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.

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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?

American Women’s Clubs in Britain: Do they just eat cake?

peacefulyorkshire

Ok so the blog post title is unfair. I’ve seen pictures of women’s clubs in ‘American in Britain Magazine’* also wearing some pretty adorable fashionable feather-infused hats. Oh, and also daintily drinking tea. You can see what I mean here,where there are some stylin’ laydehs.

Have you ever been tempted to join one as a newcomer, my fellow Americans in Britain?

Have you ever considered shelling out your dough for some ‘instant’ Expat American friends?

I set out to do a little mission to see what it would cost to join. I counted 21 American Women’s clubs listed on this fair island, and two examples:

1)The Chilterns American Women’s Club- “CAWC is a network of friendly faces, all of whom were ready to help with my adjustment to the expatriate lifestyle.” (This will cost you £50 a year). 

  • Newcomer Coffees
  • Holiday Charity Bazaar
  • Trunk or Treat
  • Winter Luncheon
  • Spring English Morning Tea
  • Charity Cheque Presentation
  • Summer Luncheon Cruise on the Thames

2) For a whopping £105 a year you can join the American Women’s Club of London whose previous programs include:

  • Bridging the cultural gap- two lands separated by a common language
  • Christie’s Auction House – Famous women and their jewellery collections
  • Flower arranging ideas for the Fall and Holiday season
  • Chocolate tasting with the official chocolate taster of Fortnum & Mason

But cost aside, and if you can afford this type of thing in these Aldi-lovin’ Credit Crunch times, does being an Expat automatically make you bond foreveh with other Americans? I can honestly say from experience that it is NO for me personally. I mean, although it is nice to chit chat about how damn annoying American tourists can be when they talk loudly and wear fanny packs, and how the weather can suck, and of course raising money for charity is thoughtful. But after that….well,  there needs to be some kind of other connection, right?

    What are your thoughts, ladies? Are you in any paid  ‘American Women in Britain’ clubs? If so, what have your experiences been? Please share so I can stop being so sceptical…


    * One of the benefits of running SNFY with PacificBird and Yankeebean are the perks, like this magazine we get complimentary, thank you very much.

Am I supposed to pay taxes?

pacificyorkshirebird

Dreamer had a great question on her comment to Yankeebean’s post about the how to go about bringing up the fiance visa question. She writes:

Is it true that if you are an american citizen working in the UK you pay both UK and US taxes? and vice versa?

I went for three years kinda wondering that question and hoping it would just go away like when Hypercolor t-shirts just disappeared after 1992.

Of course, the minute I wanted to import my British guy through US immigration, my history as a taxpayer became very important. With my application, I had to submit tax returns from the last three years, two of which I had to go back and file late as I hadn’t been filing at all since I moved to the UK.  And as it turned out, I needed to be earning over $80,000 a year (or something) in order to have to pay Uncle Sam, so I was off the hook. But I needed help from a smartypants tax accountant. Never in gazillion years would I have known how to file my returns without their help.

Keep in mind that I was earning $0 income in the United States at that point, nor was I employed by a US company and transferred to the UK. And in the past, the hardest part about doing my taxes was subtracting the standard deduction and asking my parents whether I was still being claimed as a dependent.

Oh yeah, and I’m no tax expert so make sure you look into your own situation before you decide what to do. Here’s a link you might find helpful to the IRS FAQ’s.

To make it even more confusion, it turns out I may not have had to go through filing past returns anyways. Because the income part of my visa application was rejected because the income I claimed wasn’t earned in the US!

Anyways, compare that to the UK system where they actually PAID me tax back after leaving the UK because I happened to leave before I paid in the minimum amount for the tax year. HM Revenue & Customs has some helpful information on their website too. Check out the sections on Information on Double Taxation and Social Security Treaties and International Aspects of Personal Tax.

Readers – tell us your tax stories!

Why are you singing ‘Away In A Manger’ like that??

yankeebean

yankeebean

Ahhhhhhh, they JOYS of spending Christmas in another country (!) Everything that you consider an essential Christmas tradition teeters in peril – what will be kept??  What will be shunned??  What Christmas movies will be on TV??  What heinous desserts will you have to endure??

