How to make nice and be Friends with the British

I had an email from a reader expressing her frustration at being an American expat. I was thrilled and touched, of course, so I emailed her back. She had questions. She was also a bit confused about not having made any friends in the UK yet.

But she is from the Midwest like me, and, like me,  she Is So Friendly.

Brits, are you seeing the huge problem here?

I didn’t when I moved here. I was Super Fantastic and Friendly All Of The Time! Why didn’t they want to talk to me? Why did they seem to visibly shrink when I greeted them? Why didn’t they want a hug for Christ’s sake!

Now, clearly this girl isn’t as bad as I was. I was bad.

I would go on the dreaded school run and try and..ya know…talk to people. Introduce myself, ask them about their kids, ask about their lives, tell them about mine. This is how I had spent my entire life in the US interacting with other humans.

This is not how you interact as an American ‘Off the Boat’ and trying to make friends in the UK. Not if you want friends, that is.

Over several years of reading Expat blogs from both sides of the pond, experimenting with British-life-forms and talking to my husband and his circle of friends, I came up with the following fool-proof method of ‘cracking the ice’ in the UK.

Mind, this takes 6-8 months not minutes. (in the US it might not be even that many minutes!)

Here’s the tip:
The first six months of ‘knowing’ someone, The Weather is the only acceptable subject for you to talk about. 
Pro Tip: The Brits LURVE hearing about how awesome we (Americans) find the weather here. 
example: 
Scene: School Run/Bus Stop/Neighbours/delivery guy
“Wow, it is a bit rainy/sunny/cloudy/windy today! (smile)”
Then the brit grumbles or agrees
“sure was better/worse/same yesterday! Hope it is better/same tomorrow!” (smile)
Brit grumbles or agrees
 
 After you have known them for a bit,  add on the following;
 
“But, I  think the UK has the best weather in the world! I love it here! Really, I would never leave! “(grin)
They will then stare at you, trying to decide if an American is smart enough to be taking the piss. They might even raise an Eyebrow and say…Really?
Then you say
“yeah my mum has 3 feet of snow/tornadoes/hail/heatwave/mosquitoes/sharp shower of frogs!” (basic midwest suck-weather)
 
 
then just shrug and say, yeah, best weather in the world. (no exclamation. this is important.) (smile)
You may find that they even talk to YOU next time!
The thing is, the British ARE friendly. You won’t find better friends. They are extremely loyal, forgiving, funny and inclusive. Once you find yourself inside their bubble and under their wing, you will not be disappointed. You will feel included in ways that you never thought that you could.
Don’t give up if you are an Expat anywhere. Just keep trying, but get as much advice as you can. After 5 years here I have found my best-est friend evar and I am truly blessed.
As always, feel free to leave your experiences in the comments, or just to me. Ask me anything.  I get it, I really do.

New ways I am failing at parenting and being an expat

I will never get all of my laundry done. Never, ever, never ever ever. I have not yet adapted to doing laundry in the UK. Allow me to contrast the ways that laundry is done in the US vs the UK.

Let’s assume that you have two loads of laundry to do. I’ll stipulate that a washer-full is different in the US (bigger obviously) but let’s just set that aside.

USA:

9 am: put laundry in washer

9:45: Put laundry in dryer, wash a second load

10:30: take laundry from dryer, start second load drying, fold and put away clean dry clothes

11:15: fold and put away second load

DONE

UK

9am: put laundry in Euro-washer-dryer thingy

3pm: take hot wet laundry from the dryer and hang on the line. Put second load in the Euro-washer

9 am the next day: Observe that your laundry on the line has been lightly sprinkled on. It does not yet have slugs or spiders so decide to let it dry off a bit.

Noon: It rains. Your wet laundry is still on the line. Your second load is still wet in the Euro-washer-dryer.

4 pm: pray for better weather

9 am the next day. you decide that the clothes outside are ‘dry enough’ and bring them in. Lay them on the radiators to finish drying. Hang out second load.

