Thanksgiving in England: How to not to die of homesickness

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  This time of year, we always get a LOT of emails from fellow expats that are trying to distract themselves from HHH (Heinous Holiday Homesickness).  I hold my arms open wide and give you all big, non-creepy hugs…

Because so many of your are hurtin’, I thought I’d write down my personal and extra-special check-list that I’ve developed to to kick HHH’s arse.

1 – PARTY!

We’re American and we are used to celebrating this day – don’t stop now just because of the tiny, insignificant fact that you don’t ACTUALLY LIVE THERE ANY MORE   Invite people over – heck, invite PERSON over and channel your inner pilgrim.  Drink ’til you’re merry then eat ’til you’re comatose.

Don’t worry about everyone being American, Brits go MENTAL of Thanksgiving.  There have been years that friends that live on the other side of the UK call me up 6 MONTHS IN ADVANCE to ‘reserve’ their seats at Thanksgiving.  Once a friend even flew over from Spain just to be part of our Thanks-mania.

2 – Take the day off

It took me two years to realise that the single thing that pissed me off the most about missing American Thanksgiving was not getting any time off.  From the minute my alarm clock would go off on Thanksgiving morning, I felt like I wanted to throw things and burst into tears.

But the third year in, I took Thanksgiving day off from work and spent the whole day prepping for party-central and watching the original Miracle on 34th Street on constant loop.  BLOODY HELL, it made me feel SOOOOO much better.

Can’t recommend it highly enough.

3 – Do something REALLY American

I’ll give you three guesses about what I do on Thanksgiving Day every year (and have done since my first expat Thanksgiving all the way back in 2005).

Give up?

I GO TO STARBUCKS.

I swear I’m not paid to constantly talk about Starbucks – I don’t even go there all that often.  I just write about it on here a lot because it’s my go-to-screw-you-HHH solution.

Anyway – this is pretty much the first thing I do every Thanksgiving.  I take myself out for a giant eggnog latte and an enormous pastry.  I bring a book and I just sit, read, and soak in all that glorious caffeine and sugar.  I soak it up and I wear it like a sweater / armour all day long. HHH can’t touch me when I’ve got my American buzz on.

4 – Don’t try to EXACTLY duplicate your childhood Thanksgiving

This is another thing I tried to do for the first two years and I can hold my head up high and tell you that it TANKED.  BIG TIME.

Duplicating my American Thanksgiving caused all KINDS of trouble.  For example:

  • Trying to find certain ingredients was a nightmare (Canned pumpkin, fried onions, the right kind of stuffing mix)
  • Asking everyone around the table to say one thing they’re thankful for went down  like a lead balloon.  On the whole, everyone was TOTALLY embarrassed about it.  We didn’t even get all the way around the table.  The Brits staged a kind of silent revolt and gave up half-way through.  For an English twist, why not ask everyone to make a comment about the weather instead?  (Kidding kidding… that was kinda mean, sorry. Clearly I’m still bitter.)
  • Some of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes gave my English guest the heebies.  They’re weren’t a big fan of green bean casserole.  They were sceptical about candied yams and they were surprised (although not horrified) about the stuffing because it was so different to what they’re used to.
  • It’s worth noting that I’m a vegetarian and we also had quorn roast instead of turkey.  You’ll be SHOCKED to know that it didn’t go down that well. :)

5 – Talk to your family

This is both the absolute best and the super-most-difficult part every year – but it’s an absolute essential.  I always want to have a little tear-session after I talk to my fam, but I also know that I’d feel like a big ol’ pile of shite if I didn’t catch up with them.

———-

And that’s it!  I do these 5 things every year and really REALLY helps.

Does anyone have any tips or traditions that you’ve started since you’ve been an expat?  There’s freakin’ LOADS of room on my list for more traditions, so bring it on.

Here to stay: When you realise you’re not moving back to America. Ever.

There was a time in my life when I thought I’d move back to America one day. It affected me in little ways, for example, I only bought cheap IKEA temporary-seeming stuff and I never bought any region 2 DVDs…

There was always this belief in the back of my mind that one day I’d buy a one-way plane ticket and head home for good.

