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Oh no, I’m that bitchy American: Fresh off the boat syndrome

Posted on July 6, 2010 by yankeebean


When I first moved to the UK back in 2004, I was living in York – aka, beautiful tourist-central.  I waitressed and worked retail until I knew what was going on with the visa situation.  Because York is so touristy, I met a LOT of Americans, which I thought was entirely fantastic.  At the first hint of someone’s twang, I would launch in the standard enthusiastic schpeal, ‘HELLOyoumustbeAmerican-METOO-whereareyoufrom-Whatbroughtyouoverhere-Howlongwillyoustay-Doyoulikeithere’ palaver that we’ve all been through.

I remember a few times, when I’d begin my standard interview, the American person I was talking to would heave a big sigh.  And they’d reluctantly answers my questions with the same enthusiasm that they must reserve for emptying their bins.   ‘Oh, well I’ve been here for 35 years now’ or ‘This is my home now’, or ‘I don’t really feel very American any more’.

I also remember MY reaction at the time.  It was always something along the lines of ‘Man, what a jag-hole.  I was just trying to be nice.  Sorry if talking to me was like getting your teeth cleaned…”  (This was all inner monologue, I’m too chicken-shizzle to say any of that out loud)

But OOOHHHHHH how the tables have turned.  The other day I was grabbing a coffee and, sure enough, there was an extremely enthusiastic American barista behind the counter.  At the first hint of my hard-R’s, she launched into that oh-so-familiar speech that I gave so many times when I was fresh off the boat.

And my DEFAULT REACTION was to heave a huge sigh.  It was like I had an out of body experience and I watch myself do it.  I couldn’t control it.  I was already half way through the sigh before I even realised what was happening.

I HAD BECOME THAT BITCHY AMERICAN.  GAH! The one who doesn’t want to talk about how long she’s been here, or how she got here, or if she likes it here.  The one who doesn’t instantly become uber-friends with Americans just because they’re American.  The one who doesn’t think England is worse that America, or that America is worse that England.

My out-of-body-yankeebean lowered her head in shame, hovering above me, pointing and judging.  It’s not barista lady’s fault that she just got here (she’s been here for 6 months, I learned).  I tried to U-turn out of bitch-ville and be enthusiastic with the barista – but I knew the damage was done.  I saw the surprise that crossed her face when I heaved my stupid sigh – I know all too well what her inner monologue was.

Has any one else run into this?  I kinda felt like I kicked a puppy, I think it’s something I have to work on…

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What Others Are Saying

  1. yankeebean July 14, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I’m trying to fight it! My horror was that my response was so automatic…

    Sensible Yankeebean is standing in front of Bitchy Yankeebean like Gandalf in the belly of the mountain – “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

  2. dyana July 12, 2010 at 8:20 am

    i wouldn’t worry too hard about an awkwardness after so long. i think it all comes down to who we are and who we’re with. i was forever awkward at work dos back in boston, even though i had worked at the same place for 8 years. here though, probably cause i’m now in IT, i fit in like a bug in a rug (imo of course). never afraid to be myself thougn. take friday when i loudly proclaimed my own awesomeness after finding a solution.

    i’ve never had someone question me like i was a tourist though, maybe helps that where i live, i think there may be all of one other american (and no tourists!)

  3. sunflowery July 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    This explains why I was quite so snubbed upon enthusiastically encountering a fellow-American at a political event during my last visit to England. Although I wasn’t loud, obnoxious, wearing the wrong thing, or otherwise betraying myself – I apparently made the mistake of showing interest in where they were originally from, what brought them there, etc. I should have known that fellow ‘countrymen (and women)’ don’t necessarily wish to bond over such a generic tie. Perhaps I am naive and obviously new at this, but I don’t have to like it! (yet).

    • peacefulyorkshire July 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm

      I had that experience this weekend when I ran into a lady that has been here in the UK for 35 years. I knew she was American (it was that weird Mid Atlantic Madonna thing going on but after almost 40 years I can guess that she was having an identity accent crisis). I introduced myself (very American thing to do as I usually always do this first)and she asked where I was from. She told me that she too was American and could guess by the way I offered a handshake to her.

      But it was funny after this realisation of both being expats… neither of us offered up any other information. No talk of how we wound up in this small Island. No talk of what state we were born in — of course I was dying to know but thought I would just leave it. Esp after reading this post, yankeebean!
      The sad thing is surrounded by all her UK co-workers, and even after being here since 1970′s she was awkward around her fellow Brits. It left me feeling unsettled. Like a foreshadow of my future self 34 years later. (Enter screeching violins….)

  4. alisha July 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

    I know the feeling and love Michelle’s comment! It took me 4 years to become acclimated and stop using exclamation marks in my speech. But now that I’m back in the US the whole English/ subtly thing doesn’t go as far. I feel like you kind of have to be excited quite a bit here.

    What I’m still not used to yet is baristas asking me what I’m doing today. It’s hard to know how to answer. At first I was like, “Clearly I’m getting a coffee” and gave an awkward glance. But once I warmed back up to my old American self I could get into the borderline inane small talk again. Soon we were best friends, for that moment at least.