10 am: it starts to sprinkle. The cats have lounged all over your clean laundry. The kids have knocked it to the floor. Pick up hairy, linty laundry and just fold the fucking shit.

5 pm: it sprinkles a little more.

9 am the next day. Your second laundry is mostly dry. Only has a few slugs. Bring in, hang on the banisters.

9 am the next day: fold crumpled fucking laundry and put it away.

DONE.

So the score is USA-3.5 hours, UK-5 days. USA-clean, dry, wrinkle-free clothes. UK-slightly damp, fuzzy wrinkled clothes.

What would your laundry situation be of you could only do two Euro-loads of laundry a week?

It is actually worse than this. The piles are bigger and I have not drawn the slugs.

OMFG YOU GUYS, I will never, ever get it all done. How is everyone else dealing with this?? Why can’t I figure it out? Seriously, if anyone knows please tell me!  I have piles and piles of laundry. Some of it I might just throw out. Euro-washers do not remove stains anyway so screw it. Just keeping my kids in clean clothes is a miracle. All of my clothes that are not ‘drying’ on the line are dirty. All of them. I put on a clean shirt today for the first time in 4 days. ‘Clean’ has a new meaning to me. If one of my shirts does not have gravy on it, it is now ‘clean’. I cannot go on like this. (help me)

I have said before that my kids swear like fucking champions. I have no idea where they get this from. But Little Stormbringer surpassed herself today. The White Rose was doing a truly cringe-worthy puppet show. The kind that is great if you are two, but was extremely sub-par for her. It had a dance routine and involved me watching a pipe-cleaner tell knock-knock-jokes. I love this stuff but apparently it makes older sister’s ears bleed.

I watched as my oldest started to twitch. A bead of sweat appeared on her temple. Then she saw my face and started to giggle. I giggled. Even The White Rose started to giggle at her foolishness. Then Little Stormbringer said “OMG fuck-the-hell-off with that shit!”

Then we all collapsed with laughter. I told you that we aren’t right. I was all ‘wow. that was a mouthful of swearing even for me! Tone it down a bit child! Jesus Christ!’

I set such a good example. But then later in the day one of her projects wasn’t going as planned and she said ” Awww STICKS!”

Are you kidding me? Of course we laughed about that too. I told you that I was failing at parenting!

You want to hear something worse? My kids are so gross. So very gross. This they do NOT get from me. One comes down and says that the other is reading a book on the toilet. I can only assume that the door is open. Yuck. Manboy and I eyeballed each other. “we did NOT need to know that, thanks.”

Then the other comes down, wearing only underpants, stretches, smiles and says “ahhhh…that let a lot of junk out of the trunk!”

OMFG SO GROSS. Are you kidding me? This is a little girl. Strutting in my living room in pants and talking about her bowel movement. No one that she has ever met reads on the toilet or brags about the product. Our living room explodes with cries of ‘ NO! Gross! No way! Ewwwww. Jesus! Please stop! Yuck!’ And them hysterical laughter at the absurdity of the whole thing. I cannot be the only one whose kids are disgusting. Right? Right?

How is your laundry today? Have your kids ever done anything that gross? Tell me all about it!

Defrost the Freezer Rooney!

Yep, it is that time again.  That time for me to Defrost the Freezer and yell the three words Come On England!

(yes, we had the refrigerator, but that is so different, ahem)

I try and just let the rules of football come to me by watching. I only ask questions if i am so completely fluxomed that it will ruin the game for me if i don’t know. This is working out for me pretty well as I can now tell the ‘shape’ of the teams.

Football fans will see this as not a ‘shape’ but as 2-4, 2-2. 4-6….ok, i dont know… but i see SHAPES OK? I can see the maths of the game and i can see why it is called (get this Americans!) The Beautiful Game.