But being happy here kinda crept on me when I wasn’t looking.  I met my dude here, I got married here, this weekend I bought a dog here.  These are root-making things and my roots keep digging further and further down while I’m getting on with the admin of every day life.

I can almost pin-point the time when I realised that I might actually live in England forever.  It happened after living here for 3 or 4 years.  It wasn’t a single instant of realisation – it was more like I was on the beach of Blissful Ignorance and gradually growing waves of Realisation started rolling towards me.  I didn’t notice anything, but all of a sudden I seemed to be neck deep in the stuff.

Hand on heart (and at half mast) – I MOURNED for my country.  Oooooohhhhhh, did I cry.

I know I know I know, it sounds ridiculous and overly dramatic, right?  I’m sure you’re SHOCKED to hear that I’ve ever done ANYTHING OVER DRAMATIC, RIGHT?  (If I wasn’t typing, I’d be flailing my hands around right now)

And it’s not like I never cry – oh no – I LOVE to cry!  Crying is awesome!  Movies, TV commercials, old episodes of Extreme Makeover Home Edition – just hand me anything and I’ll cry on it.  But this particular crying episode was more of an extended edition, special-2-disc-set-with-commentary sort of situation.  It was epic Gandalf-you-shall-not-pass kind of emotion.

I wasn’t even miserable living in the UK at the time – I was happy!  What in the flippin’ heck sense does that make??  I was already playing for the UK team a lot of time and the terms ‘we’ and ‘us’ were creeping into conversation when I talked about English people.

But the realisation that I might never live a 20 minute drive from my Mom and Dad again was too much to handle.  Back then, the mere thought would send me fleeing from the room in search of tissues and Joni Mitchell songs.

I guess whenever you’re busy embracing something new, you’re also busy letting something go.

When I visit home-number-1 (America) now, it’s a really common question that people ask.  ”Do you think you’ll ever move back to America?”.  I always answer, “Who knows?  Only time will tell,” because I can’t know for sure that I’ll never move back.  I gotta confess – I LOVE that fact.  I guess there’s still a small part of me basking on that beach and ignoring the waves.

Are there any other lifers out there that know what I mean?

How to combat homesickness in 5 simple steps

Unless you’re one of those lesser-known robot-expats, you battle with home sickness just like the rest of us.  Here are the 5 simple steps that will help to ease your homesickness (well, they help me, anyway…)

1 – Cry

The first step to curing your homesickness is to let it ALLLLLLL hang out.  Cry.

And don’t just cry, UGLY cry.  Homesickness ain’t pretty and your homesickness doesn’t have to be either.  Line up the tissues and let ‘er rip.  Formally invite yourself to your own pity party and gush until you start to feel better.  You will feel better, I promise.

2 – Call home

A lot of the time my homesickness is triggered when I haven’t talked to my family recently enough.  Picking up the phone or, better yet, hopping on Skype is a quick and easy way to lighten the emotional load.

Sometimes the time difference would mean waking your Mom and Dad up in the middle of the night and scaring them because middle-of-the-night calls are rarely good news.  If it’s too late/early in the States when you’re homesickin’, write them a big ‘ol email instead and suggest a chat time later on.

3 – Eat lunch at Subway and then have coffee at Starbucks

Sometimes I just want to be back in America – even half an hour would do.  I feel like I need to be temporarily surrounded by loud-talkers and positive attitudes and then I can get on with my UK plans.  On those days I take myself out for lunch at Subway and coffee at Starbucks.

I can attest that both of these places are similar enough that it’s almost like being transported back to the States for my lunch hour.  I consider Starbucks a kind of American-Embassy-with-coffee.  I always play spot-the-Americans and try to count how many other expats or tourists have come to take refuge.