I guess the truth is that EVERYONE has to adjust to someone else’s Christmas eventually.  You move away from home and start to build your own traditions – keeping the wheat and chucking the chaff (‘Chucking the Chaff’ -> band name!!)

Anyway, I think I’ve adapted to English Christmas pretty bloody well (I’ve thrown the ‘bloody’ in to prove my point…)  Aside from missing my family like an amputated limb, I love Christmas in England.

EXCEPT… (you knew it was coming)

Christmas carols

There I was, at the carol service at my church – singing all the faves like ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angles Sing’.  Christmas glow emanating from my face as I belt these Christmassy essentials in a gorgeous candle lit old church.  Then it’s time for ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ and…

THE TUNE IS DIFFERENT!?

Here I was, expecting the ol’ American classic:

But was confronted by a British surprise…

(unfortunately, neither were sung by Bing Crosby)

I immediately felt like I was trying to cram the round-peg-words into the square-hole-tune.  I know deep down that it ISN’T wrong… but I also know deep down that it FEELS wrong.  It DID come upon a midnight clear, but not like THAT – we must be talking about different midnight clears – are you sure you’re not talking about Boxing Day?

Anyway, I got through it without managing to make too many faces or without clutching my head in confusion.  Yes, yes, I know I’m very brave ;)

And, lo and behold – Away in a Manger offers the same dilemma.  Talk about a song that’s been ingrained in us all since birth – I feel like I sang that song in the womb.  Me and Mr Nice Guy have actually introduced an ‘Away in a Manger’ ban because we both hate hearing the ‘wrong’ version. *shudder*

So, expat shamericans, in addition to adapting to flaming pudding and fist-sized balls of orange-flavoured chocolate from all your acquaintances – get ready to learn some new tunes.  Or boycott Christmas carols (you Scrooge, you.)

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When our other fellow SNFY blogger Pacificbird hummed to the wrong Christmas Carol? Click here

The differences between America and England

yankeebean

yankeebean

My grandma is English – she’s a British war bride that fell for a strapping American soldier.  She moved to America back in the day and knew that it was going to be forever – basically she had metaphorical cojones…

I asked her once how long it took her to feel like she was American rather than English…

“Ten years,” she said.

And back in 2004, when I took to the skies, that seemed like a freakin’ LOOOOOONG time – BAD long, y’know?  Impossible long.  But now, five years in, it doesn’t seem so bad any more.

I think a big part of that is because I don’t compare America to England as much.  Aside from a small number of niche cravings (Chicago pizza, automatic transmissions, yadayadayada), America is America and England is England – bada bing bada boom (I feel like I’m in the mob whenever I use that phrase, my kingdom for a Brooklyn accent!)

I don’t crave tea as much when I’m in America, I hop in the car without inner-moaning about how nothing is walkable, I LOVE STARBUCKS and unabashedly go there for a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious skinny latte without feeling guilty.

When I’m in England I make all my coffee at home and love it, I walk to the store and merrily (well, not exactly merrily) haul my groceries back to the flat up a big hill and then up 4 flights of stairs, I hang my washing out to dry without lamenting about our lack-o-tumble-dryer.

According to my awesome-Gram’s calculations, I’m half-way to feeling British.  I wonder if I’m on schedule…

I definitely feel like something has clicked in my head that helps me deal with being an expat shamerican.  My progress can be summed up by the quote of a wise sage, “Where ever you are, there you are.”

Moving Away: making the first new friends and the glow that comes with it

yankeebeanI’ve noticed my constant use of titles with colons included (:)  I think it’s something I’m going to just going to run with – let’s not over-analyse this…

All that aside, I want to start with a single statement…

Moving is hard.

I don’t mean hard because you have to transfer all your bills, or pack up all your stuff, or make a lot of phone calls, or find a new job (although all that stuff is huge pain in the arse).  I mean hard in a quieter way.  Hard after all that admin-crap is over with.

The ACT of moving is actually incredibly exciting (yes yes, stressful, too) but really freakin’ exciting.  There’s SO much to do, so much to think about, so much that you have to get done.  And SO MUCH GLORIOUS POSSIBILITY.  What there ISN’T a lot of is ‘time to think’.  What will it actually be like when we get there?  How will I meet new people?  How will I fill my time when I don’t know where anything is?  How will I deal with the inevitable loneliness?  How will I keep in touch with everyone that I’m leaving back in town #1?

THESE, my awesome peeps, are the issue that I DIDN’T think about when I was wrapping drinking glasses in last week’s newspapers and wondering if my broadband is going to be up and running in time in my new digs.

Well, tonight I jumped one of the post-moving hurdles – The First New Friends.

It’s been 6 months since we picked up and moved down south from the gorgeous York-iness, and I’ve been through the standard moving phases (another blog on my extensive history of moving later).  I’m familiar with the standard rate of meeting the first real friends after about 6 months – and today (6 months and 16 days after the move – 14 of which I spent out of the country), VIOLA!!  I think I’ve made the first real friends!!

I’m flippin’ GLOWING – Mr. Nice Guy and I just got back from having drinks with another couple and we had a GREAT time.  No awkward moments, no weird looks, just all laughing and all chatting all the time.

It’s one of the big moving hurdles that I’m feeling relieved to have completed – AND they’re successfully invited to my annual UK Thanksgiving extravaganza on 26th November.  Shameless friend-making… HUZZAH!!!

The part where you are ready to drive in the UK as an American Shamerican

yahooavatar15At some point you might not feel like your old ‘American in America self’ after being in Britain a while without driving. You’ll be missing that freedom to escape with Kayne West blaring recklessly– and that ability to tempt fate by speeding (just a little) on the highway. Oh no, you have to crave driving first, and that won’t come for a while.

At first it will be quaint waiting for all those cute red double-decker buses. Or those First City buses that are double the length like big caterpillars in the city centres (how novel!). Waiting in Victorian train stations like Charles Dickens would have done (how charming!).You will be happy to taxi/walk/cycle/carshare/skip/hitchhike (how karmic helping out the enviroment!).

But trust us, there will come a time when you realise how much you hate having to rely on someone else to get anywhere. The overcrowded sticky bus. Or walking to work as you get drenched by torrential mizzle. The stench of mingin’ B.O. of the tube, or the lack of a seat on your daily very over-priced train. One day you will come home put down your reusable environmental shopping bag and say to yourself. “That is enough!”. That will be the point dear readers when I offer you my congrats. Why? Because its time darlin’, time for you to save up some squid and to get your UK drivers license as an American in Britain. That’s right, contact a sweet lil driving instructor, learn how to drive stick and we’ll see you on the roads! (And of course, let us know how it all goes– tears and all!) xx

Shamerican: Because ‘expat’ is SO 2008

yankeebeanJust a short post to announce one of the finest new terms I’ve heard to describe us expats in all of our feisty, out-spoken glory.

Sha-mer-i-can [shuh-mare-ih-caan] (noun)

An American that is not currently living in America.  “Yankeebean move to the UK in 2004 and she’s been shamerican every since!”

Thanks goes out to Peacefulyorkshire’s dude, Mr Chill for coining this term!  I did ask him where he got his inspiration and he said something like, “It just describes you both perfectly.  You’re not American – you’ve left America – you’re shamerican”

Hahaha!  Classic.  I prefer it over ‘expat’ any ol’ day – bring it on!

Oh, and what happens when an English person no longer lives in England?

They’re shenglish.

The pondering of the word and makings of  Shamerican? Click here

Converting an American recipe to British is tougher than you think!

redlillocksFirstly, I’d just like to thank the amazing ladies of SNFY for once again allowing me to contribute as a guest blogger and get some of my frustrations off my chest. Beats anger management classes anyday! You girls ROCK I tell ya.— REDLILOCKS

Autumn Baking…

Hey did anyone notice those couple of days of sunshine we had over the past few months? Yes, that is what they call here The British Summer. I know, I know, I almost missed it as well. I have to admit moving from Southeast England to the Northwest, I never realised that when people said it was cold and rainy in Manchester that they actually meant it! I just figured people were exaggerating (I mean, the whole country rains, right?). Well, much to my surprise, they weren’t. Dreams of pretty cotton dresses and drinking Mojitos in the sunshine never entirely materialised but as the weather turns, I find myself with new fantasies to occupy my time. Warm knits, knee high boots with opaque tights, snugly scarves and that cool nip in the evening air that tells you that autumn is well and truly upon us.