I am willing to bet, however that Colleen Rooney is not defrosting her freezer today. I’ll be willing to bet that every house-maid in the UK is getting the laundry either in or out this morning as we either have SUN or RAIN…well mostly rain…

Me? well i will be cleaning up one bird and two mice (THANKS CATS), looking after my poorly family. That means they are sick…uh…in the UK term and in the US? uh..lets just say I WILL HAVE a lot of things to clean. ahem.

Rooney……defrost your freezer. The Germans are coming.

The ‘Special Relationship’ explained (no sub-titles required)

So I have been asked recently to explain the weird thing that British people do, when they put down Americans. I think I can help make some sense of this.

All of the stereotypes! “yea! WOO! nice monocle dude! ” (sigh)

Your average american on the street loves ‘The English’ with extra loves. They cannot understand why this is not enthusiastically reciprocated. Allow me to shed some light on this.

America, to the Brits, is like a 13-year-old daughter. Annoying, pompous, silly, and so totally convinced that they are cooler than everyone. (yes, i know we are, but still…) I am not sure if Americans are aware of this but let me tell you a little secret…they think that…they blame us for…they feel that it is America’s  FAULT that they no longer have an empire.

Yes, you may say, but we DID win those 2 wars for them! Uh, yeah we did, but they seem to take offense at this, and we DID kinda make them give up the odd country or so…and pay us for the privilege of saving their dumb asses from Germany TWICE, but…DO NOT SAY ANY OF THE ABOVE TO ANYONE IN THE UK EVER.

Manboy would like to point out that he agrees with Al Murray, Britain is the undefeated WW champions, because if you are not in it from the start, you’re not in it at all. (what-ever)

Also, America likes to make fun of the ‘English’ whenever possible as well. No, we do. Let me give you an example from the ever-loving-hell that is the Disney Channel. Said about the one Brit kid in the ‘american-high-school-laugh-track-show’ : “Cricket? wicket? let’s tell him where to stick it!” Um…..

Also, isn’t it just great to have every villain ever be British? Yeah, we do that too.

So it isn’t fair to think that the Brits are all hating on the US. Americans do it right back. I think that it is best to think of the two countries like siblings. The UK is the sensible older brother, the US is the annoying little sister. We love each other, but we show it by punching and tickling and the-pulling-of-the-pigtails.

THAT is our special relationship.

Mice in my Ukulele, Americans are (not) stupid, JUBILEE!!!!!!

These three things have something in common, I promise.

You know how cats think that a Closed Door is the entrance to Narnia? Well Manboy and I thought it was adorable that Sharp kitty thought that Narnia was inside a ukulele. For a half an hour. Then I went to get another Jubilee Beer and saw her face. “WHAT is IN there?” I said, shaking it. meeeeeee said a little mouse.  The mouse was let go safely away from the doom cats. Hopefully Camalot the mousie will be as lucky as the horse that I failed to bet on today.

Yeah, also I cannot figure out what side I am on, being Mid-Atlantic and everything. I am both American and British.

I cannot rembemer the words to God Save The Queen, because it is so mixed up in my head. In America, I know that i knew the  American words to this song. Here, I sing a mixture that i mumble to the tune of ‘England the Star-Spangled-Save Our Glorious Queen’. I know that none of this is right. I still sing it better than Wayne Rooney.

Here is where I get REALLY conflicted though. The Brits do not seem to be able to enjoy any major event without putting Americans down in some small way. I know that this is hurtful and inexplicible to my friends in the US who would no more do this than burn our own flag while wearing it. But it is SO TEMPTING.

I saw a video of an American asking “Why did they build Windsor Castle so close to Heath-row Airport?” And I wanted to cry. Take a minute.

THE JUBILEE IS SO AWESOME ALREADY THAT I HAVE BEEN SNIFFY ALL DAY. Every time I see the Queen i start tearing up and whimpering the only words that I know to her song. I feel so very lucky to be here for this you guys. And this is only the first day. Everyone here has turned friendly and happy and there are flags out and everything! It is AMAZING!

I think everyone is enjoying this weekend and celebrating. I hope you are too.  God Save our Glorious Queen! 

