How do you connect with your English man’s friends? VERY SLOWLY.

I read an email from one of our fab-oo-luss readers and it’s definitely worth sharing.  I’ve been through this, and I know from past comments and emails that some of our readers have, too.

The question is:

How do you connect with your English man’s friends?

Here’s the email in it’s entirety:

Dear Yankeebean and all you lovely ladies from SNFY,

I’m having a slight problem with English culture I was hoping you might help me with over a blog post.

I’m an American doing my MA in London, and met a really great English guy shortly after I arrived. We’ve been dating 9 months now. He’s from London and doing his MA here as well, although at a different uni. My question for you is how to connect with his English friends. I’ll tell you more back-story so you can better understand my predicament.

My boyfriend’s close friends are mainly from his undergrad time, and although they all live in London, they don’t see each other very often, but when they do, they all get together for a huge gathering of about 15 people. They are all really close and more than half of them are actually dating each other. I’ve come along to about four of these gatherings now, and I’m having a hard time getting to know them, as they don’t make much effort to get to know me, and I’m quite shy as it is. Usually what happens is that they arrive, ask me the obligatory ‘How are you? How’s uni?” questions and then all talk together in a group about English topics I know nothing about, or reminisce about old university times. Other significant others who come along don’t seem to have this problem, as they aren’t afraid to chime in on the topics about England, whereas I have no idea what they are talking about. Even when I’ve spoken to a few of them one-on-one, which is usually easier, I’m the one doing all the effort, asking them all the questions about themselves (Although I must say, this is usually more true for my conversations with the women than with the men.) I guess my question is, is there some sort of unspoken English rule about how to actually converse in large groups in England? Any advice on how to get past the “How are you?” stage? I realize that it’s always hard being the newcomer at a gathering of old friends, but I thought that by the fourth time meeting them and 9 months into dating him, his friends would be making more of an effort to get to know the girl he’s crazy about. It wasn’t even until last time that one thought to ask where I’m from in the States!

Since I’m a student in London, most of the people I’ve met are actually foreigners as well, so I really haven’t had much experience with English social norms. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now whenever I miss home, and always laugh at your insight into English behaviour. I’ve even just bought “Watching the English” on your recommendation. I was hoping it would arrive in time for me to prepare for the last get together (it was yesterday), but it didn’t :( I did start reading it today, though, and already found that I’ve been going about talking about the weather all wrong this whole time! :)

Thanks again for the great blog. Love it!

Cheers,
NotLongInLondon

And here it is again – that age old question, “How the FLIPPING HECK am I supposed to talk to new English acquaintances??”.  I feel for you, NotLongInLondon, I really do.  I’ve been there.  In fact, I’m tempted to buy property there since I visit so often…

There’s a post by one of our guest authors, Redilocks, about just this topic – How to Make Friends and Influence People (English Style).  It’s a step-by-step guide about how to meet English people without scaring the shite out of them with your natural American-ness.  In fact, it was after I read this post that I started complimenting English women when I first met them.  IT TOTALLY WORKS.  I still get the odd alien laser death glare, but they’re much less common these days…

But if you want proof that you’re already doing a grand job of working your way in to your boyfee’s UK crowd, read this comment from a past post.  One of our readers, Michelle, remains the victim of the rudest and most unbelievable encounter that I’ve ever heard of between an American and an English woman.  After you read Michelle’s experience, I know you’ll feel better about your attempts, because it sounds like it’s actually going pretty well for you.

My final word of advice, and my own person attack in situations where I can’t seem to turn the tide in my favour is this.  Channel your inner  ninja, sit, and listen.  Don’t worry about talking or chiming in, just sit back and observe what’s going on.  If you have something to say, go for it, but don’t stress about it.  I think the ultimate key to hanging out with an already-established group of Brits is time, time, and more time.  Just keep going back, be patient, and you’ll wear ‘em down soon enough.  :)

10 things that still annoy me about England after living here for 8 years

I dearly love the UK and I feel more and more English with every passing year.  But there are a few things about living in England that still rub me the wrong way.


1 – Parking

I walk and ride my bike as much as I possibly can, but sometimes you have to go grocery shopping, or pick up something bulky from Argos, or go to the Bristol Cider Shop ( I just got back from there and parking was a bit of an adventure – and so this post is born).

Every time I get in my car, before I even start the engine, I’m worried about parking.  Will there be any?  If there IS, will it be full?  If it ISN’T, will the spaces actually be big enough for me to fit my car in?  If they ARE, will I have to pay to park?  If I DO, do I have any change to pay with?  If I DON’T, will I be able to pay with my phone/debit card?  If I CAN’T, them I’m scuppered and I should just bloody stay home.

