hah !!! πŸ˜€ Have a great day !

  13. Firstly I want your fabric haul πŸ˜‰ secondly, I love your honesty in this post! I’m English living in NC, and yes, it can be a real ball ache at times, but I love it here, enough to go through the stress of Green Card applications at present, and that’s some stress!
    I think the longer one is away from home, the strangely more patriotic one becomes. It was good to read about the opposite perspective, and I can’t wait to see what you make with that stash.

  14. What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing. I have some friends who lived in England (and Germany) for a while and when the returned, they were changed. Suddenly I was an idiot and our way of life was repulsive. Jerks. I hate the superiority complex. We’re all people. Some of us are extreme and create the stereotypes, but most of us are the same, really. Loved hearing your view!

  15. Well it was an eye opener that you don’t like peas! Garden verity or all of ’em? πŸ˜€
    Your fabric haul looks fab as does the yarn (I’m a total yarn newbie!)

    As a side note hows the drumming going?

  16. Great post Jenna, don’t think, however, that the outsider thing is specific to Americans, I am a Scot married to an Irish man, living in Latvia at the moment, but have lived nearly all of our married life in England. We met in London and lived in the South for several years, and frequently met prejudice! In a babysitting circle with over 20 members, three of whom were Scots I was frequently told that we couldn’t be told apart ( we looked nothing like each other) so they never knew who was going to babysit until we turned up! I have been asked to repeat things because apparently I sounded like Taggart! I will admit to coming from Glasgow, but I definitely don’t have that broad an accent:)

    I think it is true though that travel broadens the mind, and that most of the prejudice I have come across has been from individuals who have never even considered that there might be a world beyond the boundaries of their home town, and you can meet those people in any country!. I probably meet them here in Latvia but, fortunately or unfortunately, my Latvian isn’t up to understanding them πŸ™‚

  17. Really interesting post Jenna. I think the feeling of being an outsider is something that most people can identify with at some point in their lives. I am still an outsider here in Cork where I have lived for over 10 years – because people in Cork grow up, go to school, college and settle down in Cork, so you don’t have the history with them (they don’t call it the People’s Republic of Cork for nothing!). It’s only in the last couple of years that people have stopped asking me where I am from and how long I have lived in Cork! I also think there is a very stereotypical view of Americans which is out there in a lot of European countries, more pronounced in some than others, and I think there is a lot of anti-Americanism in evidence in the media etc which doesn’t help. But a lot of that stuff makes me laugh, because it just displays people’s own ignorance

  18. Oh, avoid the cooked peas, try some fresh out of the pod (uncooked) yum! I’ve been the performing seal both on the other side of the pond and down south, it’s definitely odd!

  19. I’m nodding my head over here in Γ–stersund, Sweden! I’m an American living in Sweden and I face many of the same things you do, feel many of the same too. My kids have had the same experiences too, although my son thinks it’s fun to speak Swedish and then suddenly turn around and help English speaking tourists find their way around town. No matter how much Swedish I learn, I’ll always be “the American” and I’ve just learned to capitalize on it rather than fight it. Just one more way to be memorable, right? Thanks for the lovely post!

  20. I really enjoyed reading a bit about your life in the U.K. I have several friends (internet and real life) who live in the U.K. I always joke with one family who live in Leeds because they put me on speaker phone and make me say “whatever” repeatedly. But I make them say “garage” so it is an even trade. πŸ™‚ We’re weird, I know.

    I have a friend from High School who moved to Ireland about 7 years ago and when she came in December for a visit I couldn’t believe how Irish she sounded, yet in Ireland they can still tell she’s from the U.S.

    The way I look at the haters is that maybe they really don’t realize that most Americans are not the boorish, rude, entitled idiots that most of them get to meet, because rest of us, the ones who are just like them can’t afford to travel abroad!

  21. im so sorry you have to put up with people like that.
    i have been using serger thread for regular sewing, because it is strong and comes in big spools. but i was told that that is not good. it has lasted on all my garments sewn. where do you get your thread?
    quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

  22. There are so many things that I totally agree with! I moved from California to London just over 2 years ago and I am totally ALWAYS conscious of being American and how what I do either reinforces or changes people’s perceptions. It’s not as bad in London as there are always tons of them (and is it just me noticing more, or are American tourists really big space cadets?!) but when I go up to my boyfriend’s home in the Midlands I get a lot of stares as if I’ve grown an extra head. The “say-this-say-that” is fun because his family all have small kids πŸ™‚ One of my biggest annoyances is people getting really offended if I make my opinion known about politics – not because they just are being polite, as if because I’m not British, these things don’t affect me.. Um, hello? I live here, work here, pay tax here, of course they affect me! Anyways, there are loads of things I miss about the States and things I love about here.. If I could, I would make a blend of the best of both πŸ™‚

  23. I love your accent! I had to follow the link just hear your voice and I think it’s so soothing. Be proud of your accent, it’s the voice of the 21st century! My husband’s mum is English and Dad is Balinese and I’m Egyptian and we live in Australia. My daughter is a mix of all of that and I wouldn’t have it any other way!!!

  24. I stumbled across your blog today for the first time. I thought maybe I’d find some Dr. Who stuff, because of the ‘Geek’ in your blog name. This post about your experiences being an American expat is really interesting! I’m sorry you’ve had people be nasty to you because of where you are from. I lived in London for a year when I was in college. I had a tiny bit of prejudice against me, too. Maybe because of that I felt pressure to blend in with the locals and not stand out as an American. Although one day after living there for quite a while, I went to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park with a friend. All of the clothes I was wearing came from England, yet one of the Speakers said to me, “you there, American!” I was astounded! What made me stand out? I’ll never know.

    Like you, my accent changed and many people thought I was Irish. I ended up working at one of the biggest tourist traps in all of London– Madame Tussaud’s. While there, I could better understand some of the dislike towards Americans. I witnessed a lot of very loud behaviour and it just runs against the grain of how many English people are. It was a good learning experience.

    This turned into a ramble, but I have 2 more things:
    1- I’m from Wisconsin and it was so difficult to explain to people I met where it is located. I would say, “I don’t live far from Chicago.” Blank stare. ok. “The midwest?” They would then think I meant the West! One person said to me, “oh, John Wayne! The West!” No.
    2- I worked at Olympia for 2 weeks and was excited to see they have a craft show there. I would LOVE to go back and that would be a great show to attend.

    Thanks for sharing about yourself!!!

  25. I’m a Canadian and I have lived in Italy since 1999. Trust me – I understand about the questions from everyone you meet. Only in Italy they add “what do your parents think??” I would KILL to live in London. Italy is behind the times on almost everything, our economy sucks, and there are NO good quilting stores here! πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.