Despite our rather sorry stint of truly warm weather, I actually quite like the cool crisp September weather and having a taste of home the other day, I decided I wanted to make a Zucchini Cake. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to warm up the house and remind you of cozy nights in with hot mugs of tea and a bit of baking from scratch. As you probably know, they are called ‘Courgettes’ here (we Americans use the Italian word, the British use the French) but as it is, after all, an American recipe, I decided it’s only right to use its proper American name.

Now I do quite a bit of cooking in this country but it was first time I was going to actually attempt to BAKE. With my fabulous boyfriend’s (we’ll call him Mr. Lovely) vast array of culinary equipment and ingredients to hand (he’s a great cook) I decided it would be a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I knew, of course, the ingredients would be in imperial measurements but I was confident that with a bit of conversion using metric kitchen scales, I could easily manage the recipe – no problem. Well, the issue wasn’t the conversion. It was the ingredients.

My conversation with Mr. Lovely went something like this:

Sitting in the living room, I called out to Mr. Lovely in the kitchen, “Can we get ‘All Purpose flour’ here?”

Mr. L responded, calling back, “What’s ‘All purpose flour’?”

“I don’t know, I guess it’s just regular flour.”

“Umm. Yeah I would think so. Is that the same as Self-Raising Flour? I have some of that.”

I didn’t like the sound of flour that rose on its own willpower. “Self-Raising flour? Hmm. I don’t think so.”

Mr. L, already tired of the exchange, assured me, “It’s okay, we can nip to the shop and get some.”

“Ok…” I went back to my recipe but only for a moment. “What about Baking Soda?” I called again.

“Do you mean Bicarbonate of Soda?”

I thought about it for a second. I know I’ve heard of Bicarbonate of Soda but I’d never eaten it. “I think so. Aggy and Kim use it to clean everything; I think it’s the same thing…” I went back to the ingredient list.

I called again, “What about Baking Powder?”

It was at this point that Mr. L, realising this may be an extended conversation, came into the living room. “What’s Baking Powder?”

“I think it helps the cake to rise. Or wait, is that what Baking Soda does?”

“Well, that’s what self-raising flour does.”

“Ahh right. Do you think I can skip both of those then if I use the self-raising flour?”

“I’m sure you can. It’ll be fine, just use the self-raising flour,” he assured me. He’s good like that.

I pondered this for a second. “Wonder why we don’t use self-raising flour in the States? Seems a lot easier….” Back to the ingredient list again. “What about white sugar?”

Mr. L crinkled his brow. “What do they mean by white sugar?”

I shrugged. “I think they mean just regular sugar.”

Mr. L went back into the kitchen and brought back a white packet. “I have caster sugar,” he announced.

I looked inside the packet, examining the tiny crystals. “Hmm – this is a bit finer than regular sugar. Do you think it’ll be okay if I use this?”

“Yeah, it’ll be okay.” (I swear that should be his motto, he says it to me so often.)

“Ok, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, reassured. “Oh wait, the frosting takes confectioner’s sugar. Can you get that in this country?”

“Never heard of it. What about icing sugar?”

“I don’t know. This is a soft icing, it’s not gonna go hard is it?”

By this point Mr. L put his hands on his head. “ Arghhh I don’t know…” and walked out of the room.

It was clear by this point, I was on my own!

Now, my dear readers, let me tell you that in the end, despite all the guessing and against all the odds, the cake came out rather fantastically well – I know, no one is more shocked than me. Turns out all my substitutions worked a treat. However, next time there’s a chill in the air and I fancy a bit of baked scrummy goodness, I might just save all the hassle and go to Greggs instead.

Want to see Redlilocks other popular guest post? Click here