This is Ridiculous Now, England! (with love)

You guys, I have a bit of bitching to do. I am annoyed with the UK today for a few reasons.  I am not even sure where to start, no, actually, I have a pretty good idea. This is me right now:

Yeah, this sucks. Observe all this glory right here.

I am not  even sure if they sell fly-swatters here. I think the bugs are just coming in to escape the heat. It is rapidly cooling off, thank the gods, but it has been proper Michigan Hot here for 2 days. (I cannot even have ICE, hence this post) I did NOT come to England to be hot, people. I came for the clouds. I want them back.

And the other problem is that we have been here for 3 summers now. We are losing our mid-western glow and becoming translucent like the rest of the pasty Brits. This is fine, except now we burn if a sunbeam touches our pale, fragile skin. I can remember laughing at the teachers saying that my kids would need sun-cream for 15 minutes on the playground. In the spring shade.  “No, I swear that they do NOT! Promise!” OK, we do now. Dammit.

Due to this terrific weather, I figured that today would be a good day to defrost the freezer. That’s correct, you heard me right. Defrost.The.Freezer. In 2012, in England, people still do this. I swear that I am not making this up. The last person in my family to have to defrost a freezer was my great-grandmother. In the 1950’s. I certainly have no memory of anyone doing such a thing in my childhood. It isn’t a chore that I particularly dislike, I just find it backwards and surreal. I realize the irony in not having any ice, but a freezer full at the same time. I try to wear heals, rollers, and an apron while de-frosting. It helps me deal.

Upon reflection, though, I have a number of things that are making me thrilled that I live here. This afternoon I took The White Rose to the doctor. They were great, and of course it was free. Then they gave us 7 hundred prescriptions and those were free as well. I cannot express how awesome this is. I would not have been able to afford even one of those scripts. I had the most awesome health ins in america (i mean that) and it never touched the care that i receive in the UK.

I have to say it. I am so freaking thrilled about the Diamond Jubilee. OMG YOU GUYS! SO COOL! ( I promise more to follow on this!)

It not only evens out, it makes me feel bad about bitching. I love it here, I cannot wait until I get my shiny UK passport. Thanks for being my punching bag, England. I love you far too much. Now give me my clouds back.

Life in the UK is not always Awesome

Ice cubes are delicious

When was the last time that you went a week without using a single ice-cube? I have been here for so long that I cannot honestly remember. Please let me know.

I am pretty sure that I remember using them all the time. Possibly even daily.  Store bought 2 liter? Ice-cubes. Water after housework? Ice-cubes. Soup too hot for kid? Ice-cube. Offer anyone a drink? Ice-cubes for sure.

There is something magical about slowly pouring a freshly opened soda onto ice cubes in the summer. You simply cannot have iced tea without them. Then there are ice packs, filling coolers, rubbing on a burn, or heck, your forehead and boobs in August. Ice-cubes are such  lovely fantastic things.

Except we do not have any. Ice-cubes here are a luxury. Usually reserved for gin and tonic or maybe Pimms. (I adore Pimms.) And then only store-bought ice-cubes are used.

I think that there are two reasons for this. Everyone drinks everything warm here. I am used to it and I don’t really mind any more. Warm beer? Yeah, that’s fine. The second reason ties into this. You can no more put a case of beer or soda in your Euro-fridge than you can make room for ice cubes in your Euro-freezer.

I found an actual ice-cube tray in a pound shop once. It made a dozen teeny-tiny ice-cubes. I was THRILLED. I brought it home and made ice! Then I cracked all 12 tiny cubes into a glass of cold water. Then I had 4 sips, and the ice was all gone and I cried.

The very first purchase I make after collecting my lottery winnings will be an American fridge freezer. I mean that with every yearning fiber of my being y’all. Here is the best example of why American appliances will beat the euro-crap that we have here. I could not have said it better. Not without swearing.

 

I give up England, you win! Uncle! Uncle!

I wrote this post a while back and included a paragraph about the total lack of weather here. This was a huge mistake.