By this point in my thought process, I’m always tempted to either check bus schedules, or order whatever I was going to pick up online.

Part of me longs for the days when I could just get in the car and drive to Target.  A) They have EVERYTHING there and B) you could land a plane in the average Target parking lot – and they wouldn’t even charge you for it.

2 – Customer Service (or lack of)

Sometimes I need help when I’m in a shop.  Sometimes I’d like to ask about a product or service.  Sometimes I need help finding something.  Sometimes I’d just like a second opinion.

But I NEVER-TIMES want a shop assistant to act like I’m asking them to climb Everest in their undies when all I’m asking them to do is THEIR JOB.  I don’t want to be ignored.  I don’t want to wait while they finish writing a text message.  I don’t want them to cop an attitude if I ask a simple question.

Iota, a fellow Expat blogger that I’ve followed for a long-arse time, puts it perfectly in her post called Further Woes of a Returning Brit.  Check it out and know that you’re not alone when you despair about English customer service.

3 – Negativity (or as the Brits call it ‘Realism’)

To give you an example, let’s pretend a team of Americans and a team of English people were both asked to build a really tall tower out of straws and scotch tape / sello tape.

The Americans would approach the project with excitement.  They would intrinsically believe that they are super-capable, that they’re ready for this challenge, and probably (absolutely) that they’re going to win.

The Brits would start off by discussing why it’s impossible to build a really tall tower out of only straws and sello tape.  There aren’t enough straws, the straws are the wrong size, the sello tape is old and fragile, there’s not enough time, they also need toothpicks and Blu-tak but they haven’t got any, etc.  But after the we-can’t-possibly-and-this-is-pointless-let’s-just-go-to-pub barrage of negativity / realism – they would knuckle down and do it.  And they’d do it well.

The thing that REALLY bugs me about the instant negative / realist English reaction is that NOW I DO IT, TOO.  DESPAIR!  I want my built-in, sometimes foolish optimism back!

4 – No free refills

I can’t think of a single time in England when I’ve bought a drink that comes with free refills.  I always get my Hope on if I go to an American-diner-style café in the UK.  In the back of mind I’m thinking, “Maybe they’ve done more than embrace 1950′s greasy spoon interior decor.  Maybe they’ve embraced the beverage ethos of my nation.

I’ve yet to see it happen, but I remain hopeful.  It seems like more Americans are showing up in the UK every day – here’s hoping we’re wearing ‘em down. :)

5 – Roundabouts with traffic lights in them

I love roundabouts and I think they work like a freakin’ charm.  Once I figured out how to not-die while using one, I was instantly on board.

But some roundabouts are so huge, that there are traffic lights IN THEM – embedded in as you’re driving AROUND them.  I rarely end up in the right lane on these massive road-swines.  I shake my fist!

6 – ‘Proper coffee’ means ‘instant coffee’

Just as many Americans can’t make a good cuppa tea, many many (dear God, TOO MANY) English people refer to instant coffee as ‘proper coffee’.  I’ve also heard it said, “I’d like a strong coffee – 3 scoops”.  *shudder*

Every time someone says it out loud, I inwardly vom a little and somewhere, in a land far far away, a fair trade, single-estate, organic coffee farmer dies.

7 – ‘OH!  The Windy City…’

My accent hasn’t deserted me – YAY!  I don’t sound completely English (although I don’t always sound American either) so I always get asked that famous question, “Where abouts are you from, then?”.  I say, “Chicago” to which, 98% of the time they reply, “OH!  The Windy City!”

I know I know, they’re being nice – they mean well.  It’s just something that I’ve heard so many times it’s like the spoken equivalent of a scratchy bra that’s rubbing your side-boob raw.

8 – Talking about football

I don’t want to talk about it.

9 – The cost of going out to dinner

I freaking love going out to dinner and it doesn’t have to be fancy.  Give me my local pizza place and a pint of my favourite beer any day.    But it seems like going out to dinner in the States can be done for a LOT less and a LOT more easily.  There are plenty of cheap, one-off, local restaurants in the States that serve awesome food for teeny tiny (or at least reasonable) prices.

There are some outstanding restaurants here, but it always feels expensive compared to my Native Land.

10 – ‘Mexican food’

I put ‘Mexican’ in quotes because what most Brits call Mexican food would cause Mex-enthusiasts to weep uncontrollably into their guacamole.  I have been to many a UK Mexican restaurant in hopes of finding a tasty burrito, but I’m always met with tasteless beans, from-a-tin-and-processed avocado and lack-lustre salsa.  I PINE for good Mexican food – but I have to make it myself.