4 – Hang out with other expats

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hang out with locals, far from it!  But it’s SO INSANELY useful to be able to have a guilt-free bitch session with a fellow expat when homesickness comes a-knockin’.  Venting to a local is dangerous – you’ll almost certainly offend them (at least if you’re doing your bitching right).  But venting to a fellow expat is luxurious – is verbal vicks vapor rub – its pure relief.

5 – Write about it

Since 2008, I have come back and back and back to this blog as a way to combat my homesickness.  Can you guess why I’m writing this post?  I’ll give you a hint – I just got back from Subway and Starbucks.  I’m beginning to think that I’ll never stop blogging because I’m not sure what I’d do without it.

Blogging about the differences between the US and the UK, and the hi jinx of moving from America to England is the bomb-diggity because it adds perspective.  It helps me to see the funny side of the, shall we say, ‘colo(u)rful’ experiences that arise when you move to another country.  It also gives me the glorious relief of proving that I’m not alone.  Every time one of our lovely commenters commiserates, it soothes my mind.

I am not the only expat.  I am not the only homesick American.  You’re all here with me and you’re all living it, too.  Go us!

If you have any tips about combating home-sickness, please please please let me know.  I’m always looking for new ways to beat this sucker…

Before you start flinging mince pies: Surviving Christmas in the UK , a reminder

peacefulyorkshire

peacefulyorkshire

Sometimes I just want to bang my American head against my rented Victorian terrace house wall and fling all my Mr. Kipling mince pies at my window in my frustration with my airport delays. The pie box says they are ‘exceedingly merry’–I am so not feeling that way now as I am missing my holidays with my family. I am raising my hand and admitting that now I am having a very ungraceful moment as I am stranded in the UK as my flight getting home to America three days ago was cancelled. Long story short  I am still trying to get on a flight home. For those of you stranded in the UK with the current weather conditions of snow and cancelled flights (like me), this advice from our archives will keep you informed about the possibilities of spending Christmas in the UK– or some observations about a British Christmas.

As you readers know, Christmas in Britain brings on its own wacky traditions… no one tells you these things as an American in Britain that you might encounter:

The Grotto: No, not a ghetto, not Santa’s grotty. But a GRAW-DO…Yeah, I was confused at first, too. Yes, here in Britain Santa  lives in a cave called a grotto. Not a cottage! Not a cabin! Not a wonderland!Yes, grotto sounds like a dirty word but really, it is a place meant for little children to visit Santa. Don’t ask.

Christmas crackers: Under no circumstances should you win the Christmas cracker if you are pulling it with your well-meaning British Sister-in -law, her kids, or your mother-in-law. Trust me. Monitor your pulling effort and just let them ‘win’ the cracker. Do you really want cheapo nail clippers anyway? And don’t be fooled by the “Marks and Spencer Luxury Crackers” either, they have nail clippers in them, too. I would  like to add however that I have started a very nice collection of wire silver egg cups from Christmas cracker winnings.

The Christmas Hat– You might pull your Christmas Cracker too hard (to not win requires lots of practice) and you may need to put on the flimsy colored paper-hat inside. Depending on the British family you are with will dictate if you are required to do so. You need to be aware that yes, you will look ridiculous in a bright-orange-tissue-paper-crown. But if everyone else puts it on and you don’t you will look like a big stick in the mud and that is definitely a social no-no.

Style your hair so that it would look good with a bright-orange-tissue-paper-crown on top. Maybe you could plan ahead to coordinate your Christmas day outfit so that it would match these common Christmas hat colors: Red, Bright green, dark purple, bright yellow, bright orange, and dark blue or black. Pray that you get the black hat if you do pull too hard and win the Christmas cracker– it looks more suave then the other colors.

The Queen’s Speech: You should be prepared to watch the Queen’s Speech, regardless of what you think of the Royal Family. My soon to be mother-in-law has tons of collectible “Royal Plates” on her wall so I know it is going to be a given. Although some British families (probably not many) do not watch the Royal Christmas message, but just be prepared to stop your Christmas dinner to watch.

