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New Years is a grand time for Brits in the U.S to take stock of how they’re doing as expats, and perhaps to make a few little changes. Here’s a few suggestions:
1. I will stop smacking my kids across the back of the head (metaphorically speaking) for using American words like “chips” instead of crisps, “sneakers” instead of trainers/plimsolls, and “principal” instead of head master. I brought them to this foreign land and I should be thrilled that they are embracing the language and acclimating so well.
2. Furthermore, when they have friends over for a playdate, I will not insist on British manners, even though it’s my house. My children’s friends are Americans, and saying “he” or “she” in front of that person is not a crime against humanity in the U.S. Replying “Who’s she? The cat’s mother?” is meaningless to them anyway. I will insist on a “please” now and then though.
3. In the interest of heritage, I will continue to spend a small fortune on imported Marmite, Jammy Dodgers, Ambrosia Creamed Rice and Dettol. (They have to have childhood memories of the smell of Dettol, no matter how bad.)
4. However skanky my hair may be, I pledge to resist the ponytail and baseball cap. Yes, most of my friends do this on a regular basis, and that’s because, if you have an American head, it looks OK. On British heads, for some reason, it’s just wrong. And I feel ridiculous.
5. When people in the street say “Hi, how are you?” I will refrain from stopping and giving them a run down of last month’s physical ailments and children’s grades. It’s more like a greeting in this country and simply requires a “Great thanks, how are you?”
6. When entertaining at home, I will allow my guests to bring a dish. No more of this British insistence on doing it all myself and replying “Oh just yourselves” to the question “What Can I Bring?” They will turn up with something anyway and it probably won’t go with the meal, so might as well throw out a few appropriate suggestions.
7. I will refrain from doing my terrible American accent, but I feel it only fair to insist on a reciprocal ban on Americans-doing-British-accents.
8. Ironing will remain a religious observance in this house, no matter how much friends and family tease me. I will not wear clothes that look like old handkerchiefs, nor will I subject my guests to creased pillowcases. My house, my rules. End of.
9. Similarly, baths will remain a perfectly acceptable form of cleansing both mind and body. I am not a coal miner and I am not “sitting in my own dirt.”
10. I will personify the expat adage – “Not wrong, just different.”
Happy New Year to one and all!
Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.