Having said that – anyone that lives in or near York should check out Fiesta Mehicana because it’s the only place I’ve been that even comes close.


In summary, I love love love living in the UK and there are many things about this cracking country that I wouldn’t trade for a fist-full of Benjamins.  But I guess there’s always going to be things about it that rub me the wrong way and get me itching for my American days.

Come on, expats – have I forgotten anything?

Especially the parking.  MY GOD, THE PARKING.

Take your UK planning permission and shove it up your arse

Back up, expats – I’ve got mah BITCH on.

I just finished watching Grand Designs (The one about the couple that built a super modern boat-house type thing right on the Thames).  The finished product was a real stunner – modern, but sensitive to its surroundings.  It was beige-y, river-y and awesome-y.  In short, I lurved it.

What is planning permission?  Wikipedia says that “Planning permission or planning consent is the permission required in the United Kingdom in order to be allowed to build on land, or change the use of land or buildings.

The people in this episode didn’t actually have any trouble with getting planning permission – but their heinous neighbours couldn’t seem to believe that such a MONSTROSITY could POSSIBLY be built among their chocolate-box houses.  There were petitions and council-led meetings and the build was fought at every turn by their neighbours (who now hate the completed house AND the new residents, too, just for extra arse-points).  They used words like ‘monstrosity’, ‘blight’, ‘disaster’, ‘ruination’, ‘It’s DESTROYED the space/street/block/area/county/country/planet/universe’.

You get the idea.

Even though the council backed the new build in the end, watching this episode reminded me how OUTRAGEOUS I find the idea of planning permission in the UK.

Rationally, I get it (SORT of):

  • England wouldn’t look like England without planning permission – it keeps it all lookin’ England-style
  • It helps to protect valuable conservation (countryside and farm land)
  • It helps to protect residential areas from fusty industrial development

But deep down, the American Revolutionary in me can’t believe that I could buy some land, 100% own that land, but some Suit with an official stamp and an architectural attitude could proceed to tell me what I am and am not allowed to do with it.

I’m going to have my own mini Boston Tea Party in protest!  I’m going to go get all the tea bags I have in my kitchen and THROW THEM IN A PUDDLE.  (Please note: No tea bags were harmed in the writing of this blog post and I don’t advocate littering so please do clean up after yourselves if you have your own mini Boston Tea Parties).

As far as I’m aware there are building CODES in America, but there’s no Big Brother telling you that your window frames have MUST be white and your extension HAS to made of Bath stone.

Can we weigh in on this one, peeps?  Am I the only one that breaks out in hives every time someone mentions planning permission?

The WORST fake English accents: Why don’t they just hire British actors to play British characters??

I’m at the stage at my stay here in the UK that I don’t really hear the British accent anymore.  Unless it’s a strong local-y sounding one (Yorkshire, Bristol, Scouse, Geordie), it washes right over me.

But when they hire an American, an Irish person or an Australian to play a Brit – OH! – Mine ears, they do tremble.  Why don’t they just hire Brits??  Especially since they’re cheap labour

I’ve been doing some Googling to find some evidence, and I’ve come up with the following 3 heinous examples:

Anne Hathaway in One Day

Bless her heart, I love Anne Hathaway in almost everything she ever touches (yes, this includes the Princess Diaries 2).  But how can I keep track of what’s going on in a film with this strange Ameri-cockney-yorkshire accent beast staring me down?

Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta

I’m also a huge lover of Natalie Portman – she’s a freaking genius and most things she touches turn to golden box office successes.  But her ACCENT!  Ohmygee, her accent.  That’ll be ten Pledge of Allegiances and a whole cheese pizza as penance, Nat-Port.

Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins

No list of crappest-Brit-accents would be complete without Dickie-boo!

I love this movie.  MY GOD, I love this movie.   I live in eternal hope that one day I’ll find a handbag big enough to keep a floor lamp in.  But Dick Van Dyke really set the bar in terms of heinous accents.  It doesn’t ruin the over all movie for me, though – probably because it’s all so cartoony and his accent is, too.


Part of me gets it.  Directors have a specific actor in mind and they bring them in regardless of their stubborn American twang.  It’s distracting, though – there’s nowt to be done about it!

I know it isn’t a one-way train.  There are plenty of Brits doing heinous American accents out there (except for Hugh Laurie, of course.  He sounds more American than I do), but for some reason I don’t tend to find bad American accents as distracting.  Now that I mention it, I should give a shout out Gweneth Paltrow who throws a seriously excellent English accent in my opinion.

