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.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis