When an American in Britain moves to South America (with a British man): a countryless situation.

peacefulyorkshire

We plan on returning to Yorkshire , my British man (Mr. Chill)  and I, but for the next three months  are living in South America. My Ph.D. requires field work study that cannot be done on the fair island. Not that  I am unhappy about a new adventure! We have packed all of our stuff into an overpriced storage unit in Yorkshire (that shockingly costs as much as our rent in South America) and have made the move.

This is Mr. Chill’s first time living in another place besides England.   I can relate wholeheartedly when he misses British things I find true to his nationality (well how can I talk? I missed Swiss Miss cocoa, Fruity Pebbles and Mac and Cheese for goodness sake. Bleh!). Mr, Chill misses the lack of British organisation to keep things running ‘smoothly’. He misses British Leicestershire, Cheshire and Gloucestershire cheeses that are nowhere to be found here and ‘rule following’ people. He misses quality single malt scotch, dark pubs, mega-stores like Tesco and cinemas in English.  As for me, after two weeks the Latin-ness in my blood is rejoicing. England? As far away as a dream.

I won’t lie and say I miss being in England. I don’t. It is refreshing to be away from rules of class and feeling like I am insulting people all the time by just being myself. For the first time in a  long time my awkwardness in social settings is gone. I don’t miss the dreary grey skies (Mr. Chill does…). I love being able to be out at the weekends and not see drunk people puking and wreaking havoc on the streets. God, I now live in one of the most dangerous South American countries and I feel safer here than I do in Yorkshire on a Saturday night.  I like that on average there are 2 protests here a day in the city. I like that because it means people here aren’t complacent and are wanting to be heard. Many care what happens in their often-corrupt government and will not be silent. Having suffered a military coup and then an economic crisis. People don’t seem to have the barriers of polite self-consciousness that I find in England. Directness is always my cuppa anyway so I love this.

But hey, I know that the things I find to be shackles of ‘British living’ come with the package of choosing England. Everything has a price and that is the cost I pay to have the wonderful things there like the great man I have met, a career I have built from nothing , the many friends and lovely family of Mr. Chill’s I have become close to. The clean quiet order of the life I found there.

By contrast, our South American life is not ordered, nor quiet. Where we  live now is ripe with poverty on our doorstep while chaotic traffic zooms past. We can’t ignore the hungry.  People sleep on our doorstep at night and rummage through our trash at night looking for things to eat or reuse. Packs of  dogs roam the streets with no owners to claim them.

When a local asks Where are you from? I answer I am American. But  I am not a clear cut woman identified by habits from my birth nation.  As if living in England has cleansed me  from claiming any nationality outright– and I wouldn’t have realised that until we arrived here. The hardest thing I did not expect is the inability to find a ‘country’ to claim as my cultural identity. Living in Britain I was always ‘the American’. Here, I am not.

And and I certainly don’t feel in anyway British– although the social mores I have learned there stick to me like a rash. Like the unrecognisable reserved nature that has become me when meeting new people, my ability to have patience in lines, my allegiance to the BBC and the way I can  just about master the  fork in my left hand. I said to myself just this morning, who is this countryless lady that is now me?

But, for now I enjoy my confusion and  soak in the rich Latin American culture of my heritage. I will continue to blog as an ex-pat from my new temporary place and —well, just enjoy being  myself, countryless lay-deh and all.

A Guide to Getting Your Man into America

Welcome to guest blogger – Wandering Seattleite!  Visit her blog seattleiteimagery

Wandering Seattleite

Wandering Seattleite

Two weeks ago my British husband and I flew into LAX. He handed the immigration officer his sealed manilla envelope, waited in a sterile lounge for an hour, and came out a legal resident of the United States of America.

When I married Dan almost five years ago I had some idea how big a role immigration officers would play in our relational logistics, but this past year it hit home. Every day for 6 months the Green Card was on our minds: How long’s it going to take? What if Dan doesn’t get in?! Moving across the world is stressful enough without all the legalities.

Now that my alien spouse has finally made it into the country, the whole immigration process seems far away. But I’ve had lots of people back in England ask me for tips for getting their aliens into the States. So, whether you’re in the throes of the Green Card application process, or just thinking about what it will look like in the future, here are a few helpful tips.