Or, your Christmas dinner will revolve around the Queen’s speech timed to absolute perfection when the teas and coffees are served (oh those Brits are so organised!!). Practice some lines beforehand saying nice things about the Queen even though her speech might seem fake, over-rehearsed and out of touch with reality. Easy for her to say: “I hope all the hungry children in the world get food to eat this Christmas”– she lives in a castle for heaven’s sake! Your British family will probably also agree she shouldn’t say such things since she is swimming in money but have learned to keep their traps shut in this matter.

Boxing Day: Just when you thought Christmas was over comes along Boxing day. You’ve gotta think positive: you have made it this far and at least you are not at work like a lot of American employees back home! Yet, it is another day where everyone sits around in a food coma and eats lots of left-over beef and mincers while watching football matches you probably don’t give a hoot about. Around this point you might have had a few scuffles with your British partner and their family, probably unintentionally and probably about topics like their mother-in-law offending you, and what time you are going to leave.

A lot of British families like to take walks in the country on this day– you could fake a headache or indigestion if the thought of that is not appealing. At that point Christmas is about over anyway. And you will have made it through. Score!

Thanks for reading and Happy Christ– I mean, Merry Christmas! And fingers crossed to get myself home for Christmas….or lord help the mincers and my windows.

Moving back to America after living in England (a little advice)

yahooavatar15Tell our readers a little bit about yourself:

I think I’ll call myself BigApplePie :)

How long did you live in England and what brought you to the UK in the first place ?

I lived in North East England for approximately 4 and 1/2 years.  I moved for love and married a ‘Geordie’.  Unfortunately, our marriage did not work out and we were divorced 2 1/2 years after I had arrived in this strange country that I came to love.

What were the reasons you decided to move back to America?

This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.  Being a musician, I worked very diligently to create a name and work for myself to support living on my own.  However, I was thousands of miles away from my own family and felt a little lonely.  In the Spring of 2008 I was offered a job that was located near where I grew up in America and I battled over making a decision to move or not.  On one hand I would be working in a similar field, but on the other hand it was back to working 5 days a week.  Saying ‘yes’ would meant that I was going to leave a career that I had built to return to my family and have a wonderful support system and spend holidays with them. Saying ‘no’ meant I would continue my career but would spend birthdays and special holidays away from my family.  Also, during my decision making time, an intruder broke into my cottage and I had to turn to local friends for help.  It made me a little scared to come home late at night when I was all alone.

I truly battled over this decision and with the economic downturn, I decided that if I ever wanted to try and move back to the states that this was the time to try.  Moving with a job, was a better segue than just moving blindly back without the promise of work.

So after 6 months, I said ‘yes’.

How long did the process take to move back ‘home’?

Moving back was very straight forward. I decided to move in August and by October I was living and working in the US.  My personal items arrived a bit later.  I used Pickfords, the most amazing moving company in the UK, their US equivalent is called Allied.  I arranged for sea freight and they packed up everything and started the move one month before I actually left the UK.  I also went through the paperwork of moving with my large breed dog.  This has been made very easy through a programme called PETS.  However, it requires rabies injections and clearances 6 months prior to moving, so be prepared.

Now that you have moved back what do you miss about the UK, if anything?

The grass is always greener.  I never thought that moving back to the USA would feel like moving to a new country, but I was learning things that I had forgotten and it wasn’t as easy as I thought.  I actually hadn’t lived in the US for over 5 years because of my transition. Very quickly after moving, I started regretting leaving the UK.  Even though my parents had been so helpful with arrangements, I just missed the independence I had created in the UK.  The move did end up costing a lot more than expected and with the economy down the tubes, the exchange rate was NO longer in my favour… bummer.

I love that the UK has such wonderful customs and traditions.  It always amazed me to arrive at a gig and find that I was performing in one of the oldest castles or an incredible stately home.  The society is very ‘real’ and this reality is very touching.  Meeting new people, whether rich or living on very little, there was an appreciation for life and music too which was a bonus.

Also, the UK’s national health system is amazing and SOOO easy.

What changes do you notice about yourself since you last lived in America?

I am a more polite driver and I am not as ‘fast-paced’ as other people my age.  I realized that I had forgotten a lot of Americanisms, because I had changed some of my words and speech to ‘fit in’ in England… now I was being criticized in America, so I am learning how to speak all over again.  No more boot of the car, right-hand drive cars (which I occasionally get in the car and sit there hoping that no one saw me get in on the wrong side!! LOL), pants/trousers, etc…

Anything you have noticed now that you didn’t notice before about America/Americans?

I see that the states is extremely competitive in work and life.  There are fewer holidays and people are very ‘work-driven’.  It is almost sad.  Also, there seems to be this horrible threat of being ‘sued’.  I don’t understand this at all.

The other thing is that I find Americans are very wasteful.  With the focus on becoming ‘green’ a few more Americans are starting to conserve but as a nation it is very disheartening to see the waste going on.

Any advice to other Americans in the UK that are thinking about moving back home?

Be sure of what you really want in tens years from now… make a choice based on your life, not your surroundings.  There are things that I miss about both sides of the pond and I am still unsure about my choice but everyone is different.  But make sure you visit ‘back home’ before you take the plunge… things might have changed and your views might have changed too.

Any chance you will return?

This is something I am still seriously considering.  Stay tuned…

What have you noticed about American men in comparison to the UK guys (I asked this because  we get asked that a lot)

I am probably the worst person to answer this… but generally there are good, respectful men and the opposite in both countries.  Always remember to look at their family values… how did they grow up and how do they treat their mothers!!

Thanks so much!

(Thinking of making the move back to America yourself? You might also like this post)

13 little reasons to love America

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  • Bath and Body Works (Jo Malone, the Body Shop, and Boots are just not the same).
  • Butter Rum Life Savers.
  • Wet and Wild cosmetics (always thought that name was a bit dodgy, even at age12!).
  • Crazy fitness trends like ‘Singles Yoga’ classes and ‘The Shred’ that you can sample.
  • Unashamed self-help shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil.
  • Ordering huge healthy salads at restaurants that are meant to be the main course to offset the next item
  • Girl Scout cookies, especially those Samoas. Thin Mints!
  • Men in baseball caps. I never thought I would write that one!
  • Drive-thru everything (prescriptions, donuts, Starbucks, dry cleaning, banking, wedding chapels…)
  • Beyonce and her bootylicious dancing, and Sasha Fierce persona.
  • American top 40 (shame about Casey Kasem retiring though).
  • American feminism including publications like  Bust, Ms. and Bitch.
  • Tar-jay designer gear at normal human being prices.

I don't want to buy American stuff in the UK

yankeebeanI recently found this awesome website called American Soda where you can buy American food online and have it the next day.  With essentials like Hidden Valley Ranch, Cheetos and canned pumpkin… this is a really really really really REALLY awesome store…

But right after I found this site, it occurred to me that I don’t really want to buy any of this stuff when I’m in the UK.  I think what I actually MISS about these American beauties is being able to go out and buy/see them – and for it to be normal.  Does that make any sense?

It not like I want to buy a bag of Nestle Toll House Morsels and make the biggest be-all-end-all-giant-batch of chocolate chip cookies ever.  What I MISS is being able to mention Nestle Toll House Morsels and have everyone know what I’m talking about, or to go shopping and see them at the grocery store, or to go to my Grandma’s house and see them in the pantry.

I guess, if I put the shoe on the British foot for a minute, the same goes for English stuff in America.  I don’t really want to go back to the States and drink squash, or eat Marmite, or have baked beans for breakfast.  Although I would do all those things, I certainly wouldn’t object – I just wouldn’t go out of my way.

Although, having said all that, I can feel my first American Soda order brewing beneath the surface – even if it’s just for the ranch dressing…

We must be getting pretty English 'cos nobody blogged about the 4th of July

yankeebeanIt’s the 7th of July…

Nobody blogged about the 4th…

Weird.

We must be getting pretty English…

This year I generally conquered home-sickness because it was one of my sis-in-laws birthday and my other sis-in-law’s engagement party on the 4th.  Nothing like distraction to keep the homesickness wolf at bay!