What about you guys?  Can you stand it?  Have I missed any obvious ‘worst English accent ever’ candidates?  Or what about bad American accents?  I can’t think of any off the top of my head…

 

Oh no… here come more broad sweeping generalisation from people who I thought were my friends…

Every time America is in the news, I find myself unfriending someone else from  Facebook.  I’m starting to see a pattern here…

As we all now know, Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan – it’s big big big news.  Some people are celebrating, some are anxious about the possible retaliation that we have to prepare for and pretty much everyone I know is talking about it on Facebook.

Comments on my Facebook page are all fairly similar.  People are talking about Obama’s speech and several people have mentioned that they think this will cinch his re-election.  Anyway, it’s obvious that Bin Laden won’t be missed…

But there was also this:

Alright – place your bets. Who’s going to be the next bete noire for the USA? There must always be a figurehead to strike fear into the witless populace and make them willingly give up their freedom.

WHY do people think it’s ok to make broad sweeping generalisations about Americans??  If something like this was said about someone’s race, gender or sexuality it would be completely unacceptable.  But not the Americans… we’re open game to anyone with a chip on their shoulder.

The truth is, I expect to hear stupid comments like this sometimes – it’s all part of the joys of being an expat no matter where you live or where you’re from. The thing that throws me is when someone that I like(d) says crap like this…

Sigh…

What is British for ‘Excuse Me’? Hint: You might be better off being telepathic

peacefulyorkshire

One could easily complain about the extortionate cost. The smells. The urine on the toilet floor and no loo roll. The lack of seats available to rest your weary body.  But note!! None of the above is what this niggly post is about*. So what am I on about? My commuting train to Leeds where some British folk have a non-verbal way of telling you to move.

Can I read these Brit minds? Am I  telepathic? No!! But, It would help because usually I get it wrong. I experience this on a regular basis on my train: There are no words uttered by my seat companion when they would like me to move when I am  in the way. The British native on the seat usually squirms,  shuffles their bum to and fro, and fiddles with their purse. If you are sitting in the aisle seat, you are expected to read these non verbal queues and then act.

One day I was PMS-ing and was blinkin’ tired of having to read minds. This guy could have easily just asked me to move, what am I supposed to read his mind? I know he wants to to get off at his stop but will it kill him to ask me politely to get out?? When the little shuffle dance started I looked him right in the eye and said in my little Yankee accent:

Is that squirming you are doing British speak for “Excuse me, can I get out please?”

Well,  he looked like I just told him I was The reincarnated Virgin Mary telling him I was pregnant with his child.  Thank god he just burst out laughing and said “Yes, I guess it is…. erm, excuse me!”. Case won… and he was lurvely.

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* If you are not in the mood for an expat rant best get outta dodge!!

My friends have started blaming America again – the honeymoon is over…

yankeebean

It’s happened twice in the last week, and I wonder if it’s only the beginning.

Two of my friends posted properly mean stuff about Americans – two separate but equal mini rants (via Facebook status updates).  The first rant ended with ‘Bloody Americans…’ and the second ended with ‘Stupid Americans…’

Now, I don’t have a stick up my arse or anything, I can take a joke.  But these two rants really weren’t very nice and I was a little bit offended.  In both instances I rallied for the cause and defended my nation!  Using myself as a (hopefully) good example of a real, 3D American that isn’t stupid.

Both of my friends’ reactions were the same, too.  They both said, ‘Oh, I forgot that you’re American!’  Then they both said something like, ‘I’ll make an exception in your case’.

That really got my hackles up…  my complaint is two-fold.

  1. They FORGOT that I’m American??  Is seven years all it takes for people to forget your nationality and start verbally crapping all over your country right in front of you?
  2. They’ll make an exception???  Oh… *bow*… *scrape*… how GENEROUS of you to make an exception and allow me out of the American slum and onto the golden streets of the UK

What a coupla noobs.  I hope everyone I know hasn’t been keeping a tight lip about their real feelings about Americans for the past seven years.  If so, things are going to do downhill fast.

And what will I do about it?  Cup of tea, of course…

Defending the English when you’re not English

yankeebean

I feel like Alice through the looking glass… I have encountered the assholiest American of all time and I am PISSED OFF.  This must be how British people feel when they meet people like this… I’ve gone down the rabbit hole.

I’ll start at the beginning, shall I?

I’m in the States right now visiting family, and we went to see a friend of mine who was singing at a local bar.  They were pretty good and it was fun… UNTIL the guitar player thought he’d improvise a song about how bad England is and how wonderful America is.

