Cool American friends
A British friend noticed that I had an American friend on Facebook with the surname ‘Kanicki’
‘That’s just cool,’ she said. ‘Cos of the Grease dude.’
It’s true, that is a very cool name for a friend.
When someone today asked me what was still on my USA bucket list and I replied, ‘Oh, California, Memphis and getting chased down by some mad axe-murderer in a big truck and then hiding from him in one of those run-down motels like in the movies’, I was, naturally, having a laugh about the last bit.
‘You shouldn’t joke about that, it might happen.’
I like to think they were also having a laugh. ;)
There is a podcast that I listen to here in the USA that is all about the differences between us Brits and Americans and how confusing and amusing it can be sometimes. I was even on this podcast last year! (Hear it here – http://www.transatlanticallyspeaking.com/2013/10/11/greetings-from-merryland/ – I start waffling on about 13 mins in!)
James van Leer, 44, is the Brit who runs this podcast, and he’s been in the States since 1992.
Read on to find out more!
Name: James Van Leer
Occupation: Graphic Design
Time in the USA: 1992 – present
Reason you came to the USA: By accident. Was travelling back towards the UK from Asia (Hong Kong) and had planned to work here long enough to earn enough money for a flight home. Got a decent job, and just sort of stayed. I have no idea how I would have done it legitimately.
1. When you arrived as an expat, how did being in the USA make you feel?
A lot of my experiences were specific to Los Angeles and its geography. It took me a while to get used to the heat. Also, this town is notorious for being difficult to cultivate friendships in, because everyone lives in their cars (the song is correct, nobody walks in L.A.) and it really is a one-industry town with perhaps more than its share of shallow, unreliable people. And unlike most European cities, L.A. doesn’t have a “centre,” so there’s a strange feeling of being adrift until you decide which part of the city suits you best.
2. Were there times you felt lost and alone? Were there any particular things that made you feel homesick?
There certainly were those times, but looking back, they were just the typical things that happen to anyone, anywhere – job stuff, relationship stuff – it’s just that without the support group of family and close friends, it feels SO much worse. As far as homesickness was concerned, well, when I arrived there was no BBC America, and no soccer, not even an MLS! It would probably be much easier now you can watch the Prem every weekend.
3. What things really highlight the differences between our cultures?
Sense of humour. You learn quite quickly that Americans don’t use irony the way we do. There are three stages to that: Initially it’s frustrating, because nobody laughs at anything you say; then when you get used to it, it’s actually nice because you take everything you’re told at face value. The third stage is when you’re back in the UK and a friend or relative tells you something outlandish, and you react with childlike wonder, and they look at you with utter sadness; then they tell you that you’re irony-deficient, and should consider taking supplements.
4. How is your life different from at home? What are the challenges and frustrations you encounter?
Healthcare stuff still bothers me. It’s SO expensive here (and I’m a pretty healthy person!) Paying so much for something that would be free at home does rankle a bit. That and the fact that all my friends and relatives back home get five bloody weeks vacation.
5. Do you actively seek out a British community? If so, what were you looking for specifically?
I don’t, and oddly, I never have. But then, I never really went in for the pub culture in the UK, so never saw the need to replicate it here. Fact is, culturally I’m probably more American than British at this point, which inevitably happens. You spend the first couple of years catching up with American culture, and then one day an American friend asks you if you’ve heard of Russell Brand or someone, and you haven’t, and you realize you’ve crossed a threshold.
6. How do you feel the Americans responded to you as a Brit?
Americans really seem to like British people, even in L.A. where everyone’s busy pretending not to care. And they’re interested in you and where you’re from. If they’re soccer people, they love talking about that.
You have to listen to the podcast to get a sense of both our senses of humour – it’s awesome/fab, and very, very funny (and rude, naturally!)