  5. GingerGirl July 9, 2010 at 12:39 am

    I think I have caught myself half way between these two stages: I have almost finished my academic course here and am working to transition hopefully becoming a more permanent resident. The question I hate asked of me more than anything is “how long are you visiting/here on holiday,” because I think that it somehow implies that I am doing a terrible job of the daily issue of doing my best to assimilate, control my volume and blend in. I know that it probably has nothing to do with that at all, but I guess I am still just a little sensitive to it because I want to belong here. I think what I am really still trying to work out is how I can retain my American pride and all the good stuff you learn when you are in elementary school (I mean in both attitude, outlook and that smidge of patriotism we all felt during the World Cup national anthem moments) and how to just blend in and be subtle. But I mean, at least being aware of it is a step in the right direction, right?

  6. Expat Mum July 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Being the Brit in America, I’ve never experienced this although it can be quite tiring having to explain your presence in a country when you’ve been here for 20 years. What I often get are the newbie Brits who seem to be here under sufference. They’re still in the phase that if there’s a clash of any kind (say in language or culture) then the British way obviously has to be the right way. I confess to avoiding this type like the plague.

  7. katieseattle July 6, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    @ Kristin and thechubbygrl: If we go anywhere that has a choice of language (the Beatle’s museum in Liverpool comes immediately to mind) my darling thinks it is SOOOOO cute and HILARIOUS to ask if American is a language choice. He also points out anything even vaguely americana. It’s be irritating if he weren’t so damn cute!

  8. thechubbygrl July 6, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Kristin: My husband does that all the time when we run into something/someone American! I’m still very much a newbie and get excited even if they’re canadian. Finally someone I can understand! Or so I think to myself. hahaha

    Just the other day Hubby and I went to go see an (American) football game on the 4th of July and while there we met 3 American girls. Luckily they’re newbies as well and tha resulted in my high pitched talking and squealing over where we’re from, what we’re doing here, how we like it, what we miss, etc… Hubby and my friend just sat there sniggering behind their hands and trying not to look too embarresed at all the stares.

    I have met the “snobby” Americans as I work is retail as well. I can’t stand them. All I want to do is chat to a fellow expat and all they want to do is run away as quickly as possible. I’m glad to know this is a syndrome that may happen to me one day. So I will watch out for that.

  9. Dreamer…unrealistic?…do i care? July 6, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Haha! Great post!

    Wanted to update you…looks like ill be one of THOSE americans soon! Me and my Brit have tied the knot, kissed my spousal visa package (and now we’re broke by the way), and put it in the mail. Now….I wait!!

  10. Jocelyn July 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I love Michelle’s comment. It is ALL about subtlety and once you have learned that you’ll do anything not to go back to being ‘the American’, including avoiding other Americans like the plague (internet doesn’t count, I guess). I moved to York in 2004 as well (!) and I used to get stopped for directions all the time by Americans which lead to the usual questions and conversation. Having been here for 6 years now, I don’t get recognised as an American hardly ever. I do get asked more often than not if I am Scottish (by English people). I don’t know where that comes from. I must have some mixed not American not English accent that defaults to Scottish somehow.
    On another note, my in-laws love to point out other Americans to me as if I am going to run over and hug them like long lost cousins.

  11. just jackie July 6, 2010 at 9:21 am

    i love reading all the comments…and i keep wondering if the difference for me is my age, my rural-but-techno florida roots [2 generations of working at kennedy space center, side by side with racoons, rednecks and rattlers] or my Aspie-self. Many of my business friends from home would be similar in thoughts to most of you who post so alas, it might be Aspie-me! I also live in a town, though close to London, where I have never spoken to nor heard another American in my 8 years here! I get just as bored with that question as anyone else when it comes to ‘how long have you been here’…or we went to see CS&N at Royal Albert Hall and a sweet 60′ish british lady asking my husband how long i would be visiting….

    I agree, though, 8 years later i’ve had to ‘close shop’ to some of my southern hospitality…because it seemed to sometimes bring out british hostility and i am afraid, mostly from the women I’ve met…i am just happy i had the many years of central florida layed back surfer southern atmosphere becuase it seems to be something from the 60′s and 70′s that i lucked into…but if i hear an american voice, i will always try to say hi…but they may run from me, too!!! hahahaha…thanks for the smiles, all of you great and funny people!

  12. Kristin July 6, 2010 at 8:58 am

    My tea just came out my nose. Yep, that’s me, too. I run a mile when I hear our accents. (And then must listen to my husband & friends laugh and point and say “Hahaha! They’re YOURS!” and proceed to speak in American accents for the next ten minutes.)

    Maybe if we weren’t so garish. I think it’s great that Americans are traveling – hurrah! – but perhaps a ‘How To Act In Other Countries’ course should be required before handing out passports. This could include myriad social mores: don’t call a Scotsman English, don’t get Slovenia and Slovakia mixed up, watch the vox decibel levels, stop wearing shorts and socks and sandals, don’t use the term USSR anymore, don’t speak Spanish in Brazil or Portugal, etc.

  13. Michelle July 6, 2010 at 7:27 am

    This was a fun post to chuckle over while sipping the first green tea of the day!

    Yes, Ive been here too. I refer more to it as Snob American because I think The Big Sigh is less about being mean and more about an attempt to distance ourselves from the newbies. Newbie American Expats often gush too much, too loudly and sometimes quite inappropriately. Us long term expats have learned that in order to have an easy life in the UK, an American must practice Subtlety. Being confronted by all the things we have tried to wean ourselves away from is a) a reminder of what we once were, and b) a red flag to all those Brits around us–”oh look! I’m actually one of these, I was just foolin’ ya with the subtle behaviour thing.” It blows our cover. ;)

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