1 – Have a meticulous husband

I can’t recommend this highly enough. Honestly, my husband’s detail orientation came into it’s own here as I watched him fill out the overwhelming and tedious paperwork I’d have placed in my “to do” pile(s) for months. Don’t worry if your spouse is less than organized though – set aside a few evenings and force yourselves to fill out the boring papers/ locate documents, etc. It feels like a lot of work, but it’s not that hard, so just get on with it. Then reward yourself with a bottle of wine and dreams of Mexican food and Trader Joes shopping sprees.

2 – Do your taxes & get your police checks

It’s easy to forget about your US taxes while in the UK. Very easy. But proof of filing those bad boys is one of the things the immigration office is going to want from you in order to let your sweetheart in. If you’re a bit behind, this guide will sort your out – http://britishexpats.com/wiki/Taxes_filing_with_the_US_IRS_in_London. Another potential hold-up could be waiting for the police checks from every country your alien spouse has lived for a year since age 16. It took about 6 weeks to get the Japanese police check through, so if your spouse is at all nomadic I’d get on it straightaway.

3 – Keep calm and carry on, damn it!

When we were going through the process, waiting for dates, biting our nails, trying to plan our lives, etc., those red WWII posters were everywhere. They were my daily reminders not to freak out, to channel my inner Brit and just keep calm and carry on. This mantra honestly helped. Thousands of people apply for Green Cards and are accepted every year, often without a high school education or grasp of the English language. If they can do it, so can you. It feels overwhelming, but keep it in perspective and stop worrying. You will get there.

4 – Don’t be afraid of Plan Q

Before we applied we had it all figured out. We’d get the Green Card within three months, find jobs from the UK and move seamlessly to Los Angeles to start our lives. Well, Plan A became Plan B became Plan Q. The Green Card took 6 months, we spent the winter in New Zealand with my in-laws (highly recommended) and now we’re living at my parents house on an inflatable mattress in Seattle looking for jobs. Not Plan A, but not the end of the world either. My advice is to reassess where you’re at every week or so with the process and create a variety of plans depending on how long things take. Flexibility is very helpful!

5 – Interview prep

When Dan went for his interview he got all suited and booted and said no one else in the waiting room made an effort. I’m not saying my man’s appearance got him in, but I don’t think it hurts to dress like you’re taking this whole thing seriously either. The interview took just over an hour and was basically a final check of all the paperwork he’d so diligently rustled up. The one odd thing was when he handed the officer a letter proving my London employment, the lady said I needed proof of American employment! This seemed like a Catch-22  – how could I get a job in America until I knew we could both move over legally? Anyway, for some reason they let him in despite my lack of dual employment (because he was so well dressed?), and we didn’t need to worry about it. I’m not sure how other people have got around this though.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but it includes some of the things I found helpful going through the joys of getting a Green Card for my alien spouse. Have you gone through the same thing or are you planning to? I’d love to swap immigration stories.

SPACE. Where no one can hear you scream… that you wish you had more of it

During this post,  I want you to imagine the soundtrack from 2001 A Space Odyssey in your mind.  Here, this should help (music starts around the :20 mark).

yankeebean

As the music starts to build, I’m walking up the stairs in our self-catering holiday home in Canada…

As it continues to swell, I’m opening the door to our bedroom…

As it reaches it’s climax, I’m OPENING THE DOOR TO OUR WALK IN CLOSET!

I swear, I almost fall to my knees – the joy is so pure and true.

SPACE.  LOTS of it.  It’s everywhere.

Two living rooms, a dining room, a kitchen you could ball room dance in, three bedrooms, three bathrooms – FOUR DECKS.  FOUR.  Even I know that might be a bit excessive…

After living in England for almost 6 years, I forget how amazing it is to have space – until I have it again.  To have places to put things, to have more than one closet, to have a shower cubicle that doesn’t keep cold-tile-goose-ing you because it’s too small.

Don’t get me wrong, I love England (which you must know by now).  But when it comes to space, I only make do with what it has to offer.  As soon as I set foot back in North America, I feel like flippin’ Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.  I find myself flinging my arms out and spinning around in the middle of kitchen just because I can.

I can tell that Mr. Nice Guy is thinking it, too.  Even though he’s the most English man I’ve ever met, I can tell he’s soaking up the wide-open spaces like a gold fish growing to fill his bowl.  ”One day”, we beam to each other silently, “When we make our millions – we’ll have a house in America, too.  A BIG ONE.”

Stuck in America because of an Icelandic volcano

yankeebean

When I say ‘stuck’, please translate that as ‘YAY!  I get 6 extra days in America with my family!!’ :)

The main reason I wanted to write this blog is because of the title.  How often can you write a blog title like that and have it be 100% non-fiction?

Anyway, the short version is that Mr. Nice Guy and I were supposed to fly out of O’hare tonight at 9:45pm, but instead a volcano shut down the skies over the UK and we’re not flying home until Wednesday morning…

Any other Expats stuck in their home away from home?  I feel like I’ve gotten an extended snow day :D   WOOHOO!!!!

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

Need an excuse to move to the UK? Another reason to move abroad.

yahooavatar15Your new excuse for a new life in the UK? It will make you a superstar hot-shot employee. In August 2009′s USA Marie Claire Magazine:

When researchers presented scenarios that required ‘out of the box problem solving’, a majority of those who zeroed in on the best answers had spent some years living in another country. What’s more, a recent study found that former expats were more likely to be promoted. Explains Prof. Galinsky at the Kellogg School of management at Northwestern University “When abroad, you’re forced to adapt to a local culture” and to fit in– you’re exercising your brain by thinking about cultural norms and how to adapt to them.’

For all our readers out there that are still pondering that move to the UK, this is another reason (besides British men, Cadbury’s, Topshop and Glastonbury) to get you Americans coming on over. Now if the UK Home Office would only agree I am sure you would be over in a flash, right?

American boobs remain in the sun on European beaches

yahooavatar15As an American in Britain, no doubt you will have gone away (or will go!) on holiday to a European beach at some point. The question as you spread out your beach towel, lather on the spf 105  sunscreen is then, will you go topless a la monokini like your European sistahs??

If so well, oh, dear me, you might be one of the few if you are in France! It seems that French women these days consider themselves too “prudesque” to be baring their breasts on the beach these days. According to a recent Time Magazine article, the numbers of French women going topless on the beach have fallen significantly, with 88% of French women surveying calling themselves “priggish or modest”. So who does that leave to be baring boobs on those European beaches? Why, apparently its the American ladies on holiday, of course! From the article:

The contrast with U.S. practices is hard not to notice. American women visiting France these days have few qualms about going topless. And plenty of young American women are only too happy to playfully flash their wares in exchange for a few beads. In some ways, the puritanical swimsuit now seems to be on the other torso — a new French squeamishness that will doubtless leave some Americans, well, titillated.

Although I wonder where did Time Magazine get this information that it is the Americans that remain topless. What, did they go around asking each woman what nationality they are from? As if!!

And to you readers, were you topless this summer on European beaches? I can fully report that unlike France, going topless in Spain is thriving on the beaches, just for the record—

To see the BBC’s  take on the issue (with no mention of American boobs taking over) click here

Getting a UK Visa: One woman’s saga

yankeebeanThis post can’t come with a big enough disclaimer, my lovely peeps – A reader asked us to write about our ‘getting a visa’ experience so I thought I’d amble over to She’s Not From Yorkshire and get started.  But this only reflects my experience, pleasepleaseplease don’t take this as advice.  Visa laws and requirements change about every fifteen minutes so make sure to check with the Big Dudes (http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/).  I (unfortunately) know how stressful and heinous it is to have an application rejected for not doing everything right, so don’t take anything I write as gospel…

*deep breath* Ok… brace yourself, this is going to be a long one…

After I met Mr. Nice Guy, I went back to the US for University – we did the long distance thing for 4 seemingly endless years and then it was time to move.  So it begins…

Visa #1: BUNAC work-abroad programme = Accepted

Cost: 300.00 USD (ish…)
My location when I applied: USA
Valid for: 6 months
Received: September 2004
My age: 22

Bunac were the people that allowed me to first set-foot and work in England for 6 months as part of a work-abroad programme.  The exact programme I came across for doesn’t exist anymore (I imagine I wasn’t the only one that used it as a blatant weasel-in-to-England scheme).  Basically, they got me in the country and guaranteed me an English bank account – then they left me to it to find a job and a place to stay (which was the easy part).

I had two choices for my next visa.  One, find a job that would hire me and go through the visa application process on my behalf.  Two, marry my guy (I know, it doesn’t sound very romantic.  But I already knew I wanted to marry him, so I thought why not now?).