But there are standard things that I try to make-happen every 4th of July that I spend in the UK:

  1. Get everyone in the room to stand up while I sing the American national anthem
  2. Get people I know to walk up and down the street in a line while I stand on the sidewalk, watch and clap.
  3. Get people I know to wear bright red coats while I hide behind a rock and take pot-shots at ‘em.

So far I’ve had a pretty bad success rate… the only thing I’ve managed is to make Mr. Nice Guy listen to me sing the national anthem and that’s only because we were driving to the store so he couldn’t get away :)

One thing that has happened 3 out of the 4 years is that we’ve had pizza (usually Pizza Hut) and watched an American movie… not too shabby.

How did you guys spend the 4th this year?

Costco in England, an American confession

yahooavatar15Don’t think I am not embarrassed about this lil’ post. I am. I take pride in my anti-consumerism, bulk buying stance. “No need to hoard” has always been a motto of mine. Well, if your fridge was the size of a shoe box you would need that motto too. But I know secretly I am as materialistic as anyone other average joe, which is why I need to tell you something:

I love going to Costco in Leeds. I look forward to pushing my oversize cart (wait, I mean trolley) through the  wide aisles stacked to the ceiling with American products. And bulk-sized American products, in the UK at that!! Get your Krusteaz pancake mix, your family size 560 count Oreos, your 4 gallons of Grade A maple syrup. It is all there waiting for you! Craving some donuts? Well you better be off Weight Watchers because darlin’, you’ll have to buy 24! My imported Oprah magazine is 20% off, I can buy a ready-made pizza the size of my coffee table, and you can sample Gatorade to your mouth’s desire. But guess what? The ironic thing is when I am there I don’t feel the need to buy any of it  (except the donuts -ha!). Somehow, when I know where I can get a taste of America my desire for Root beer disappears. Ironic.

Now, there are all kinds of ways to beat homesickness, but may I suggest a trip to your local Costco? You would be surprised about how comforting it feels…

A Reader in London Ponders a Return Back to her Native Texas

yahooavatar15Us three ladies on this blog get to know many of your worries. We’re glad that you can trust us enough to share your thoughts and troubles-we get many stories about your experiences in the UK. Believe us, we love it and don’t mind if you need a place to vent (see our strap line above for verification!). In our short 6 months of blogging we have 6,000 readers a month now come visit us and some leave us stories (we’re chuffed!). From your worries about UK visa approval, to your British partner’s hygiene, to your homesickness, to your long-distance trans- Atlantic relationships, to being broke and not having enough to eat, to not being able to get a job, to not making friends in the UK, to moving your child here, to the bad weather, to ranting about Bed and Breakfast etiquette (oh wait, that last one was just me)— WE’VE READ IT ALL!

From our About page Lisa writes:

“hi, I’m glad I found this site too! I’m an american who has lived in Greater London for 9 years now (married a brit). In all this time, I still haven’t met any good friends (keep in mind, we have a 6yo daughter so I’ve been and done all the baby/toddler group mingling as well). I’ve got 1 friend, if you can call her that, whom I go shopping with occasionally and that is it…and she only calls me when her man isn’t busy spending time/money with her. The “aloofness” of UK girls is REALLY getting to me…I want to find some girlfriends who will just open up and chat, chat, chat! Because I feel isolated, I often find myself wanting to uproot and take my daughter back to Texas so I can see my parents and friends again. It is so hard b/c financially, my husband and I are better here. We have an age gap and he would find it too difficult/expensive in TX. So if I did move, he’d stay here. That would NOT be good for our daughter….so I’m feeling very torn right now. Any tips how to get over all this??”

Lisa, I completely understand your feelings! In fact, we have posted about some of these situations ourselves. Just know you are NOT ALONE! You might find some of our posts helpful:

So, in closing and as we grow in readership I want to ask the sassy-brilliant-and-smart-as -a-whip-She’s Not From Yorkshire community what would you answer to Lisa in London?