It was HORRIFYING… And it went on for a LONG time… And Mr Nice Guy (who, in keeping with his title, is a very nice guy) was FURIOUS.  And so was I.  In fact, I still am – to the point that I’m still having imaginary fights with yankee-arse-face in my head.

OH, how I wish that was the end of the story… but no… no it’s not.

We saw him again on Sunday morning and this is how the conversation went (imagine his parts spoken in a really snotty assholy way)

Me: Hey man, how you doing?

Him: So what’s with moving to England?  What’s so great about England?

Me: Are you serious?  Have you ever been to England?

Him: Is America not good enough for you?  You’re too good for America now?

Me: Have you ever been to England?

Him: No.  But my friend has…

Me: Why are we even having this conversation?

Me and Mr Nice Guy got outta there pretty quickly after that.  I was bright red with embarrassed rage and Mr Nice Guy was steadily swearing under his breath.  Mr NG is a peaceful man, but I do think that if we saw him again he’d actually result to violence.  I bet this is how the American Revolution started…

I don’t know if I want this A-hole to leave the country so he can get a friggin’ CLUE, or if he should be forbidden from leaving so he doesn’t act as an anti-ambassador.

Please, dear readers – share you’re tales of woe with me.  I can’t be the only one who’s tried to defend their secondary nation…

What a jag-hole…

When your ‘American in Britain-self’ becomes your own worst nightmare: the ugly American

peacefulyorkshire

It happened. (YET AGAIN!)

Today. I . became. that. annoying. American.

I didn’t mean to be. I didn’t walk in the mizzle with my cheery Cath Kidston bag on my arm armed  to go ’cause a scene’. It just came out of me like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like giving birth–over time (erm, like every nine months or so)  it just has to come out.

My ‘ugly American’ moment happened by stating to the Sainsbury’s cashier:

‘is the price on the computer screen for those maxipads wrong? Weren’t they on sale? They were under the sale shelf. And were clearly marked with a promotional sign.

No, she said.

I don’t mind paying the extra pound, it is the principal of it, I would have chosen something else if I had known.

Sorry, those ones are not included in the offer.

Ok….can I speak to your store manager about making the sign more clear so other women aren’t confused too?

Glares all around from 16 people behind me wanting to buy their lunch. No other noise except my American-self filling the store. A few nervous shuffles behind me. I had caused a scene! And over maxipads! What was I thinking?

If I didn’t have my American twang (no matter how ‘Britified’ it may sound to my American family let’s face it, a twang is a TWANG) would I have gotten all those dirty looks at the till? Probably.

My American-ness just added to everyone’s annoyance. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if I were in the USA.

Nothing was resolved, I didn’t get the maxipads at the sale price. And I felt really stupid walking out with the British stare at my back. Sigh.

Even if I am about to marry a Brit, I am afraid I just can’t give up my customer rights, nor my strong opinions.

A thought dawned on me. Maybe I am the one that the annoying American stereotype is based on…. and I even live here permanently!! hehe

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Customer neglect in the UK?

Christmas pudding in England is freakin’ weird

I love it here – England is awesome in so many ways – but desserts at Christmas is NOT one of them.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard about Christmas Pudding… Made ages in advance, CHOCK full of dried fruit and nuts (like every English dessert on earth), full of booze, left to sit for weeks, steamed for hours ‘on the day’, LIT ON FIRE and then eaten with brandy butter (or, as I like to call it, booze cream)

After the description of Christmas Pudding was delivered, in monologue, by Mr Nice Guy – the silence of disbelief descended.

Was I curious about it?  Hell yeah.
Did I want to try it?  Abso-freakin’-lutely
Did I enjoy it? *shudder*

Dude, I have freakin’ FLASHBACKS about that action.  And after making the effort to adapt to Marmite, I really don’t feel the need to try and force the Christmas Pudding issue.

A Christmas Pudding being flamed after brandy has been poured over it - Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

A Christmas Pudding being flamed after brandy has been poured over it – Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of lots of dried fruit, and peel makes me wanna gag.  I like traditional American desserts which involve a lot of sugar and, sometimes, not much else.  Christmas cookies, baby!  Sugar and E numbers – what more could you freakin’ want?? :D  Or pie, in any formation… with ice cream (or custard if you want a little ‘English’ on the side).

But don’t worry – if you’re at your in-laws for Christmas, you don’t have to ’cause a scene’ – there’s a way out without anyone getting hurt.

For anyone struggling with the lack of Christmas cookies and pie – repeat after me “Could you please pass the chocolate log?”

(Or you can fake a nut allergy) :D