Visa #2: Work Permit = Rejected

Cost: Blissfully unaware
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: However long I was employed by a specific employer
Received Notification: Early 2005
My age: still 22

I found a job in a standard beige office with the hopes that they would go through the second round of visa applications that needed to begin almost immediately.  They agreed (I still can’t believe they agreed) AND they said they’d pay for it (best news ever).  I was put in charge of all the research, paperwork and evidence required to get the Queen to let me stay.

Applications completed – One.  Evidence supplied – substantial.  Time spent researching – infinity.

Application status – rejected.  Ugh…

My application was rejected because it would only have been valid if it was for a job that no other person in the European Union was capable of doing.  I must’ve known deep down that there was no way it could work…

Visa #3: Fianceé Visa = Accepted

Cost: 350.00 GBP
My location when I applied: USA
Valid for: 6 months during which I was not allowed to work
Received Notification: April 2005
My age: 23

SO, me and Mr Nice Guy hadn’t decided to get hitched yet because we needed to make sure we were doing it for the right reasons.  To buy time I went back to the States and applied for a Fianceé Visa.  I had to bring evidence of our relationship for the past 2 years including stuff like letters, pictures, plane ticket stubbs – you get the idea – in addition to filling out yet another giant form of doom.  I went back home for 5 weeks during which I paid a little extra to apply in person, went to the UK Embassy in the big-bad-city, thumped my paperwork on the desk of some lady, left it there and went and had a coffee/panicked/waited, and then received a call from the UK Embassay informing me that I was successfully engaged to Mr Nice Guy.  :)

Not exactly a romantic proposal, but I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of refief that washed over me when I heard those lovely words of acceptance.

Visa #4: Temporary Marriage Visa (take 1) = Rejected

Cost: 750.00 GBP
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: 2 years
Received Notification: October 2005
My age: 23

Fastforward past all the wedding excitement (Best Day Ever! :) ) and we arrive at the next visa.  Technically I was applying for Temporary Leave to Remain.  The rules for this Visa were that I had to 1) be married to a UK-type and 2) stay married for 2 years.

When I began this application process, I did everything I was supposed to (or so I thought).  All the evidence was in place, I’d even called the UK Visa Office to make sure I was using the right form for what I was trying to do.  But (I kid you not) between the time that I received what WAS the correct form, and completed and posted said-form…

They changed the form… so I sent in the wrong form.

Sure enough, 6 weeks later almost to the day I received my letter of rejection because I’d sent in the wrong form.  Enter drama from stage left – I criiiiiiied when I got that one.  Blah…

Visa #5: Temporary Marriage Visa (take 2) = Accepted

Cost: They rolled-over my first payment of 750.00 GBP (thank God)
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: 2 years
Received Notification: Late 2005
My age: 23

I re-confirmed which form I was supposed to use, re-filled out every last detail, re-posted it to the appropriate red-tape-central address, and received my acceptance letter with a complimentary truck-load of relief…

Visa #6: Permanent Marriage Visa = Accepted

Cost: 750.00 GBP
My location when I applied: UK
Valid for: Ever (yay!!)
Received Notification: Late 2007
My age: 25

Technically what I was applying for is called Indefinite Leave to Remain – this was the one I had been waiting for.  This was the Visa that meant I could stay and never have to apply for another Visa unless I wanted to.  I had to supply evidence the me and Mr Nice Guy had been living in the same place for the past 2 years in terms of bank statments and things.  They had some rule that, if your bills were in a joint name, you need evidence spanning 2 years from 5 different sources.  However, if you didn’t have your bills and stuff in joint names, then you needed evidence spanning 2 years from 5 different sources EACH.  We (of course) didn’t have our bills in our joint name, so we scraped together about a foot of paper between the two of us.

Another giant form was filled in.

Another wad was posted off.

Acceptance arrived around Elevenses one morning while I was in the middle of a First Aid training course.  Mr Nice Guy called me on my cell to tell me the stellar news.  It was a good good good good day…

Visa #7: British Citizenship = Pending

I haven’t actually applied for this yet, but I will one day.  I was worried that becoming British would mean I wasn’t allowed to be American anymore, but for now I don’t believe that’s true.  I’ve been to many an Expat forum where people have said that America will not force you to solely be an American citizen.

However, I’ve also heard people say that America doesn’t really want to know if you’re a citizen somewhere else.  It would be a ‘use your American passport to get into the States’ and ‘use your UK passport to get into the UK’ situation.  The one warning I have heard is that you should never let your US passport expire if you’re also a British citizen because the US are unlikely to renew your passport if this happens.  Again, this all just stuff I’ve read on forums, but it’s good enough for me for now…

Bloody hell, I need a cuppa tea… I apologise if I bored the bejeezus out of you, but don’t worry, it’s over now :)

Your negativity is eating my brain… stop it, I NEED my brain

yankeebeanRecently we had another cracking comment from one of my fave readers, ‘I Love This Blog’ (don’t worry ILTB, you’re not the one eating my brain, more on that later).  On our post ‘My English man and our long distance relationship‘ She said:

I was just wondering how your loved ones reacted to your moving overseas for love? Not that it’s really affecting my decisions, but most, nay-ALL, of my closest friends are 100% against the idea and think I will either have my heart broken or be sorely disappointed.. The only ones who support my decision are the ones who are completely right-brained, completely romantic, and have no grasp of common sense or logic (so, it’s a little disheartening..)

How did you do it? Did you find a job first, or did you just up and move? I’m a little nervous!

So many memories (good/bad/ugly) flooded in when I read this comment.  When it came to hopping-the-pond for love, my heart and my head were pretty much always in agreement.  It was my FRIENDS of all freakin’ things that made me wanna panic, unpack, and apply to work in the nearest global food chain.

There was no shortage of negativity – it came pelting in from all angles.  Even my best friend showed her disapproval just by keeping her mouth shut about it (y’know, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say’, yada yada yada).  Sometimes I felt like their negative monologues were actually burrowing into my brain… gross… too much information.

Negativity isn’t exactly what you NEED when you’re about to cram all of your belongings into two giant suitcases, say good-bye to your parents, hurtle through the air in a giant metal tube (I hate flying…), and stumble, bleary and unkempt, into the wonderful arms of ‘the reason for all this’.

I really de-railed a couple of times pre-move when my friends would launch in to a ‘This is never going to work and when it all comes crashing down you’ll be alone and penniless in a foreign country’ speeches.  SHUT UP, for God’s sake!!  I need SUPPORT right now!!  I’m about to move to a country that doesn’t even have a written form of their constitution!!  Can you freakin’ BACK ME UP for a minute here??  (That’s the sound of me derailing… sorry about the constitution snipe)

At the end of the day (to use a most-excellent English expression), none of it ultimately stopped me from boarding the giant metal tube… I mean plane.  I tried to apply an ‘I’m rubber and you’re glue’ attitude to the whole friend-negativity-eat-my-brain mutiny.  Did it work?  I have no idea, but here I am!  And it’s good… it’s REALLY good…

Oh yeah, about the job hunting – I did look before I arrived, but I didn’t actually land a job until I’d turned up.  I’m sure you’ll find just the thing!  And if you need a shoulder for leaning or an ear for bending, we’re here!

I don't live in Yorkshire anymore…

yankeebeanAlthough I don’t usually post personal stuff, this will be relevant with regards to future  blog posts – so here goes!

As of yesterday, me and Mr Nice Guy packed up all of our stuff and hit the road.  We drove away from Yorkshire and headed down South to find our fortunes!

Why?

  • Closer to Mr Nice Guy’s family
  • Good for web design
  • Good for music
  • Closer to everything

How’d it go?

  • The move went like clock-work
  • I discovered muscles upon muscles that I didn’t know I had
  • I ate a lot of sugar and caffeine
  • At the end of it all we arrived in a big city down South and collapsed in an exhaustion-and-white-wine induced heap…

What next?

Well, now, I don’t know… now we arrange the new apartment to our liking, find new restaurants, try to meet new people (I’m going to try out first-hand the suggestions we’ve had about meeting new people), miss the people we got to know and love in York (and try to convice them all to move south, too – this means you, peacfulyorkshire!!), and generally just ‘go with the flow’

What about the blog?

I think us three girls always knew that our lives would take us in different directions, but this won’t effect the blog or the blog title in anyway.  Although I don’t live in Yorkshire anymore, my personal adventures of being an American in Britain will continue!  If anything, our blog will become more diverse with one ‘correspondent’ in the North, one in the South, and one back at ‘home base’ in America – I’m looking forward to seeing the different perspectives already!

But right now I’m writing this surrounded by boxes and dust so I’d better get started trying to sort it all out…  here we go!