10 Things That Happen When British Expats Meet in America

Big Apple Brits (Photo: Martin Roe Photography)

Big Apple Brits (Photo: Martin Roe Photography)

Even if you set out to befriend only locals, you’ll inevitably find yourself cozying up to other Brits. And when this happens, you’ll have a lot to chat (read: moan) about…

We complain about paying for healthcare

I’m sure most U.S.-bound British expats start with the assumption that if they’re paying for health insurance via their pay packet, then the American system will work much like our own: turn up, get treated, go home. Then, we discover these things called “co-pays” and “deductibles.” The ensuing decades are spent spitting down the phone at medical industry bureaucrats who would happily repossess our most vital organs to settle our arbitrarily calculated debt. All this stings so much we feel the need to whinge about it incessantly to other expats.

We complain about the weather

Climate disgruntlement is hardwired into every Brit’s circuitry. Even if we relocate to somewhere with unimpeachable weather — California, for instance – we’ll still manage to find aspects that displease us. (“The damn sun is always in my eyes.”) And we’ll moan about them at volume, preferably to our fellow countrymen. That way, our gripes stay locked in the big obnoxious-things-British-people-say vault, and Americans will never know that we said them.

We complain about bread, chocolate and beer

The American-made versions of these popular comestibles (too sweet, tastes of vomit and insect wee in a frosted glass, respectively) crop up again and again as the ones Brits find most objectionable. Not content with hating internally, we seek out other Brits willing to join our besmirch-athon.

We talk about being British

I’m not a proud Brit. My nationality isn’t an achievement. But as an expat living in the U.S., I do find myself yakking in glowing terms about the homeland and its various quirks, especially in the company of other Anglos. It’s comforting to talk about all the stuff we grew up with.

We try to prove about how localized we’ve become

Expats aim to become experts on our new surroundings so we can claim to be proper locals. We hate to be mistaken for tourists. Our newly acquired knowledge of, say, neighborhood hipster cafes and cute shops that sell artisanal raw donkey milk cheese makes the biggest splash when displayed in front of other local but less well-acquainted Brits.

We compare notes on the Americans we’ve met

Expats start collecting stories about the locals from the moment we step off the plane. Every Brit living in the U.S. has tales banked about friendliest, craziest or loudest American they know. Of course, we exaggerate massively to impress our new British friends.

We compare immigration line stories

Many Americans might not realize it, but non-citizens have to join a separate queue (often so long it covers multiple time zones) every time they want to re-enter the U.S. Having spent half a day shuffling forward a few inches an hour, we’re met by a surly official who assumes we’ve turned up to steal jobs, spread agricultural diseases and ride the subway all day wearing an “I am a communist, or worse…” T-shirt.  Expats love to scare each other with tales from the immigration death march.

We ask each other “Where can I buy… insert-British-product-here?”

FYI, the answer is almost always Amazon. But this solution is mostly met with a disappointment-steeped “Oh.” That’s because the more convoluted the purchasing process, the more pride a Brit feels when he eventually unveils his exotic home buy to other Brits.

We swear a lot

Brits revel in our reputation as the world’s best potty mouths, but we only let rip in front of other Brits. Having spewed expletives for a bit, the conversation usually turns self-congratulatory: “Oh, how fabulously vile we all are!” But how sad that we feel the need to curb our filth in the company of Americans and, worse still, our own children. Alas, any kids growing up here will be expected to conduct themselves, verbally, like the locals.

We drink proper tea

Presenting a steaming pot of Yorkshire tea to British guests is like uncorking 150-year-old claret in front of Frasier and Niles. The gasps, groans and satisfied grunts that emanate from my flat when we get our brew on must have neighbors thinking we’re hosting an entirely different kind of party.

Join us Friday at 1 pm/et on Twitter for #MindTheChat, our weekly discussion of issues important to Brits in the U.S. This week’s topic: joining expat groups in America.

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • expatmum

    I would like to announce that my plane from the UK landed at 6.45pm last week (O’Hare) and I was through customs, immigration and baggage claim AND home in downtown Chicago by 7.30pm. Of course, I’ve now jinxed it for ever more!

  • bev

    Are there any expats in this group living in the Bay area, San Francisco. I`ve lived here 14 years an have yet to meet one!

    • gn

      Yes: I’ve met far more French and Germans than Brits in the Bay Area. No idea why.

      (For the record, when I do meet a Brit, I don’t think I do any of these things. Certainly any Brit in California complaining about the weather ought to be shot).

    • Kemal

      Hi Bev – Yep – east bay – 5 years now :)

    • Melissa

      There is an organization called ” Daughters of the British Empire” it’s a philanthropic organization started in 1904 in the U.S they have a chapter in the Bay area. ( sounds grand but they are a lovely group of ladies who are very welcoming). They meet monthly to organize charity events, have tea and a natter!

  • kathy

    Chevron Corporation has a lot around it’s headquarters

  • GetOverYourself

    If you’re complaining about the poor quality of American beer you have only yourself to blame. World class beers of every style can be found in all but the most remote places. Look past the Bud/Coors/Miller for once and you’ll find beer that’s even better than what you left behind.

    • AJ

      For sure! In the past decade or so microbreweries have achieved popularity not to mention have been making great tasting brews that remind drinkers nothing of Bud or Miller. Saint Arnold’s and Jester King here in Texas are becoming even more popular than Lone Star (fucking yuck). So if you keep to the mentality that all we have here are the Coors Lights and Miller Lights, then you aren’t looking down the whole beer aisle sweetheart. Get yourself to a Spec’s or HEB or Kroger.

      • Pammy

        There are loads of great micro-brew and craft beers in (my part of) the states. They are different from real ales from home though – they are trying a bit hard and taste wham bam hoppy and often come at 7% abv or more. They can be good, don’t get me wrong, but I do still have to turn to imports for anything like regular blighty bitter.

  • Efrem Zimbalist Jr

    Love America and Americans, but totally agree about the chocolate, and the swearing. But strangely, the swearing only refers to people of my generation (55+), because we all know the current generations are as foul-mouthed as we are. The first time I heard an american of my age say; “B*gger!” I was truly shocked. They were never like that on the TV. (Say hi to your sister for me.)

  • Best country USA

    America is better than Britain

    • larryflint

      Bigger, more versatile geographically speaking. But that’s to be expected from a continentual country!

      However as much as I am most certainly not a patriot of Britain, our country has it’s perks.

      Americans have based a whole lot more than I think many realise on Britain.

      Any country as small as the

      u.k. which manages to exert as much power as it does proves that we are exceptionally strong pound for pound so to speak.

      And our army, and especially the SAS is the best in the world.

      Saying that though, our weather sucks, it’s too small, we spend too much time dwelling on the past and generally, it’s pretty rough.

      If your in U.K. always remember, never make eye contact to a sttranger. You’ll probally get stabbed. lol

      • AJ

        I love the weather in Southwest England.

        And you are right about a small country having such militaristic and political prowess in the world stage. Thought GB is no longer a superpower I’ve always marveled at how such a small island was once the empire the sun never set on

    • CO2VA

      “America is better than Britain ” Well done, just the sort of comment I would expect from an American. That’s why the rest of the world loves you so much of course.

      • dorelei

        Ah, don’t let such comments get to you. He, or she, is just mouthing off. As an American, I’ve heard many Brits do the same, spouting off about the UK being better. Primates are silly, and tribal. It’s just the way it goes on this little planet.