I should know this by now. It only snows once every thirty years or so in the South West, but because I kept saying that, there has been more snow here than in the 50 years previous. I reversed that trend this year, and it did not snow.

Yep, I really do control the weather in the UK. I guess this is my superpower. Sorry England!

This is great until I get all asshole about it and start laughing at the UK’s lack of weather. Then the gods punish me and everyone else who has the misfortune to live here. It has gotten so bad that the other mums on the school run automatically blame me when weather happens. I was met today TWICE with the greeting: “this is your fault, isn’t it”. Scowling abounds.

So, since that post we have much weather. It hailed. Frogs fell from the sky. We are having a week of steady rainstorms.

I have been asked (not too politely) to please recant. OK OK There Is Weather Here!! Dammit.

Mice! Half-dead mice again! (New Zealand)

I should really title this something expat related, except Sharp Kitty is throwing a mouse around my living room and it is gross.

I can not understand the new zeeland accent. at all.  I am not even sure if that is how you spell new zeeland. I am pretty sure that it is off of Australia somehow.

Do not judge me. I used to think that Hawaii was next to California. Then I moved to the UK with the handy BBC and maps. I live on a small island off of Europe now and I can find FINLAND on the map. (no that isn’t where the cheese comes from. sigh. that is Wisconsin) I can find fucking Poland and Austria and even Turkey.

But the New Zealanders? (OK  I looked  it up) I cannot understand them at all. I know three things about New Zealand.

  • They have something to do with LOTR
  • Stephen Fry likes it there
  • Their rugby team is AWESOME (no, go look here if you don’t know.)

I cannot understand the talk that they do. nope. They use vowels in such a novel way.

Masterchef New Zealand, i wish that i could love you.

I have to get manboy to translate everything that they say. I am not sure who is more annoyed by this. Probably everyone in New Zealand, but from what I hear, they do not have the internet, so it should not matter.

I’m one of ‘those immigrants’

I am. I emigrated to the UK. I am here to ‘take your jobs’ and ‘ruin your culture’.

I get where this aversion is coming from. I do. It isn’t cool when you feel like you are being diluted and that places are being taken up and your kids don’t get the same benefits. I’m sorry.

Even though, as a U.S. citizen, I get no benefits here. (it’s stamped on my passport y’all) I still feel the sting when I hear this said in front of me.

It feels really yucky when I hear people chatting about ‘those immigrants’ and then they see my face, and then say…”oh, well not you…”

Is it because that I am white? Or not Polish? Or..(i don’t even know how to be an intolerant asshole, loss for words)

Or is it because I am an American and ‘that’s OK then’?

I am from Detroit. South-eastern Michigan boasts the  highest population of people from the middle-east, other than the middle-east. (33% y’all) I grew up with friends from Israel and Iraq. I grew up with friends that spoke Spanish or French as a first language. We all got along. But I never once thought; get out of my country you asshole.

My school bus was shot at by an Iraqi. His sister was one of my best friends.  I used to have a Jewish boyfriend. I taught my kids Spanish so that we could talk to our neighbors from Mexico, and our kids could play together. I never once thought, get out of my country, you asshole.

I lived through 9/11. And believe me, in Detroit, on 9/12, it was a whole new day when we all had to come out of our houses and face each other. The whites, the blacks, the Americans, the Iranians, the Iraqi’s, the Israelite’s , the shop keepers, the people on the street. We looked at each other with suspicion and dread. Then we remembered that we were friends before, and were still friends, the same people. I will never forget the look on the face of my local shop-keeper that day. He had an American flag in his window and he was afraid. But, no harm came to him and we just got on with it. (OK, Michigan is not Alabama, but still…)

You guys, it hurts my feelings when you say those nasty things about immigrants. Change your laws, restrict your building, do what you need to do. Just don’t hate us all. We are here for a better life. And we mean you no harm.

At least that’s what it felt like from the other side. Now I know both sides. I hope it is OK to call the UK my country. I hope it doesn’t offend you.