The following is a guest post.
When people asked me why I wanted to leave Britain for a while and undertake this adventure, I replied that it was nothing to do with seeking greener grass, but simply about being able to smell, touch and feel a different kind of grass for a while.
And what’s really surprised me is just how different America and Britain really are, and how I am beginning to appreciate the dissimilarities.
Here’s my very random top six to date:
1. Driving etiquette
In Britain, we like rules and we particularly like rules when we are driving. For instance, I’m in the outside lane; you’re in the inside lane. I can overtake; you cannot.
Driving in America makes me feel that sometimes there are no rules as such. On highways/freeways (have not yet worked out the difference) the exits and entrances are practically one in the same thing. The only rule is zig-zag in/out and make your entrance/exit if you can by speeding up/slowing down.
The fast lane is non-existent in America – any lane is a fast lane, and sometimes cars enter into what we would call the fast lane, making it all seem quite precarious at times.
Driving here still fascinates me. The UK highway code is being slowly obliterated from my memory.
However, one of the best USA rules is turning right on red (if it is safe to do so, of course). This ensures traffic is flowing, which may be why I like driving here so much. Think about it, UK traffic people.
2. Excuse Me and Sorry
In the UK, if we pass someone and bump into them we say ‘Sorry’ and we say it a lot. In America, they say ‘Excuse me’ even if you haven’t even bumped into them or them into you and sometimes, just sometimes, it sounds like they are a little offended and put out, like you should have said ‘Excuse me’ when you didn’t and then you feel bad, so you say ‘Sorry, sorry’ a million times and then they don’t know what you’re saying sorry for. It’s so confusing. Are you following? If not, sorry.
3. Saying ‘How are you?’
USA people will greet you with an automatic ‘How are you?’ when they meet you in a queue or in a restaurant – just about anywhere, really. And you must reply ‘I’m good thanks.’ Any other reply just will not do.
Recently a group of women whom I had never met before, all asked me one after the other how I was. To be honest, after the fourth ‘How are you?’ I wanted to tell them that I had a headache, it was stuffy, I was homesick and just wanted to go to bed, but I, of course replied with ‘I’m good thanks.’ But it felt false and wrong, and whilst I know not one of these ladies deserved an onslaught of my woes that very day, it just didn’t feel right giving out the standard response.
What we Brits tend to respond when we’re faced with our version (‘Alright then, how’s it going?’) is a semi-honest ‘Yeah, not bad’ or ‘So, so’ or ‘Could be better’. I wonder what the American reaction to that would be….
4. High St vs The Mall
I did not appreciate enough when I had it on my doorstep the luxury, beauty and convenience of the high street of the UK towns and cities. It makes me feel totally unappreciative, and I wish I had given my high street a good old stroll up and down before I left it behind with no more than a cursory glance.
Not once have I ‘walked to the post office’ or ‘popped out for a loaf of bread and a pint of milk’ to the high street in the USofA.
I drive to the grocery store, then I get back in my car and drive to the post office, and then I get back in my car and drive to the dry cleaners. You pretty much need to get in your car and drive to each shop here, because NO ONE WALKS. It is a sad thing, and it now freaks me out to see anyone walking – they’re most probably an axe murderer is my first thought. With no high street in sight, it means there is no hub and therefore no social meeting place, as far as I can make out. Oh, but there is the mall.
The mall plays an important role – when it’s wet it works and when it’s cold it is a great place to go and when it’s too hot, well I guess you head to the mall. There are shops and there are restaurants there and they are functional. But any mall, however fantastical, does not have the character, nor the charm, nor the sociability of the UK high street.
Gawd bless ya, UK high street.
5. Old stuff
It may just be where I live, in Maryland, but I’ve developed a yearning to see some old British stuff, like chocolate box cottages and Cotswold stone houses and a proper, ramshackle pub. It’s funny the things you yearn for, and I never thought I would feel a need to cast my eyes upon such things, but I do, and I know that when I do see them again, I will lap up their beauty and try never to forget them again.
In the meantime, there is some pretty cool American culture and history to indulge in, but I can’t get rid of that image of an 18th century mansion in the rolling hills of England….one day we will meet again and I will breathe in your history.
6. Britain gets the best of both worlds
Bizarrely, I have developed an appreciation of the European influences on the UK whilst living in America.
Europe now feels soooo much more liberal. Nudity, drinking, swearing – they go for it in Europe! Yikes, these are all things that ruffle the feathers of my American friends. For a country that has based most of its movie industry on the aforementioned, I get the impression that long may it stay on screen, because there is a degree of feeling very uncomfortable with my American friends when any of these things are brought to the fore in ‘real life’ (not that I do it just to get a reaction, of course)
We Brits have the benefit of both American and European cultural influences, and we seem to pick and choose which ones we want to adopt. It may seem odd that I miss and appreciate that European chilled-ness now, but I do, facts are facts. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit and have a cocktail in the nude whilst swearing like a navvy in America – I know my limitations, and that sort of behaviour just reeks of jail time!
Claire McGill is a British expat living in Maryland, which means she still drinks tea, but now has it with a corn muffin instead of a crumpet. Claire has two blogs – one which observes the amusing and confusing cultural differences between living in America and Britain (www.ukdesperatehousewifeusa.wordpress.com) and her fitness blog (www.fortyshadesoffitness.wordpress.com)